Disclosure: This is a sponsored review. As always though, all opinions are 100% my own.
Instant Coffee? Really?
If you would have asked me a year ago what I thought about instant coffee, I would have said it was the bottom of the barrel when it came to coffee quality and taste. In the last 12 months though, I’ve become more and more impressed with the specialty instant options available. There are more and more instant coffee brands using high-quality beans and focusing on the specialty coffee market. There has been a reinvention of the instant coffee market and the ones that I have really surprised me with the quality they can offer. Waka Coffee has now joined this list.
About Waka Coffee
David Kovalevski founded Waka Coffee and built the company on the mission that “everyone should enjoy coffee effortlessly”.1 They focus exclusively on instant coffee using a freeze-dried technique. They look to differentiate themselves by using higher quality beans and focusing on socially conscious values.
How to Make Instant Coffee: Freeze Dried
There are a few ways you can traditionally make instant coffee. In one method “liquid coffee is sprayed in a fine mist through very hot, very dry air. By the time the coffee droplets land, they have dried into a powder.”1 The second method is freeze drying where the coffee is exposed to sub-zero temperatures and leaves behind a coffee powder that can be rehydrated to make coffee. Freeze drying is more expensive, but is a better method because it helps preserve more of the aromatics of the coffee (though both methods can have adverse effects on the flavor of the coffee). Waka Coffee uses the more expensive, but superior freeze drying technology to create their instant coffee granules.
About the Coffee
Waka Coffee is 100% Arabica beans (many lower quality instant coffees use Robusta beans, which are less expensive, but far lower quality). Each of their coffees is from a single origin, which feels more like the specialty coffee market than instant.
They currently offer three coffee options:
- Light Roast Indian
- Medium Roast Colombian
- Medium Roast Colombian (Decaffeinated)
Each of the coffees come in either boxes of 8 single-serve packets or 3.5 ounce or 8 ounce bags.
Brewing Waka Coffee
The process of making Waka Coffee is incredibly simple. It involves three simple steps:
- Pour contents of single-serve packet into a mug (or measure out 1-2 teaspoons from the larger bag).
- Pour 8-10 ounces of near-boiling water onto the freeze-dried coffee.
- Stir & enjoy.
If you already have water heated, the entire process takes about 15 seconds—hence, instant coffee.
Waka Instant Coffee Options
I was able to try each of their three coffee offerings. Below are some abbreviated reviews for each coffee.
Light Roast Indian
The purple packaging features a single-origin Indian coffee. The coffee was very approachable and balanced. It was smooth, chocolatey and creamy. Its flavor profile wasn’t very complex, but it did have some nice caramel sweetness.
This was the first coffee I tried of the three and overall it exceeded my expectations. While not at the same level as specialty cup of pour over coffee, it was far better than other powered, instant coffees I have tried in the past and still had a unique profile and identifiable flavor notes.
Medium Roast Colombian
The second coffee I tried was the medium roast, single-origin Colombian coffee. It was equally approachable and balanced as the Indian coffee. It was smooth, but with a bit more brightness and acidity than its Indian counterpart. In the flavor I tasted chocolate and caramel. The coffee was richly sweet with a decadent caramel sweetness. I was quite surprised by the sweetness present in the cup.
As with the Indian coffee, it did leave a bit to be desired in its complexity. I was also surprised at how similar the profiles of the two cups of coffee were given the difference in roast and origin.
Medium Roast Colombian (Decaffeinated)
The final coffee I tried was the decaffeinated medium roast single-origin Colombia coffee. It had a similar flavor profile to the other Colombian coffee, though I didn’t think the sweetness was as pronounced. In the flavor I tasted chocolate, hazelnuts and citrus. The citrus carried through to the bright acidity. It had a lighter body than the other two, but was equally approachable and balanced.
In the following sections I break down in more detail the ten scores that combine together to give Waka’s overall rating. It is important to note that each of these rankings is based on the instant coffee market specifically—not the specialty coffee market overall. The quality, flavor, cost, etc. are all in comparison to other instant coffee options available.
The idea of instant coffee has been around for a long time. Combining instant coffee with the higher-end specialty market and putting a solid social cause behind it (see Sustainability section below) is unique and I think a great idea for a coffee company.
Waka Coffee uses single-origin coffee beans for each of their coffees. Using single-origin coffee is common practice in the specialty coffee market, but is quite unusual for instant coffee. Sourcing the beans from a single country can help to preserve the flavors unique to coffee from that specific region.
