The BEST (and worst) Instant Coffee

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Two things that run through my veins: a love for the mountains and a really good cup of coffee. I have spent the past handful of years trying to find a way to leave my heavy bags of beans, grinder and aeropress at home and find an instant coffee that I enjoy. In that time there have been some really wonderful strides in the field… and so this post was born. With the help with a few heavy hitters in both the coffee and alpine world whom I am fortunate enough to call friends I have put together a (non exhaustive) list of instant coffees - some that will rival your home brew and some that you may just want to avoid.


The Coffee*

*listed in order from most to least expensive with ratings and recommendations listed in the notes and here.


Notes: Chocolate and nuts. Papery, but pleasantly sweet. First sips are very bright, fruity, and enjoyable with a full body that definitely has more complex and robust flavour profile then the others.

Cost per cup: $3.20 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here.

Verdict: 9.5/10

I would drink this coffee at home and on the trail.

Swift Cup


Notes: This coffee has lots of classic coffee notes of chocolate, nuts, and molasses. It also had the best mouthfeel of all the coffees: It was full, round, and had little-to-no dryness.

Cost per cup: $2.00 - $3.50 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here.

Verdict: 9/10

Very enjoyable and approachable. I would drink this coffee both at home and on the trail.

Sudden Coffee


Notes: Chocolate BOMB, some dried fruit like raisin and prune, intense flavour (but in a good way). Finish is smooth with an enjoyable aftertaste. Sudden Coffee has also started to offer 24-cup bulk pouches that are far more eco-friendly and also significantly reduce the cost per cup to $1.75 USD/cup. This is currently only available on a subscription based plan and not individual sale. Note that at the time of writing Sudden Coffee had a two month wait for shipment on all orders.

Cost per cup: $2.50 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here.

Verdict: 8/10

I would gladly drink this coffee and recommend it to everyone, some people might have to dilute it more than the recommended recipe.

Coffee Supreme


Notes: Grassy aroma. Lots of bright acidity, chocolate, and cherry. Some dryness in the finish. This coffee has the most acidity of the bunch which is personally not my preference. Note that shipping to North America will incur an additional $44.00USD shipping cost.

Cost per cup: $2.37 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here.

Verdict: 5/10

This wouldn’t be my first choice, especially given the cost.

Four Sigmatic


Notes: Wood, acid, extremely bitter. Most of the panel did not enjoy this, however, it is noted that the taste can grow on you and that it does appear to have a prolonged caffeination in comparison with traditional (non-mushroom) coffees.

Cost per cup: $2.00 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here.

Verdict: 2/10

Would not want to drink this again.

Alpine Start


Notes: Burnt, very dark, bitter. It claims to be a medium roast, but tastes and smells more like a dark roast. One really nice aspect of Alpine Start is that they do offer bulk tubs of coffee for longer journeys avoiding the waste of single use packaging.

Cost per cup: $1.13 USD/cup

How to get it: Online here. Or find the store nearest to you with this map.

Verdict: 3/10

I would not drink this, but if extremely dark roasts are your preference you may enjoy it.

Starbucks Via (True North Blend)


Notes: In blind tastings nobody could guess that this was Starbucks. It has some nice, chocolatey undertones balanced with roastiness - overall great taste.

Cost per cup: $0.75 USD/cup

How to get it: In Starbucks retail stores or on amazon here.

Verdict: 8/10

I would happily drink this on the trail - it is a slightly darker roast than my typical cup but very drinkable.

Nescafé Rich


Notes: Burnt popcorn, grain. For what it is, it wasn’t the worst.

Cost per cup: $0.04 USD/cup

How to get it: On amazon or in grocery stores.

Verdict: 3/10

Would not drink, but better than expected given the cost.

Maxwell House


Notes: Vegetables, stale spice, molasses. “This coffee made me gag.”

Cost per cup: $0.03 USD/cup

How to get it: On amazon or in grocery stores.

Verdict: 0/10

Do not drink!


the verdict

Overall winner

There was a general agreement that, if cost were not factored in, Sudden Coffee, Swift Cup Coffee and Voilá were the front runners and we would happily drink any of them on the trail or at home. My personal favourite was Swift Cup Coffee - they have a rotating list of different coffees, offer a free sample (not including shipping) and to get it to Canada was extremely fast. As well, their packaging is small, lightweight and recyclable.

Best Bang for your Buck

However, when cost (including some hefty Canadian shipping costs) and availability were factored in, the Starbucks True North, at 75¢ (USD) per cup came out on top. This is a coffee I stock up on for my backpacking season and was elated that the coffee gurus seemed to support this decision.

& if you’re on a tight budget

Veer away from Maxwell House at all costs, Nescafé offers a variety of different coffees and styles that, if you are 50km from civilization, will taste pretty great.


The Panel

Benjamin Put

2013, 2014, 2015 + 2016 Canadian Barista Champion
2015 + 2016 World Barista Championship Finalist
2nd Nat. Latte Art 2015, 2nd 2016 CAN Brewers

International coffee legend & Co-Founder of Monogram Coffee

Cole Torode

2018 + 2019 Canadian Barista Champion
2x World Barista Championship Finalist 

Coffee Professional Rosso Coffee Roasters

Adam Campbell

Professional mountain endurance athlete and corporate lawyer based in the Canadian Rockies. He started his coffee addition at age 18 when he worked in a coffee shop, he hasn't stopped mainlining it since to fuel his work and play.

Andrea Ference

that’s me!


Disclaimer: some of the coffees listed in the blog were gifted for the purpose of this blog. This was not expressed to the remainder of the panel and all opinions are solely those of the individuals listed above.