Organic Instant Coffee: Is It Really Any Good?

Some people wouldn’t be caught dead drinking instant coffee.

That may be because they love the fuller, more nuanced taste of freshly-brewed coffee. It could be because they have plenty of time in the morning to brew the perfect cup. It might be because they want (or need) all the caffeine they can get from their coffee.

Or they might just be coffee snobs.

There’s also the possibility that they simply don’t know that instant coffee has come a long way from the days when their mother or grandmother always kept a jar of instant in the refrigerator, and only dragged out the coffeemaker when company was coming.

The truth is that there are a number of delicious instant coffees on the market. And the best ones are organic.

Organic Instant Coffee: Why Is It Different?

That’s really a two-part question. Let’s take them one at a time.

Instant Coffee vs. Brewed Coffee

The biggest difference between instant and brewed coffee is the most obvious one. If you’re starting with ground coffee, it can take as long as ten minutes to brew a pot or cup of coffee, depending on the machine or technique you’re using. If you’re grinding your own beans? That takes even longer.

Instant coffee can be made in far less time. It’s not really “instant,” of course; you have to make hot water first, unless you have an “instant hot” water faucet in your kitchen. (We highly recommend them, but the way.) But instant granules or powder are really nothing more than coffee. They’re coffee beans that have already been roasted, ground, brewed and then processed.

Here are the less-obvious differences between brewed and instant coffee.

  • Instant coffee is usually made from cheaper, less-flavorful Robusta beans. Robusta coffee is generally harsher and bitterer than brews made from Arabica beans. Needless to say, when you plan to brew your own coffee you can choose your own beans and your preferred roast. (If you shop carefully, you can find instant coffees made from Arabica beans; most good organic instants are made from Arabica beans.) 
  • Instant coffee usually contains about 40% less caffeine than the equivalent amount of brewed coffee.
  • Instant coffee contains double the amount of the chemical acrylamide, which is created when coffee beans are brewed – and may be harmful. The amount of acrylamide in instant is still well below the levels that should concern most people, though.

The similarities between the two types of coffee may be more important. It appears that instant and brewed coffee provide most of the same health benefits, including bountiful amounts of antioxidants, better blood sugar control, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Experts disagree on whether brewed or instant coffee might actually be “healthier,” but the differences appear to be relatively insignificant.

Regular Instant Coffee vs. Organic Instant Coffee

People drink coffee for many reasons; taste, caffeine and health benefits are among the most important. They primarily choose instant coffee for its convenience.

But why would they choose organic instead of “regular” instant coffee? For the same reasons they might choose organic produce.

Pesticides, fungicides and other hazardous chemicals aren’t used in organic farming, so organically-grown coffee beans are free of substances that could potentially cause health issues. That’s not a small matter; non-organic coffee is the most heavily-sprayed crop grown for human consumption. Organic growing practices also prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms, so organic instant coffee will automatically be non-GMO.

Organic products generally contain greater amounts of nutrients as well, because they’re not grown in soil loaded with chemicals. And coffee drinkers who are environmentally-conscious also prefer organic brands, because organic farming is better for the farms, their workers, and the environment. Organic coffee is usually fair-trade certified, too.

What about taste? There’s no definitive way to measure whether organic coffee tastes better than non-organic brands, but many coffee drinkers swear that it tastes cleaner and more flavorful than regular coffee. You’ll hear the same opinions about organic instant coffee – it tastes better, and more like brewed coffee, than the non-organic stuff.

Are Regular Instant and Organic Instant Coffee Made the Same Way?

Yes, generally speaking.

The only real difference is the manufacturers’ choice of coffee beans. Those who produce organic instant coffee will usually source their beans from farmers whose crops are certified to be organically-grown. In reality, some crops are grown with organic methods but aren’t “certified” organic, because it’s quite expensive for farms to obtain official certification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Companies that produce and sell organic instant coffee are more likely to use Arabica beans rather than Robusta beans, making their coffee smoother and more flavorful than other instant brands on the market. However, that has nothing to do with whether the beans were organically farmed or not. A few non-organic brands are made with Arabica beans as well.

Whether organic or non-organic beans are chosen, the process of turning them into instant coffee is the same. The whole beans are roasted and ground; if the final product will be decaf instant coffee, the caffeine is removed before roasting. The ground coffee is then brewed and turned into a concentrate, it’s dehydrated with the use of either less-expensive spray drying or more-expensive freeze-drying, and the resulting granules or powder is packaged and sold.

The manufacturers who produce organic instant coffee usually use more exacting, costlier production methods, since they’ll be marketing their coffee as a premium product. That’s not a given, though. A label that says “organic” only tells you how the beans were grown – not how the coffee was made, or how good it is.

You’ll have to rely on our rankings of the best organic instant coffees for that information.

The Best Organic Instant Coffee Brands

Mount Hagen Organic Freeze-Dried Instant Coffee

Mount Hagen doesn’t only make the best organic instant – it makes what may be the best instant coffee, period. (Sorry to deliver the bad news, Starbucks.)

This company was the first to ever produce a USDA certified organic instant coffee, back in the 1980s, and it seems their coffee’s gotten even better over time. Their beans are organically-grown in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, a coffee-growing region whose 100% Arabica beans are revered for being smooth and sweet, with medium body and acidity. 

