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Instant Coffee on the Trail

It is easier than ever to enjoy a good cup of instant coffee in the outdoors and while you're backpacking. We tested ten flavors of instant coffee with varying brand, taste, cost and weight. The best instant coffee for you depends on your individual taste. But we are sure with a bit of testing you'll quickly find something you will like.

Paul Bodnar       Tech on the Trail       1/8/2020
Paul Bodnar
Tech on the Trail
1/8/2020

Instant coffee is by far the easiest and most light-weight way to get your coffee fix on the trail. All you have to do is put instant coffee in a cup, add water, and you’re done. However, instant coffee has a reputation for poor taste. But don’t worry — things have changed.

Preferred brewed coffee? Check out our post about brewing coffee in the backcountry: 8 Ways to Make Coffee While Thru-Hiking or Camping

We tasted a variety of instant coffees. Most weighed less than 4 grams per serving, including packaging, with the packaging weighing in at less than one gram.

We’re not coffee snobs, but we know a good cup of coffee from a bad cup. If you haven’t tried instant coffee in a while, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. They all tasted just fine, even Folgers.

We tested some of the most common brands founds in the grocery store or on Amazon. But the sky is the limit: there’s an instant coffee out there for any taste. With a little experimentation, you will certainly find an instant coffee that will work for you.

We purchased all items and were not solicited to review any item in this blog post.

1. Folgers

Folgers is the classic, affordable coffee drank by millions. Coffee aficionados may turn their nose up to it, but give the instant a try.

The Classic Roast instant has a mild flavor at one-fifth the price of Starbucks Via (reviewed below). However, this was our least favorite of all the coffees we tried. Small downside: it is designed for 6 oz. water, unlike all other instant coffees reviewed here, which call for 8 oz. water.
$0.12/serving, 2.6g total, 0.4g packaging

Folgers also offers an instant Cappuccino Mocha that is about one-third the price of the Starbucks instant Caffe Mocha.
$0.37/serving, 26g total, 1.1g packaging

We include the Folgers single classic coffee bag here for those who like brewed coffee, but packing out the used bag is on the heavy side compared to instant.
$0.23/serving, 6.5g dry, 9.7g slightly wet

2. Nescafe Taster’s Choice

Taster’s Choice is your classic instant coffee that comes in a variety of roasts and flavors and packaging options.  We found it to be a surprisingly good-tasting coffee at an affordable price point.

French Roast
$0.28/serving, 3.8g total, 0.5g packaging

House Blend
$0.17/serving, 3.4g total, 0.5g packaging

Hazelnut
$0.20/serving, 3.8g total, 0.5g packaging

Latte Mocha
$0.76/serving, 32g total, 1.2gpackaging

3. Starbucks

We tried four Starbucks Via instant blends and the Starbucks Caffe Mocha. These are robust coffees and have that slightly-burned taste that you may be used to with Starbucks. We particularly liked the Via Pike Place and Via Veranda blends . The Via French Roast is quite strong.  Starbucks was among the most expensive instant coffees we tested, and while it has a great flavor you can probably get away with spending less.

House / Pike Place / Veranda / French Roast
$0.66/serving, 4g total, 0.6g packaging

Caffe Mocha
$1.05/serving, 40g total, 0.6g packaging

4. Double Joy Select

Double Joy Select intense dark roast was the most expensive instant coffee we tested.  It had a bold, smooth taste without the bitter/burned ending you might get with other bold coffees. It is powdered, which means no stirring is required.

$0.75/serving, 4g total, 0.6g packaging

5. Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade

Mount Hagen is a German coffee company that exclusively offers Fairtrade, organically grown coffee, with an instant variety at about half the cost of Starbucks Via. It is a well-rounded coffee that you can feel good about drinking. This was one of our favorites.

$0.34/serving, 2.6g total, 0.6g packaging

6. Coffee Additions

If you are craving some extra calories or something sweet, consider adding powdered Coffee-mate or powdered hot chocolate to your coffee. You can make your own mocha at a fraction of the cost of a pre-packaged mocha.

Coffee-mate creamer
$0.06/serving, 3.8g total, 0.7g packaging

Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate cocoa mix
$0.23/serving, 22g total, 1.6g packaging

Instant Coffee Summary

There are so many choices of instant coffee today. With a little experimentation we are sure that you can find an instant coffee that fits your desired taste and cost.

Pro tip! Add BOILING water to your instant coffee. Otherwise it may not completely dissolve and result in an unappealing mixture.


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Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

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About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.