They also use 100% arabica beans. Arabica beans are significantly higher quality than their robusta counterparts and as a result are always used in higher-end specialty coffee. Instant coffee on the other hand typically uses a mix of the lower-quality robusta beans to save money. Using only arabica beans provides an extra level of richness and depth to the coffee, which I noticed immediately compared to other instant coffees I have tried.
Waka Coffee offers three different coffee options from two different origins. All of the coffee they offer is their own branded coffee (vs. other specialty instant coffees who have partnered with roasters around the country to feature a much broader variety of coffee). Some highlights for the variety that Waka offers includes:
- They offer both light and medium roast options
- They offer both traditional and decaffeinated options
- They offer both single-serve packets and larger multi-serving bags
I was quite impressed with the flavor notes I could pick up in each of the three coffees. Among the three coffees I tasted chocolate, caramel, hazelnut and citrus. They featured rich sweetness, bright acidity and smooth, creamy bodies—attributes you’d expect to find in high-end specialty coffee. While none of the coffees were incredibly complex, they were each quite tasty and definitely some of the best instant-style coffee I have tried.
Waka Coffee is one of the more affordable specialty instant coffee options. Here is a breakdown of the cost:
- Single-Serve Packets: $1.50 per serving ($11.99 for 8 single-serve packets)
- 3.5 oz Bag: $0.75 per serving ($25.99 for 35 servings)
- 8 oz Bag: $0.50 per serving ($39.99 for 80 servings)
They also offer a 20% discount if you subscribe on their site, which brings the per serving cost down to $1.20, $0.60 and $0.40, respectively. This is one of the least expensive instant-style coffees directed at the speciality market. For comparison, Sudden and Swift Cup (two other respected specialty instant coffee brands) cost between $3-4 and $2-3 per serving, respectively.
When it comes to instant coffee, there are three main areas companies can differentiate themselves:
- Processing (how the instant coffee is made)
- Types of coffees offered (origins, roasts, etc. — essentially the Coffee Variety section above)
- The company itself (values of company, where they sell, etc.)
In each of these areas, I think Waka does a pretty good job. Their freeze dried approach is used by a few other instant coffee companies (though not many) and is the clear standard when it comes to making higher quality instant coffee. While they do fall a bit short compared to the competition on variety, they offer their own brand of coffee, which is unique to anything you can buy elsewhere. Finally, through their Add Water, Give Water initiative (see Sustainability section below), selling on Amazon and use of only single-origin, Arabica beans, Waka Coffee does a lot to try to separate themselves from the competition.
When it comes to versatility, Waka Coffee offers a few highlights:
- Travel-friendly: The travel-friendly nature of instant coffee—and specifically the single-serve packets—make it incredibly versatile and able to be used in almost any situation (travel, camping, hiking, etc.).
- Iced Option: While traditionally made warm, Waka Coffee can easily be made cold for iced coffee. To make it cold, you simply dissolve the coffee granules in a little hot water and then add the remaining water cold.
When it comes to convenience, instant coffee is hard to beat. The single serve packets are easy to take anywhere and all need is hot water to mix with the coffee. Instant coffee—even the best instant coffee—will never beat pour over specialty coffee in flavor or complexity. That isn’t the goal of instant coffee though. It’s goal is to be as good as possible in its flavor and complexity, but above all be fast and convenient.
Focusing on sustainability and being socially conscious should be part of any coffee roaster or company. Waka Coffee donates 4% of their profits to charity:water, which supports clean and safe drinking water initiatives; Waka Coffee calls the initiative “Add Water, Give Water.” charity:water is a really amazing organization that helps provide clean water in 26 countries around the world—many of which are coffee-producing countries.
The boxes the single-serve packets come in is also recyclable. It is clear that sustainability and social justice initiatives were not an after thought for Waka Coffee, but instead foundational principles they built their company upon.
Waka Coffee is available on their own website, Amazon and Walmart (online only). They ship anywhere in the United States and also Australia, United Kingdom and Canada. Usually you wouldn’t want to buy coffee from Amazon because it will likely be old and stale. With instant coffee though, it has a much longer shelf life, so that isn’t as much of a concern. Having the option to purchase from their site or Amazon does make its availability quite impressive. They do not have their products in any in-store, physical locations though, so you will have to purchase online.
The Bottom Line
After trying each of their coffees, I was very impressed with what Waka Coffee offered for the instant coffee space. While I will always choose pour over coffee day-to-day, Waka Coffee has become my go-to option when traveling or on the go.