The Best Camp Coffee: A Taste Test

A good cup o’ joe on the trail is hard to come by. Especially if you’re going lightweight or ultralight. No fancy backcountry french presses or aeropressed coffees here. We’re talking good old instant coffee grounds. Fast, easy, and lightweight.

We assembled a savvy crack squad of Seattle-based coffee taste testers to blindly assess the aroma, flavor, and overall drinkability of 6 major instant camp coffees: Cafe Bustelo Instant EspressoFolgers, Mount Hagen, Nescafe Tasters Choice, Starbucks Via – Columbia, and Starbucks Via – Pike Place Roast. We confirmed some assumptions but also uncovered other unexpected results. Our findings may surprise you…

The assessment also includes a cost-analysis in order to determine if this camp coffee is a “Bang-for-your-Buck”. The Bang-for-your-Buck (or BPB) is determined by dividing the Walmart, Target, or Amazon cost per packet (in cents) by the drinkability score. An average BPB would be around 1, a good BPB above 1, and a bad BPB below 1.

In order of worst to best, here are the findings and rankings of 5 major camp coffees (rated x out of 100).

6. Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee Crystals – 41.25/100

Coming in last place, with a score of 41.25/100 is Folgers.

Aroma notes include: hot chocolate, dish water, burnt, “smells like Folgers”, none, coffee, coffee/nutty, and weak/burnt.

Flavor notes include: gross but finished sweet, bitter, medium roast, slight coffee & almost non-existent, tastes like gas station coffee but that’s still coffee, and burnt/dirt/dry.

Drinkability comments include: nope, is this more than water?, balanced and weak, and good smell…yeah, no. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 60 with an average of 41.25

Cost analysis: Folgers costs $1.09 for 7 packets, or $0.16 per packet. Bang for your buck? Folgers BPB rating: 2.58.

5. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast Coffee: Columbia – 45/100

Coming in second to last place, with a score of 45/100 is Starbucks Via Columbia.

Aroma notes include: pee, sour smoke, dark roast, bacon, burnt dark, bacon food, smoke, and bitter.

Flavor notes include: burnt, dark, bitter, dark & robust, bitter/watery/sweet, bacon, kitty-litter, and bitter.

Drinkability comments include: gross, bacon, pretty good/would drink, strong & flavorful, and lacks taste. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 45.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Columbian Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Columbian Roast BPB rating: 0.57.

4. Starbucks Via Instant Medium Roast: Pike Place Roast – 50/100

In the middle of the pack, with a score of 50/100 is Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast.

Aroma notes include: also pee, sweet/round/nutty, burnt, yo dis via, coffee, caramel-y but bad, and nutty.

Flavor notes include: sharp taste, bitter, neutral & slightly bitter, nutty & smokey, burnt, bitter/a bit sour, and burnt.

Drinkability comments include: bland, balanced weird flavor, good, basic, and no thanks. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 80 with an average of 50.

Cost analysis: Starbucks Pike Place Roast is listed for $6.29 for 8 packets, or $0.79 per packet. Bang for your buck? Starbucks Pike Place Roast BPB rating: 0.63.

3. Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend – 52.5/100

Second best, with a score of 52.5/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: burnt/chocolate, chocolatey with fruity notes, fruity & nutty, light/nutty/cocoa, mild/bland/non-existent, good/real coffee, bitter, and acid/bitter.

Flavor notes include: bitter but finishes ok, weak coffee/flat water, bland/not too bitter/mild, smokey & chocolatey, watery, dry tree bark, and weak.

Drinkability comments include: not bad it would be better with milk, probably the most that tastes like coffee, not bad would add more grounds for a full flavored cup, not good, and harsh. Drinkability scores ranged from 20 to 100 with an average of 52.5.

Cost analysis: Nescafe Tasters Choice is listed for $1.09 for 6 packets, or $0.18 per packet. Bang for your buck? Nescafe Tasters Choice BPB rating: 2.92.

2. Cafe Bustelo Instant Espresso – 65.6/100

Second best, with a score of 65.6/100 is Nescafe Tasters Choice House Blend.

Aroma notes include: roasty, nutty, smells like coffee, slightly sweet and roasty.

Flavor notes include: good, especially nice finish, mild, pleasing coffee, not bitter.

Drinkability comments include: Tasty! Good. Drinkability scores ranged from 60 to 70.

Cost analysis: Cafe Bustelo is listed for $7.99 for 6 packets, or $1.33 per packet. Bang for your buck? Cafe Bustelo BPB rating: 0.49.

The winner!

1. Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Instant Coffee – 75/100

Clobbering the other coffees and coming in first, delicious place with a lead exceeding 25%, with a score of 75/100 is Mount Hagen.

Aroma notes include: pleasing chocolate, it’s fine, sweet caramel, good coffee, smokey & cocoa, medium/nutty, vanilla/nutty, and weak coffee.

Flavor notes include: decent & smooth, smooth, smooth, sweet chocolate, not very bitter/mild/roasty, weak, light & fruity, and smooth.

Drinkability comments include: best so far, good!/best, basic but ok for camping, and I would drink this. Drinkability scores ranged from 30 to 95 with an average of 75.

Cost analysis: Mount Hagen costs $13.48 for 25 packets, or $0.54 per packet. Bang for your buck? Mount Hagen BPB rating: 1.39.

Bang-for-your-Buck Rankings:

Worst to Best. The bigger the number, the better Bang-for-your-Buck

0.49 – Cafe Bustelo
0.57 – Starbucks Via Columbian Roast
0.63 – Starbucks Via Pike Place Roast
1.39 – Mount Hagen Organic
2.58 – Folgers
2.92 – Nescafe Tasters Choice

So, which coffee should you buy?

If cost is no issue, buy Mount Hagen. Duh. It’s tasty.

If cost is the most important factor, buy Nescafe Tasters Choice. It has a decent flavor and is a good deal.

Update: If your conscience is important (or the earth or children or women, etc) then don’t buy Nestle/Nescafe Tasters Choice. Pollution with my coffee just doesn’t taste all that good…

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