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Instant Coffee Musings

While at college, I didn't drink any coffee whatsoever. The aroma sent me in the other direction. Beer was an acquired taste, and I felt the same approach might apply later to coffee. I joked with my mom that my grades would have been significantly better if I had acquired a taste before college. She carefully listened to my coffee theory at the time, but her frown said it all.


Towards the end of college, my sister married, and my brother and I moved my sister and her husband out to Gonzaga University (in Spokane, Washington). This was in January, and I remember driving through Fargo, where a local bank showed an actual temperature of -16 degrees (without wind chill). Montana was even colder, and the weather slowly improved as we approached Western Washington. After the move, my brother and I traveled down the coast of Oregon and, by happenstance, got tickets to the Portland Trailblazers game. Shortly after entering the arena, an unforgettable ice storm surrounded the area.


Coffee

Being dark and stormy after the game, we found a very inexpensive motel for the night, but they lost power due to the storm. We gave a cold shoulder to cold showers in the morning, so we spent most of the morning chipping more than one inch of ice off my brother's Datsun. All Interstate highways were temporarily closed, so our only option was to stop at a truck stop to await recovery. Our expectations were unmet as they had no more food to serve, so the only option was cold coffee -- it was awful, but we made the best of the situation. I remember thinking that with the taste of this cold coffee, I knew why I hadn't tried it earlier.


Despite my bad experience at the truck stop, I began drinking coffee a few years later. I didn't need it first thing in the morning, but it eventually evolved to that point.


A few years later, I had the opportunity to work and study in Switzerland for about a year. With a lot of free time, I often spent some of my money on several things: the International Herald Tribune, 100 grams of pure Swiss chocolate (45 cents), and a cappuccino. This eventually became my breakfast for many days. That kept me occupied for well over an hour. I'd sometimes get a premium roasted coffee, but unfortunately, I learned quickly that it didn't come with refills. When in Rome, do as the Romans did.


Once I was married and settled down, I became a more consistent coffee drinker, typically having one or two cups in the morning. I wasn't a connoisseur but commonly used my Mr. Coffee (my children bought me for Christmas) to brew my coffee. Unfortunately, my wife was a tea drinker, so I had to be careful not to make too much. I was not too fond of the idea of dumping out half the pot because it wasn't drunk by anyone but myself.


Over the years, I continued using my Mr. Coffee, adding grounds from my large container of ground coffee. I could have bought coffee beans and ground them up whenever I wanted coffee, but nominal improvement in taste wasn't a great motivator.


Back to used coffee grounds, they could be reused to feed my acid-loving trees in the backyard. My older brother gave me that idea, so even in the winter, I'd save several used grounds (and an unbleached filter) and sprinkle them in the snow under my arborvitae and spruce trees. Some of my neighbors thought I was crazy, but that's something many of them had known earlier.

Eventually, I needed a change from Mr. Coffee about twenty years ago and stumbled upon Nescafe instant coffee. It was about $5 per jar at the time, so I decided to try it. I can't say I have the most sensitive palate, but I felt the Nescafe tasted quite good. I couldn't tell much about the difference between Mr. Coffee and Nescafe. My kitchen water cooler by my window provided cold and hot water; I'd shake some of the Nescafe into my mug and then fill the cup with hot water. It worked, and I was hooked. I read somewhere that to improve the instant coffee flavor, put a teaspoon of instant coffee in a dry mug, dissolve it in cold water, and then dilute it with hot water.


Coffee

Once you get into instant coffee, you may be tempted to try other brands. At Costco, near the yogurt and butter section, I'd always walk by the Taster's Choice instant coffee without slowing down. One day, I grabbed a glass container of their coffee. I'm willing to try different kinds of instant coffee, but this coffee didn't suit my palate. I was hopeful it would taste good and rival Nestle, but that didn't come to fruition.


After this experiment, I stayed with Nescafe instant coffee for a while. If I ever ran out, I went to the grocery store and looked for my favorite brand, but it wasn't on the shelf. I was forced to pivot. I decided to try Cafe Bustelo from the top shelf. This instant coffee differed from Nestle standards but was still quite flavorful at a comparable price. That would be my tentative backup plan.


Costco only sells one flavor of Starbucks instant coffee packets, usually the medium roast Colombian coffee. Frankly, this coffee tasted better than my Nescafe but cost $0.85 per unit. Therefore, I'd only splurge on this instant Colombian coffee when it's on sale at Costco. A seven-ounce jar of Nescafe costs about $8.00 for 50 to 100 servings— a little less than ten to 20 cents per cup—so it was more of a special occasion when choosing the more expensive route.


We purchased a Keurig over ten years ago, along with millions of other Americans. This product got hot, and for a time, it seemed like everyone was buying a Keurig. Unfortunately, ours sits on the counter and collects dust. From an environmental perspective, I struggle with the empty cartridges, not knowing what to do with them. Therefore, I only use my Keurig if guests visit and request a cup of Keurig coffee. I would like to know if those unopened cartridges ever get stale because I have over two hundred unused cartridges in my pantry.


Coffee

Our local Trader Joe's used to sell instant Colombian coffee, but it's been unavailable over the last few years, although it's available online. That instant coffee was also good tasting. According to their website, Where many instant coffees are freeze-dried, our 100% Colombian Instant Coffee is agglomerated, which means "formed into a round ball." The beans are granulated using a steam-heat process, making the coffee soluble.


I read somewhere that real coffee is to instant as Velveeta is to real cheese. I'm afraid I have to disagree. The difference is nominal, not near the gap between Velvetta and real cheese. I suspect this was said by someone who opposed instant coffee or didn't give this product a fair shot.


Early this year, I met a man in the coffee and tea aisle and began discussing the virtues and challenges of instant coffee. He did agree that Nescafe instant coffee is the best bang for your buck, but he also had a more sophisticated palate. He suggested I try Moccona Select instant coffee, which I will do. He mentioned the superior taste and then mentioned it was a more expensive option. He said, "Life is too short to drink inferior coffee," and I nodded in his direction.


In my realm, I will continue to use instant coffee primarily. To further experiment, I want to purchase five or six different instant coffee choices and have a blind taste test with several connoisseurs of instant coffee. This would include Taster's Choice, Nestle, Cafe Bustelo, Trader Joe's instant Columbian, Moccona, and Starbucks's Colombian instant coffee. The focus of this blind taste test would be to determine which instant coffee has the best flavor and, secondly, which instant coffee is the best value overall. This taste test might move me to write another article on coffee besides this article (Instant Coffee Musings).


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We usually buy Tasters Choice French Roast (dark roast) in the large container. I liked TC because it had a strong flavor. I’m curious how Nescafé and Trader Joe’s compares to Tasters Choice. Is TC regular still strong compared to other brands? Strong often equals bitter which many dislike. With espresso beans it took some time to find beans that were strong but not overly bitter.

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Ron, it's interesting that you prefer Tasters Choice, that's one I usually avoid. Costco has the best deal on TC but it's in a large container. I'm currently comparing Nescafe with Trader Joe's instant, they're quite similiar, so I'm taking my time during the evaluation.

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Tasters Choice is the only instant coffee I buy😆😆. Great article Kevin. I agree with the landfill problem that is Keurig. My favorite coffee is espresso (fresh ground beans) followed by the standard, Folgers ground coffee (decaf for now😉). Coffee is an amazing thing in that most every person reacts differently to the vast variety of coffee flavors which are available.

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