And that’s exactly what a cup of coffee made with these freeze-dried granules tastes like. It may not be quite the same as an expertly-brewed cup of Arabica coffee made from freshly-ground, premium beans, but it’s smooth, complex, satisfying and delicious. It also seems to be perfect for an updated Folger’s-style commercial – in which upscale restaurant coffee drinkers are surprised with the news that they’re drinking instant coffee.

Mount Hagen’s organic coffee is available in 3.53 ounce jars, packages of single-serve “sticks” and Doypack pouches, in both caffeinated and decaffeinated versions. It’s sold in stores ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods, as well as on Amazon. Warning: it’s pricey.

Canyon Coffee Instant Coffee

For some reason, this company doesn’t place an “organic” label on its packaging, or even in its ads. But Canyon Coffee, regularly ranked as the best instant coffee by mainstream publications and industry experts, sources its single-origin coffee from organic farms in the Gedeb region of Ethiopia. The farms are all at high elevations, where cooler temperatures allow farmers to grow high-quality coffee beans with complex flavors.

This is a medium-roast coffee with notes of cherry and chocolate, and just enough acidity to make the cup smooth and enjoyable. This isn’t your mother’s instant coffee, though, for two reasons.

First, it’s only sold in packages of single-serve packets, with each one producing an eight-ounce cup of instant coffee; you can’t just buy a huge jar to keep in the fridge. (The packets do have a one-year shelf life, though.)  Second, it’s even more expensive than Mount Hagen’s instant, with each packet costing well over three bucks. However, to be fair, you probably spent more than three bucks this morning at Starbucks.

Canyon more recently started producing a second organic instant coffee variety, Granjeras Instant. The beans are sourced from small, female-owned Colombian farms that grow their beans in “microlots,” small tracts that allow for careful attention to detail. The company also sells organic medium-roast ground coffee as well.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee

Don’t give us that look – we didn’t say all of these organic coffees would be made from coffee beans with no other ingredients. Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee is a unique product that many people love for its taste, and many others love for its health benefits.

This coffee blend contains ground and roasted 100% Arabica beans with finely-ground adaptogenic mushrooms, which are said to provide numerous benefits like immune and cardiovascular support, antioxidant production, anxiety relief and improved brain function. That’s why adaptogenic mushrooms are often called superfoods. Both the coffee and the mushrooms are organically grown.

Four Sigmatic uses a variety of mushrooms, including cordyceps, chaga and lion’s mane, to produce instant coffees that deliver different combinations of potential health benefits. They offer both dark roast and medium roast options, and since their products contain “half the coffee” of standard instants, they also contain half the caffeine.

And now to answer the most important question: there’s much more than just a “coffee taste” to Four Sigmatic’s products. They taste like real coffee, with the mushrooms providing a bit of an earthy tang to the brew. Don’t be scared; it tastes very, very good. The instant coffee comes in instant serve packets, which are easier on the budget than those sold by Mount Hagen and Canyon.

Café Altura Organic Instant Coffee

When you see Café Altura on the shelf or in an online store, it looks more like the instant coffee you might be familiar with. Not only is it a colorful glass jar filled with freeze-dried coffee granules, but it’s reasonably priced. That makes this instant coffee a bargain choice when you’ve decided to give organic instant a try. It’s USDA certified organic, as well as non-GMO verified, Kosher certified and a fair-trade product. 

OK, so that makes it politically correct – but what about the coffee? Café Altura takes something of a “house blend” approach, saying that the beans are 100% Arabica, organically-grown, and sourced from South America, Asia and Africa.

Even though this isn’t single-origin coffee, though, it’s still pretty darned good for an instant coffee. It’s not as tasty as the pricy organic brands we’ve mentioned previously, but it can give most non-organic instant coffees a run for their money.

Speaking of which…

What About All of the Well-Known Instant Coffee Brands?

You’re wondering about supermarket brands like Folgers and Maxwell House, or foodie favorites like Waka Coffee, Joe Coffee and Starbucks Via Instant? Sorry, none of them is guaranteed to be organic. A few of the companies, like Joe Coffee, says“some of the coffee we buy is organic,” but of course, that also means some of it is not.

Nescafé Tasters Choice does make an organic instant coffee, but it’s “just OK” and not easy to find. 

That’s not the end of our list, though.

Super Coffee: A Great Alternative

If you think “instant coffee” has to mean crystals or powder that you mix with hot water, it’s time to broaden your horizons. Super Coffee is a ready-to-drink coffee beverage that’s made from 100% organic Arabica beans from Colombia. As soon as you grab a carton from the refrigerated section of your local store, you can pour it and drink it. To us, that makes it instant coffee.

There’s more to Super Coffee than just how quickly you can prepare it. It also contains MCT coconut oil, the popular keto diet additive that contributes a number of health benefits, along with monk fruit sweetener rather than sugar, and whey protein that gives the beverage a creamy consistency. If that was the end of the story, we’d simply say it’s a delicious organic coffee drink you might want to substitute for your normal iced coffee.

But when you look at the nutrition information on the product label, you’ll see the added benefits of Super Coffee. It’s sugar-free and lactose-free, low in carbohydrates, and each bottle contains only three grams of saturated fat and no trans fat at all. And with flavor choices like mocha, espresso, hazelnut and vanilla, many people find that it’s a tastier and healthier choice than normal instant coffee that’s been loaded with milk and sugar.

Written by Liz Moore

10 min read

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