This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what food people are eating, drinking, and buying right now. Here Kelsey Borovinsky writes about the new Blue Bottle instant coffee that’s actually good.
It was 4:30 a.m., and I was trying to be as quiet as possible in the kitchen as I made a cup of Nescafé Taster’s Choice instant coffee. I had been too tired to finish my East of Eden reading the night before, and it was definitely not this taster’s choice to be drinking something that only suggested freshly brewed. But for my teenage self, instant coffee fit the bill of cheap and easy. This was my routine all through high school, and the minute I graduated, I swore off the burnt-flavored granules. Since I was a habitual coffee drinker, I started working as a barista in college, and, in turn, I became a bit of a coffee snob. I learned to taste for notes of caramel or stone fruit and developed a palette for single-origin beans. I thought my days of instant coffee were far behind me. Then I heard that Blue Bottle Coffee was launching its Craft Instant Espresso.
The minimalist third-wave coffee roaster is best known for light and airy cafés and deliciously creamy New Orleans–style cold brew. Their Exceedingly Rare small-batch, single-origin beans greatly expanded my expectations of what is possible in coffee, and I was confident that if the company was dipping its toe into the outdated instant-coffee market, it would be a quality product.
One of the first drinks I made with the instant coffee was an iced latte: I simply added a spoonful of the granules to a few ounces of hot water, stirred, and poured the espresso over ice with a little bit of milk. Produced from Colombia Bilbao Los Vascos beans, the espresso is aromatic and malty, with a robust profile of dark chocolate and molasses. I have put in so much more effort for much worse lattes in the past. It rivaled the flavor of a shot from a fancy coffee shop La Marzocco espresso machine, and at a fraction of the price.
Blue Bottle spent three years researching and developing its instant espresso, and that dedication is apparent. Most instant coffee producers use a spray-drying process, misting droplets of coffee concentrate into hot air, which leaves behind a powder bereft of most of its natural flavor. Blue Bottle freeze-dries its beans instead, then stores the crystals at a milder temperature and pressure. The result is an instant coffee that retains its complexity.
A 12-serving jar goes for $25, or you can purchase a box of five single-serving sachets for $15—perfect for people like me who get stressed thinking about spending the night somewhere and not knowing what the coffee situation will be like in the morning (a.k.a. when you’re back home for the holidays). Hint: It would make a fantastic stocking stuffer!
I am not going to cast away all the other tools I have accumulated as a home barista. But the fact that Blue Bottle has created an instant coffee that tastes coffee-shop-worthy has changed my tune on the stuff. It’s something even coffee snobs like me can get behind.