Instant Coffee: Your Emergency Guide
Instant coffee is, in my opinion, a for-emergencies-only sort of purchase not unlike the strange canned food you keep in the pantry in case of a natural disaster that would preclude your going to the grocery store. It’s never a first choice, but it can come in handy under dire circumstances. Midterms often engender such circumstances: while cramming at some ungodly hour, you realize that no café on or off campus is open to provide a caffeine fix. Instant coffee sounds pretty damn appealing.
If you’re going to shock your body (which probably already feels harassed by exam-induced stress and prior sleep deprivation and chocolate consumption) with a powdered stimulant at 2am, you might as well buy the best tasting, or perhaps least awful, one. I tried five instant coffees that span a range of tastes and prices to determine which (if any) could meet this oh-so-high standard.
Gina’s Cacao Cappuccino ($3.26/8 bags): I found this at a store that sold imported European foods. As fancy as it sounds, it’s just an instant coffee and instant hot chocolate blend. I had high expectations (it being from Italy and all), but I don’t know if I could tell the difference between Gina’s and Swiss Miss, save the hint of coffee flavor present in the former. It was incredibly sweet and lacked either intense chocolate or coffee flavor. If you are not one for strong coffee but seeking caffeine, this might be the brand for you.
Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso ($3.79/2 oz. container): This one is sold in your average supermarket. This is the exact opposite of the above: it has a bitter, verging-on-acrid taste–not terrible, but quite intense. It works well in something like chai, which is very sweet and could benefit from a bitter kick.
Coffee Milk Tea ($3.69/12 bags): I found this in an Asian supermarket in Flushing, Queens. The box reads: “3:15pm Milk Tea any time any where,” and the ingredients are as follows: “refined sugar, non-dairy creamer, coffee, black tea.” This product is not technically an instant powder; instead, these ingredients come in individual tea bags, which are to be steeped in hot water and then removed (though the sugar and creamer dissolve). To my disappointment, this did not taste like bubble tea. Again, it was quite sweet and lacked discernable coffee flavor.
Folgers Coffee Singles ($9/38 bags): Similar to the above, these “singles” are tea bags filled with ground coffee. Though this doesn’t quite fit the “instant” label, it is still a ready-made source of coffee – and surprisingly decent at that! Folgers Singles are somewhat flavorful and not bitter; they far surpass many other brands in spite of their mediocrity.
Starbucks Colombian ($10/12 bags): My personal favorite, this one has a slightly bitter, but strong flavor. Of the five contenders, this came closest to an actual cup of coffee. Starbucks junkies, be warned: in my opinion, this doesn’t taste like the standard Starbucks brew. I was pleased with the deviation, but the difference may be disappointing to Starbucks aficionados. For those that do not take their coffee with sugar, this might be worth the price tag (remember: emergencies only).
In a word: Starbucks and Folgers are safe bets. Instant espresso and instant chai is a solid option as well.
Cover photo source.