NZ's instant coffees ranked

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
An acceptable-tasting and quick caffeine hit does not have to hit your back pocket too, a new ranking of instant coffees has found.

A Consumer NZ panel blind taste-tested nine brands, and while there was a general correlation between price and quality, one brand bucked the trend.

While the two top-ranked flavours were the most expensive, they were hardly better than Pam's Café Roast Instant Coffee - a supermarket budget brand that cost a lot less.

"I think I'm probably the chief coffee snob at Consumer New Zealand," Ruairi O'Shea told RNZ's Checkpoint.

"I've got a machine at home. I try and avoid instant coffee if I can help it, but you never know when you're gonna have to dip in."

And if you do, and want the best, Consumer recommends Robert Harris Colombian Blend - which was described as actually tasting "like coffee" and the "best of a bad bunch".

Second place went to Nescafe Gold Original, which was described as having a "coffee-style whiff" and "inoffensive coffee taste".

But if you want to save money, the Pam's costs just a quarter of those two - and at $3.19 per 100g, significantly less than Coffee Supreme Instant, which was priced at over $76 per 100g.

"Pam's Cafe Roast was the second-cheapest coffee that we taste-tested, but it was the third-highest scoring coffee when it came to taste and it was pretty marginal.

"So if you're looking to save, save your pennies in the cost of living crisis, Pam's Cafe Roast gives you kind of around in and amongst the best taste."

Something the lesser instant coffees lacked was an actual coffee taste.

"Kind of the further down we go… we realised that that coffee taste is not something to take for granted."

But even the best instant coffee - a New Zealand invention - was still a long way off fooling real coffee connoisseurs, O'Shea said.

"Instant coffee is maybe quite far away from developing the perfect flat white. You can add boiling water to it, might be all right with a long black."

Coming in last was Countdown Granulated Instant Coffee, which Consumer NZ panellists said "looks like coffee, but can't be coffee"; "like a very cheap motel sachet from the '90s" and having an "odd, funky taste". 

The results:

Best tasting

The best-tasting coffee according to our panel was Robert Harris Colombian Blend. Panellists enjoyed its chocolatey aroma and distinct coffee flavour. At $11.00 per 100 grams, it was in the middle of the pack in terms of cost, but tasted better than the more expensive coffees on test.

Best brew for your buck

The best brew for your buck according to our panel, was undoubtedly Pams Café Roast. This was the second-cheapest coffee on test at just $3.19 per 100 grams, but the third-highest-scoring coffee when it came to taste.

To establish the best brew for your buck, we divided the price of 100 grams of each coffee by the number of points it scored in the test. An easy way to think about it is dollars per point.

Value and Countdown’s instant coffees performed strongly on this measure, by virtue of their low price, but they performed very poorly in the taste test. If price is all that matters, pick Pams.

Worst brew for your buck

At the other end of the scale, Coffee Supreme’s Instant comes with hipster pedigree and an eye-watering price tag at $76.14 per 100 grams.

This coffee is a bit of an outlier in our test, coming in packs of seven pre-dosed sachets. Pitched at the outdoorsy among us, Coffee Supreme Instant is marketed as “the next best thing” when a fresh brew is unavailable. However, after coming in sixth place in our taste test, you’re probably better off buying a bag of Pams and decanting a small amount into a Ziploc bag.

The best of a bad bunch

It’s fair to say our panel of spoiled Wellingtonians did not enjoy the instant coffees all that much. The best-tasting coffee scored an average of 5.1 out of 10. The worst tasting coffee – Countdown’s granulated instant – averaged just 2.9.

Adding milk appeared to take the edge off. Panellists who added milk scored their coffees at an average of 4.8 out of 10; those who drank the coffee black averaged a score of just 2.5. If you normally drink an espresso-based black coffee, you might like to try a drop of milk in your next instant.

Instant coffees ranked

1. Robert Harris Colombian Blend

Robert Harris Colombian Blend took top spot among our panellists, receiving 51 points out of a possible 100. Some participants praised its chocolatey aroma, and while it sounds silly, several praised it for its coffee taste. Not something to take for granted as we move down this list!

Overall score: 51/100

Price per 100g: $11.00

Percentage of panel who would buy: 60%


“It has a chocolatey aroma – hints of cocoa.”

“Can taste coffee! Nice flavour.”

“Yeah I'd buy this one for tramping or something. Not amazing. Not entirely terrible.”

2. Nescafe Gold Original

The second-highest-rated coffee among our panel was Nescafe Gold Original, scoring 47 points out of a possible 100. Like Robert Harris’s coffee, respondents praised Nescafe’s coffee for its … coffee-ness, even if they felt it was middle of the road.

Overall score: 47/100

Price per 100g: $12.00

Percentage of panel who would buy: 30%


“Not bad. Not a lot of smell, but has a coffee style whiff to it.”

“Good taste … got a real coffee flavour coming through.”

“Mild coffee taste, inoffensive, not too bitter or acidic.”

