These java brands are giving instant coffee a much-welcome makeover.

instant coffee packets
Photography by Peter Ardito
| Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

Instant coffee has always been convenient, but rarely has it been, well, cute. Enter the latest wave of specialty instant, like the premium blends from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine. The beans are higher quality; the extraction is gentler (for a more flavorful brew); and the packaging is worthy of a place on your social feed.

Out of Pennsylvania, Swift Cup Coffee freeze-dries fruity blends from Burundi, Brazil, and Ethiopia and envelopes them into handy minimalist sachets. In collaboration with Swift Cup, Joe Coffee Company in New York City launched a trio of instant coffees—the Daily, Nightcap Decaf, and La Familia Guarnizo. Similarly, Chicago-based Intelligentsia partnered with San Francisco's Sudden Coffee for a line of crystallized coffee in travel-ready test tubes. Just pour the contents into hot water and enjoy. 

"Most of the instant coffees from our parents' day were extremely cheap robusta coffee, which did the trick," says Mark Mann, director of operations at Metric Coffee in the Windy City. (Robusta beans have higher caffeine but also more bitterness.) "Now we have access to microlots and small farms and specialty roasting equipment," says Mann. "So we can produce something higher-end that's also convenient."