Instant Iced Lattes Shouldn’t Work, but They Do

Maxwell House’s new instant latte mixes make their own foam on top.

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two coffee lattes side by side, one Starbucks, the other Maxwell House instant
Photo: Dennis Lee

I’m a firm believer that instant coffee has its time and place. Not everyone agrees with me, and I get it. Does it taste like the freshly brewed stuff? Hell no. Can it still be an enjoyable part of your day? Hell yes. There are some natural tradeoffs when you prioritize convenience over quality, but that’s to be expected. So I take instant coffee at face value, and that’s why Maxwell House was able to sneak up and surprise me.

Maxwell House recently announced a new instant coffee product simply called Iced Latte With Foam. Its last two words, “with foam,” obviously snagged my attention. Cold foam has been a popular element of Starbucks coffees and lattes since being introduced in 2018, and it’s an add-on that feels a little more sophisticated than, say, whipped cream. Making use of nonfat milk frothed when cold, cold foam definitely adds a little velvety fun to any iced coffee drink and takes the edge off its acidity.

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So when I saw that the Maxwell House product claims to produce a foam straight from the packet, I was equal parts intrigued and skeptical. What’s the process of translating this coffee house selling point into a packet of instant coffee crystals, and would foam really bubble up if you don’t use a frother?

spoonful of latte foam
Photo: Dennis Lee
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The instructions are simple: stir one packet vigorously into 8 oz. of cold water. As I prepared a serving, I watched through the side of the glass as the powder dissolved into instant latte, and as I continued to stir, I observed miniature bubbles forming, not unlike those you see in a pint of Guinness freshly poured.

After all the powder rapidly dissolved into the water, I watched the tiny bubbles cascade to the top of the glass. Lo and behold, my instant coffee now had a defined head to it. As you can see by the photo above, the foam became stable enough to scoop up and examine.

The ingredients label lists a few different thickeners that might help create the stable foam (xanthan gum, silicon dioxide, maltodextrin, and so on). The first ingredient on the list is sugar, nonfat milk comes in fourth, and instant coffee comes in sixth.

How does Maxwell House’s Instant Iced Latte With Foam taste?

The Iced Latte With Foam comes in three varieties: Hazelnut, Caramel, and Vanilla. I tasted the Caramel variety alongside a caramel cold foam coffee from Starbucks.

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While the Maxwell House packet noticeably lacks the deep, robust flavor of its Starbucks counterpart, it’s still pretty delightful. It’s sweet, smooth, and full of caramel flavor as advertised, though it gets a knock for a minimal trailing aspartame flavor (aspartame is in the ingredients list in addition to sugar). The coffee flavor is flat and dull, but that’s what you always get with instant coffee—again, convenience tradeoff—and I wasn’t about to expect the world of a single-serve sachet. Think of this like the ready-to-drink cappuccinos dispensed from a machine at the gas station.

Though the instant foam doesn’t have the same sturdy structure as the frothed Starbucks equivalent, the experience is still a fun improvement upon a cup of instant coffee. And yes, you can add ice to it; you just have to do it after the drink has been stirred up, not before. I recommend using slightly less than 8 oz. of water at the start to accommodate for the addition of ice. No one wants watered-down caramel beverage.

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Where to buy the new instant latte packets

This product is now available nationally in your grocery store coffee aisle. At a suggested retail price of $6.99 for a box of six packets, that’s just over a buck per serving. Nowhere near the value of coffee grounds for your drip coffee maker, but not too bad considering the small cold foam drink I purchased from Starbucks was well over $5.

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Is this stuff going to replace your favorite Starbucks treat? Of course not. Let’s be real, the coffee from Starbucks tastes a lot better, and there’s no pretending otherwise. But the Iced Latte With Foam adds a layer of childish fun to the afternoon cup of instant coffee you were going to muscle through anyway