3. Pams Café Roast Instant Coffee

Pams Café Roast Instant Coffee was the third-best coffee on test, with our panel scoring it at 46 out of 100. Importantly, Pams Café Roast was among the cheapest coffees we tested, costing $3.19 per 100 grams. The two higher-scoring coffees cost almost four times more. While our panel had some unkind things to say about the aroma, this coffee elicited some uncharacteristically sophisticated comments from our panel when it came to taste.

Importantly, one participant using soy milk found the acidity of this coffee caused their milk to curdle. Despite the value, if you add soy milk to your instant coffee, you might be best avoiding Pams.

Overall score: 46/100

Price per 100g: $3.19

Percentage of panel who would buy: 40%


“Smells like my muddy football boots.”

“It has a special texture, and the taste is quite unique. It feels like high quality coffee.”

“The taste might be citrusy … only a hint though.”

4. Starbucks Dark Roast Premium Instant

Better known for its coffee shops, Starbucks’ instant coffee offering came in fourth place, with a score of 44 out of a possible 100. Participants felt that this was among the strongest coffees on test, although it appeared the dark roast could have been a couple of shades lighter, with two panellists remarking that it tasted burnt. This was the second-most-expensive coffee on test, and it was pipped to a podium place by the second cheapest – Pams.

Overall score: 44/100

Price per 100g: $14.44

Percentage of panel who would buy: 40%


“Like burnt real coffee. A bit old, a bit burnt, but far more like coffee than most others.”

“Dusty – there is a texture to it, grainy, sort of akin to burnt coffee.”

“The strongest one.”

5. Jed’s Number 2 Medium

Jed’s Number 2 Medium coffee received 43 points out of a possible 100 from our panel, placing it firmly in the middle of the pack. Participants felt the Jed’s coffee was quite acidic, with a bitter, burnt element in both its aroma and flavour. One of the respondents who took milk with their coffee felt it was a particularly bad combination.

Overall score: 43

Price per 100g: $9.50

Percentage of panel who would buy: 30%


“Smells like burnt potato skin, not in a good way.”

“Bitter. Nothing like coffee.”

“The coffee and milk flavour are quite discordant … they don't blend together and I can distinctly taste them separately. It's not very harmonious.”

6. Coffee Supreme Instant

Coffee Supreme’s instant coffee was a bit of an outlier in the survey as the only coffee that came in pre-measured sachets. It’s also an outlier in its astronomical price compared to the other coffees on test. Supreme’s instant coffee costs the equivalent of $76.14 per 100 grams. For that price, you’d hope for a standout flavour, but the coffee came sixth in our test, scoring 42 out of 100. Participants felt Supreme’s offering had hints of coffee in its aroma that were lacking in its flavour. Just 20% of panellists would buy this coffee for their home.

Overall score: 42/100

Price per 100g: $76.14

Percentage of panel who would buy: 20%


“Smells a bit like real coffee. Not great real coffee, but not horrible.”

“Mild, insipid, odd flavour, tastes like a coffee substitute.”

“It gives a smooth taste. But it doesn’t taste like coffee to me.”

7. Moccona Classic Medium Roast

Here’s where things started to go badly wrong. While the second and sixth-place instant coffees in our test are separated by just six points, there’s then a five-point drop to seventh-placed Moccona Classic Medium Roast. Moccona’s instant scored just 37 points out of 100; a poor performance for the third-most-expensive brew on trial. Two participants felt that Moccona’s offering had a pleasant caramel aroma, but quickly surrendered that view when they drank the coffee.

Overall score: 37/100

Price per 100g: $14.00

Percentage of panel who would buy: 20%


“Smells like caramel … Does NOT taste like caramel. Tastes acrid and dank.”

“Smells like a sachet of caramel cappuccino powder … tastes like fake caramel cappuccino. Not terrible if you like a Starbucks coffee-adjacent drink, but not a pleasant coffee experience.”

8. Value Instant Coffee Powder

Value Instant Coffee Powder represented another significant step down when it came to flavour. Panellists scored Value’s instant offer at just 32 points out of a possible 100. Comments on the aroma of the coffee were among the worst on test, and panellists were also not complimentary about the flavour. Just 10% of our panel would buy this coffee for their home.

Overall score: 32/100

Price per 100g: $3.10

Percentage of panel who would buy: 10%


“Fine grounds put me off. Nothing redeemed it.”

“Weird taste that I can’t describe, very odd! Quite revolting!”

“Awful. This is the kind that my mum buys and I drink it out of politeness.”

9. Countdown Granulated Instant Coffee

Last, and unfortunately least, is Countdown’s instant coffee. Countdown’s coffee is among the cheapest on test at around $5.40 per 100 grams, but it is also the lowest scoring, with our panel giving it a score of just 29 out of 100. This coffee was considered quite weak by most of our panellists, which was possibly for the best, given how they described the taste. None of our panel would buy this coffee for their home.

Overall score: 29/100

Price per 100g: $5.40

Percentage of panel who would buy: 0%


“It's a taste sensation. Looks like coffee. But can't be coffee.”

“Not pleasant. Like a very cheap motel sachet from the 90s.”

“Yuck, odd funky taste, impossible to describe.”

“It lingers. Not in a good way.”

The full results can be found on the Consumer NZ website.