First Ascent Instant Review
Cons: Expensive, still has that weird instant smell
Manufacturer: First Ascent
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Our Analysis and Test Results
If you're deep in the backcountry with a wicked heavy pack, but cannot live without your morning brew, then First Ascent is among the best tasting instant coffees we have ever tasted. Gone are the days when you will have to sacrifice flavor for an ultralight and ultra-rapid caffeine fix. First Ascent flips the narrative on instant coffee with high-quality single-origin options and their absolutely drinkable Hero Day blend. Next time you are getting ready for an all-day alpine assault deep in the backcountry, pick up a couple of these packets — you surely will not be disappointed.
Nothing is easier than instant coffee. Nothing. Simply, rip open the packet, add the grounds to whatever mug you can find, add hot or cold water, and stir. That's it: you're done! To finesse the flavor we suggest adding less than 8 ounces of water, as this will assure that you get a full-bodied cup rather than a weak batch of bean tea.
In the hearts and minds of most coffee-lovers, instant coffee will always taste and smell different than fresh-brewed coffee. However, First Ascent fared decently well in our blind taste-tests. While it scored lower than brewing with fresh beans, our taste-testers preferred it to more mainstream instant coffee options. Besides, when it's all you have, you'll be happy you opted for a higher quality instant coffee.
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 has more of an "instant" flavor than the Ethiopian, perhaps because it's a darker roast. On the other hand, the Ethiopian is downright impressive. In one taste-test, a taster ranked it just below all the fresh-brewed options, but without recognizing that it was an instant coffee. With every other taste test we've done where an instant was on the table, our testers spotted the instant coffee within one sip. First Ascent makes an utterly drinkable instant coffee reminiscent of a freshly brewed single-origin coffee. Impressive.
Ease of Use
There is literally nothing to it. All you gotta do is rip open the packet, empty the contents into your cup, and add water. It doesn't even have to be hot. If you prefer strong coffee, be sure to add less than the recommended quantity of water. Either way, there is minimal clean-up and finessing involved to produce a cup of coffee.
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.
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. Be fair-warned; this could get mighty expensive compared to the other caffeination methods in our review. Either way, instant coffee is simple enough that you could easily share coffee with your friends if you're down to foot the bill.
There is nothing more portable than a featherweight packet of instant coffee. Thus, First Ascent is the most portable option in our review, earning itself top marks for this metric.
Each packet is roughly the same size as your driver's license, so you will barely notice the space they take up in your food bag. Slip one of these little dudes into any pocket of your pack. They are moisture-proof and pre-portioned. You can't get more portable than that!
There is no beating instant coffee with respect to weight. Each packet weighs 0.2 ounces or just 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 weight you get. Alternatively, with all the fresh coffee brewers in our review, you will have the additional weight of coffee and possibly paper filters to consider. So for those backcountry missions where every micro-gram counts, First Ascent may be the way to go.
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, sure to make you pucker in disgust. This is expertly crafted instant coffee from a small specialty roastery that buys quality beans and takes pride in the final outcome. Sure, it costs more than a 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?
This is a turning point for coffee lovers and ultralight aficionados. For far too long, instant coffee has been something you grimaced your way through in exchange for a caffeine fix. Now you don't have to sacrifice MAJOR flavor on a backcountry mission where every gram counts. First Ascent has upped the instant game, by peddling a delicious instant coffee with single-origin roasts that surprised and impressed us. In some of our blind taste tests, our testers could not discern the difference between First Ascent's Ethiopian and other freshly brewed options. Granted, this is still an instant and, for the most part, it doesn't remotely compare to the real thing, but when compared to nearly every other instant coffee we have tested up to this point, this is a clear winner and our reigning Top Pick for Instant. It's not a cheap way to go, but if you want to step up your ultralight coffee game, this is the way to go.
— Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett