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First Ascent Instant Review

Created by a craft coffee roaster, this is by far the best instant we've tried.
First Ascent Instant Coffee
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $20 List | $19.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Excellent flavor for instant, available in single origins and a blend, created by a specialty coffee roaster
Cons:  Expensive, still has that weird instant smell
Manufacturer:   First Ascent
By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 20, 2018
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#17 of 20
  • Taste - 40% 3
  • Ease of Use - 25% 10
  • Group Cooking - 15% 4
  • Portability - 10% 10
  • Weight - 10% 10

Our Verdict

We continue to test instant options because, for some outdoor adventures, there's just nothing better. Ultralight, easy to use, and brewable with both hot and cold water, if you're thru-hiking or on a big wall, you are probably just glad instant coffee exists, no matter how terrible it usually tastes. But the times they are a'changin', and First Ascent is helping to pave the way. We tested both a blend and a single origin and — especially with the single origin — we were downright impressed.

The drawback of most instant options is cost, and that is especially true with a high-quality product like this one from a small company. But price is relative, and if you are in need of instant and respect your taste buds even a little bit, we think you won't mind spending the extra dough for the right product. We also really enjoyed what we tried from Swift Cup Instant, another company that spotlights specialty craft roasters, though they don't roast their own. If you can bring some real coffee with you but still need to keep things super light and compact, be sure to read about our Top Pick for Backpacking, the Primula Single Serve Coffee Brew Buddy.


Compare to Similar Products

 
First Ascent Instant Coffee
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $19.99 at Amazon$8.76 at Amazon$15.99 at Amazon$6 List$22.45 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Excellent flavor for instant, available in single origins and a blend, created by a specialty coffee roasterGourmet flavor, well-conceived design, ceramic version available for home useNo filter needed, great taste, stylishLight, simple, affordable, design allows you to see level of coffee while brewingPacks down flat, produces a good cup, lightweight for non-plastic, works on top of many different-sized vessels
Cons Expensive, still has that weird instant smellSpecial shaped filters are harder to find, expensive for a plastic dripper, heavier than other brandsExpensive, requires water and more time to fully cleanNot as refined a flavor as the V60, bulkyCan collapse while brewing if not careful, certain filters hang very low due to large bottom hole
Bottom Line Created by a craft coffee roaster, this is by far the best instant we've tried.The iconic pour over model in a light plastic package, delivering a consistently great flavor.The best model that does not require filters and one of the few that does not involve hot water on plastic.This is a very light and inexpensive pour over option that provides solid taste and stellar value.This collapsible stainless steel dripper is a bit on the heavy side but it folds down flat for easy travel and brews a nice cup.
Rating Categories First Ascent Instant Hario V60 Plastic Dripper Paperless Pour Over Melitta 1-Cup Pour-Over Collapsible Coffee Drip
Taste (40%)
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8
Ease Of Use (25%)
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7
Group Cooking (15%)
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7
Specs First Ascent Instant Hario V60 Plastic... Paperless Pour Over Melitta 1-Cup... Collapsible Coffee...
Weight 0.2 oz for 1 packet, 2 oz for box of 8 dripper alone: 2.95 oz, dripper + scoop: 3.37 oz 3.3 oz 2.01 oz 4.8 oz
Brew Type Instant Pour Over Pour Over Pour Over Pour Over
Main Material n/a Hard plastic Stainless steel Hard plastic Stainless steel
Filter needed? No Yes No Yes Yes
Notable Features Specialty single origins available Cone shape, large hole, ribs along side No filter pour over Can see cup without lifting dripper Collasible cone filter
Notes One of the best tasting instants of all we've tried! Makes strong, smooth coffee Requires some water to clean between uses Doesn't brew as well as the Hario dripper Folds down flat for easier transport than most other cone drippers

Our Analysis and Test Results

If you're in a situation where you have to use instant, this is among the best we've tasted. We've come to expect that instant is just going to taste terrible no matter what, but First Ascent changes that narrative with high-quality single-origin options and a solid classic blend.

