Instant coffee has come a long way, and current offerings are perfect for camping, road tripping, or your next hotel stay.

Equator instant coffee
Equator Instant coffee is perfect for camping, road trips, and hotel room alternatives.

Perhaps I have an anxious attachment style when it comes to to espresso, but I’m a firm believer that a proper cup of coffee is as much of a packing essential as a decent toothbrush. And these days, there’s no need to settle on quality when it comes to your morning joe—regardless of whether you’re backcountry camping or overnighting at a hotel—because top-tier speciality coffee brands have recently launched instant versions of their roasts. 

For those of you who have been scarred by memories of Nescafe, fear not; this is far from the bitter blends you may have tried before. And bonus: All you need for a cafe-level cup is some hot water. Just open up the sachet filled with freeze-dried granules of instant coffee, pour it into a mug along with some hot H2O, mix, and sip your way to bliss.

A major selling point for these instant coffees is not just that they’re truly on par with pour-over, but that they come in recyclable or compostable lightweight packaging, making them packable for your next alpine adventure or the upcoming Burning Man festival, if that’s your style.

Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic instant coffee
Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic instant coffee is a great alternative to coffee pods.

Courtesy of the Norr Agency

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“Instant coffee has come a long way,” says Lori Haughey, vice president of retail at Intelligentsia, which sells multiple instant offerings including espresso, classic house blend coffee, and an oat latte. “The stigma of freeze-dried coffee is being replaced with specialty offerings, and we’re excited by its future.”

Haughey believes that specialty instant coffee as a signifier for where the industry is headed as a whole, with on-demand yet consistently delicious brews being the new norm. After all, she adds “only the best coffees produce the greatest espresso.”

It’s taken years to get instant coffee to this level. “The flavors of unique coffees used to be muted or lost all together though the process of brewing, then freeze-drying,” says Devorah Freudiger, director of coffee culture at San Francisco-based Equator Coffee. “Thankfully the coffee industry is full of innovators and geeks. Entrepreneurial coffee lovers started looking at the process of making instant coffee and found they could improve it. They focused on extracting a great cup from the coffee they start with, rather than focusing on simply extracting every drop of flavor from the beans.”

Verve Coffee Roasters' Larrea Blend
Verve Coffee Roasters’ Larrea Blend instant coffee

Krista Simmons

In the case of California-based Verve Coffee Roasters, the company roasts in small batches and precisely preserves them at sub-zero temperatures in an oxygen-free environment, ensuring that its world-class coffee can be enjoyed anywhere without compromising the nuanced flavor profiles.

Verve co-founder Colby Barr says the change has been a long time coming. “The world of craft coffee is constantly evolving, and it was inevitable that instant craft coffee was going to become an area of focus, as convenience becomes a bigger factor in everyday life,” Barr says.

It seems the stigma and snobbery is finally being stripped away from the industry, where coffeehouses that refused to serve dairy alternatives with their lattes used to reign.

“Coffee lovers should be able to have a great cup of coffee even when they don’t have access to a temperature-specific kettle, burr grinder, and scale,” says Freudiger. “Gatekeeping great coffee doesn’t do anyone along the supply line any good.”

I couldn’t agree more. Here are some of my favorites to pack on a trip: 

Alpine Start 

This mountain-friendly brand offers Colombian arabica beans pre-blended with powdered coconut creamer, meaning you can get a plant-based instant latte at altitude. There’s also a dirty chai option, perfect for cozying up with during the upcoming winter months.

Equator 

Female-owned coffee roaster Equator selected coffees from small garden farms in the Lake Toba region of Sumatra and blended them together. The coffee was processed using the island’s traditional wet-hull method, creating a citrusy, woodsy blend that has notes of lemongrass, cocoa nibs, and sandalwood. The product comes in packets of five and costs $14.95. There’s also a decaf option. 

Intelligentsia 

Though Intelli is Chicago-based, the roaster made waves on the West Coast with its Silverlake outpost in Los Angeles when it first opened, and has since become a staple in the scene. Intelli’s signature Black Cat roast is now available in instant form, offering a freeze-dried espresso blend with notes of dark chocolate, raw sugar, and marshmallow based on another bestseller. 

Verve Coffee Roasters

Santa Cruz roaster Verve offers several instant options, but my favorite is the variety pack, which includes seven single-serving craft instant coffee sachets, each with distinct flavors, including a decaf option for those who are sensitive to caffeine. The product tastes great, and a bonus is the real value that Verve brings to everyone throughout the production process, from the farmers to the distributors to the packers.