Instant coffee is a great ingredient to have in the kitchen pantry if you like to bake. Many recipes, especially recipes involving chocolate, call for either a small amount of brewed coffee or simply for a bit of instant coffee to be added to highlight the darker chocolate notes in the recipe. It’s very convenient to be able to whip up a strong cup of coffee with instant coffee, rather than brewing a whole pot to put just half a cup into a cake. Even stronger than instant coffee is instant espresso. Instant espressos have a more intense, and usually much more complex, flavor than regular instant coffee. They can be a better choice for baking because they add a lot more to a recipe than just a vague hint of coffee flavor.
In their most recent issue (March 2010), Cook’s Illustrated included a taste-test of three different instant espresso brands in a batch of brownies (tasters still thought the real thing was best for drinking). Their favorite was Caffe D’Vita Imported Premium Instant Espresso, which had “dark, deep, fruity, toast-y” notes to it. They also liked Cafe Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee for it’s “rich fruitiness. The brand of instant espresso that I like to bake with, Medaglia D’Oro, was one that they liked although it was not their favorite. Tasters said that it added a “good complexity.” They won’t sell these in all markets (although I have seen them in Target before), but you’ll definitely find some of these brands at stores like Williams-Sonoma and specialty grocery stores.
Perhaps next time they’ll throw some Starbucks Via into the taste test. It’s not instant espresso, but it’s very easy to work with and does have a lot of complexity to it – especially when you compare it to other instant coffee products.