Performance Comparison


First Ascent was able to make us not totally despise instant coffee!
First Ascent was able to make us not totally despise instant coffee!

Brew Features


Rip open the packet, put it in whatever vessel you have, add hot or cold water and stir. That's it; you're done.

No grind size or brewing times to mess up here  just add water and you're on your way to caffeination.
No grind size or brewing times to mess up here, just add water and you're on your way to caffeination.

Taste


While instant will always taste and smell different than fresh-brewed, this one soared above most of the other brands we've tried so far.


We tested both the Hero Day Blend and a single-origin Ethiopian. First Ascent also makes a single-origin Honduras, but it wasn't available when we were ordering and testing. The Hero Day Blend tasted slightly but distinctly more "instant" than the Ethiopian, perhaps because it's a bit of a darker roast. But the Ethiopian was downright impressive. We had one taster during a testing session rank it below all the fresh-brewed options, but also not recognize that it was instant. Every other taste test we've done where an instant was on the table it was recognized after one sip. First Ascent makes us not cringe at the thought of having instant as our only option. Swift Cup, the other instant in our review, is also really impressive.

The two varieties we tried while testing. The Ethiopian was our favorite.
The two varieties we tried while testing. The Ethiopian was our favorite.

Ease of Use


Nothing to it, rip open the packet and add water. It doesn't even have to be hot.


One of the benefits of instant is that you can brew it in any vessel you have available, regardless of shape and size. We've also found that making your brew with cold water instead of hot often improves the overall flavor.

Even if you forget your camp mug you can still get your caffeine fix. There are benefits to instant for sure.
Even if you forget your camp mug you can still get your caffeine fix. There are benefits to instant for sure.

Group Cooking


Instant packets are more of an individual endeavor, though you can certainly bring as many packets as it takes to get the job done.


We rated our instant options based on a single packet, but you could, of course, caffeinate an army if you have enough on hand. That would get expensive compared to other caffeination methods, though.

Got a big group? Bring a whole box. It will be expensive  but also get the job done.
Got a big group? Bring a whole box. It will be expensive, but also get the job done.

Portability


Packets that weigh a fraction of an ounce are highly portable.


Slip your packets in wherever you want, they are moisture-proof and pre-portioned, as accommodating as you can get when trying to caffeinate yourself.

We're ready to hit the road with our First Ascent!
We're ready to hit the road with our First Ascent!

Weight


0.2 ounces for 1 packet, or 2 ounces for a box of 8.


One of the perks of instant is that the weight you see on the packet or box is the full weight. With all the fresh coffee brewers in our review, you will have the additional weight of coffee to consider, as well as paper filters for some.

First Ascent  keeping it classy.
First Ascent, keeping it classy.


Value


The old saying "you get what you pay for" absolutely applies here. This is not your typical cheap instant available at a regular grocery store and sure to make you pucker in disgust. This is expertly crafted from a small specialty roastery that buys quality beans and takes pride in the final outcome. Sure, it costs more than budget instant, but if you have to drink the stuff in the first place, shouldn't you do yourself a favor and drink something that's actually good?

Conclusion


We feel like this is a turning point for both coffee and ultralight aficionados. For too long, those of us that have needed to count every ounce have had to sacrifice MAJOR flavor when serving up our morning brew. But no more. First Ascent is upping the instant game, with single origins that surprised and impressed us. Granted, it's still instant and isn't anything like the real thing, but compared to most everything else we've tested up to this point? This is a clear winner. A box of 8 will set you back a whopping $20, so this is not a cheap way to go, but for those that know they deserve the best no matter what the activity, it's a small price to pay.

First Ascent: OutdoorGearLab tested  coffee snob approved.
First Ascent: OutdoorGearLab tested, coffee snob approved.


Penney Garrett