America is obsessed with great coffee. It’s as if every cup we drink has to have hand-picked, single-origin beans from a small Ethiopian farm, and those beans have to be delivered through a perfect pour over by a barista with a “Death before Decaf” sleeve tattoo.
Don't get me wrong: I like that good coffee has become ubiquitous, with specialty shops operating all over the country. But not every cup can be fussed over by a barista. Sometimes, you just need a quick boost before the morning meeting. Or maybe you’re in the middle of the backcountry, miles from the nearest espresso machine. For situations like these, instant coffee, which has been brewed, filtered, and freeze-dried, is the way to go. And luckily, instant coffee is having a resurgence.
“Instant coffee has gotten a lot better lately,” says Pete Licata, a world champion barista who now runs Roast Ratings, a website devoted to testing coffee of all kinds. “A lot of companies are using higher-end, specialty beans for their instant coffees.”
Curious to know more, we asked him for his instant coffee recommendations. Here's what he said.
Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee ($10 for 12 Servings)
In Licata’s taste test of instant coffee, Starbucks’ VIA comes in second behind Sudden. Starbucks also begins with better beans that get roasted, ground, and freeze dried, for a water-soluble cup that’s actually delicious.
Alpine Start Original Blend Instant Coffee ($9 for 8 Servings)
Created by pro climber Matt Segal, Alpine Start has become the go-to instant coffee for adventurers, and for good reason. The no-fuss medium roast is made from Columbian Arabica beans and brewed in small batches to ensure a premium flavor. The grounds also dissolve easily in cold water so there's no need to waste time boiling water when you're on the crag.
Libra Coffee Pourtables Coffee Filters ($20 for 10 Servings)
Libra is an Outside staff pick for backcountry coffee. They make the pour-over concept portable by packaging organic, pre-ground small-batch beans in single-serve filters. All you need is a cup and some hot water.
Sudden Coffee Instant ($20 for 8 Servings)
Sudden looks like run-of-the-mill single-serve instant coffee (just add hot water and drink), but the company chooses top-shelf beans and roasts them to highlight their sweetness. “It’s better than some high-end [non-instant] brews out there,” Licata says.