Why the Perfect Afternoon Cup of Coffee Is Instant

Instant coffee packets are a true delight—if you follow the instructions.

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Maxim instant coffee
Photo: Marnie Shure

Every afternoon I hit a brick wall. It’s always exactly when you’d expect: right after lunch, when I’m full from eating a sandwich. I’m sure it’s because my body is redirecting its energy to my stomach to digest my food, thus turning my brain to molasses. This is when I reach for a cup of coffee, and it absolutely must be instant.

Why not a quick run to Starbucks? First of all, as most of you coffee drinkers know all too well, Starbucks and similar cafe coffees are strong. I like strong black coffee right after I get up, but if I have a cup of jet fuel in the afternoon, I get the dreaded jitters (which also cuts into my productivity) and can’t get to sleep at a reasonable hour later.

Enter: a packet of Maxim.

Why Korean instant coffee is the best

Maxim is a popular Korean brand of instant coffee, and while many of you’ve probably never heard of it, you may have seen it in the background of a K-drama from time to time.

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It’s always bright yellow, you can’t miss it
It’s always bright yellow, you can’t miss it
Screenshot: YouTube (Fair Use)

The screenshot above is from a show called Vincenzo, available for streaming on Netflix. The product placement is pretty shameless; the box is bright yellow, and so is the mug from which the title character drinks his coffee. You can’t miss it. And if you do, the characters go so far as to acknowledge the coffee with an approving bit of dialogue.

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But they’re not wrong; Maxim is genuinely terrific. While instant coffee is sort of maligned here in the United States, it’s cherished in South Korea. Why would this be? Did your parents ever drink instant coffee while you were growing up? I don’t understand why people look down on it so much.

Part of why Maxim’s instant coffee is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up is because it comes in a small quantity per serving. It’s only meant to be mixed with 100 mL of water. That’s a whopping 3.38 oz. of H2O. If you mixed a packet with the more typical coffee-sized serving of 8-10 oz., you’d get a watery cup that downright sucks. Served properly, it’ll reward you with a sweet (but not too sweet) and creamy (but not too creamy) cup of mild and delicate coffee.

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Less caffeine means no jitters

One packet of Maxim has 50 milligrams of caffeine, which is just enough to help me get over that afternoon slump. If you’re looking for an actual caffeine kick, just double the serving with another packet of coffee and some more water. Remember, even with two packets, you’ll want to go easy on the water!

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Maxim instant coffee powder in glass
Coffee crystals, sugar, creamer, all in one package
Photo: Marnie Shure

Every packet contains a small amount of sugar and powdered creamer along with the instant coffee crystals, which isn’t exclusive to Maxim, but is a vast improvement upon other instant coffees. Even if you don’t typically drink your morning coffee with milk, the creamer somehow turns this cup into something that feels a little decadent, even though it’s not actually rich. For those of you who crave sweets during the afternoon, this is a perfect way to satisfy that desire without turning to something that’ll set you up for a sugar crash.

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I introduced my coworkers to Maxim (I keep a 100-packet box of Maxim Mocha Gold Mild stashed on my desk), and everyone was delighted by it. I polled them all to see exactly why they liked it so much.

“Anything more than a tiny baby cup of coffee in the afternoon, and I’m bouncing off the walls like a Wild Thornberry,” said fellow staff writer Lillian Stone. “These packets are the perfect size for a pick-me-up.”

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Associate editor Brianna Wellen said: “It challenged everything I thought I knew about instant coffee by being so smooth and delicious (with no undissolved particles left behind!).”

“It was the first time that powdered creamer appeared to actually make a liquid any creamier,” added managing editor Marnie Shure.

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hand holding mug of maxim coffee
Here’s to a better afternoon
Photo: Dennis Lee

Where to buy the good stuff

If you’re interested in trying some for yourself, you can get a package of Maxim online at major retailers like Amazon. But online sellers take huge advantage of you; you’ll likely be faced with an overpriced product. The 100 pack (which seems like a lot, but trust me, you’ll fly through it) of the Mocha Gold Mild will cost you nearly $28.

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Your best bet is a Korean supermarket, like H Mart, or a smaller locally owned one by you. I picked up this box for $15, which is much better than spending double plus shipping, despite the added convenience of the web. As much as I love this stuff, yes, it’s still instant coffee, and you shouldn’t pay a lot for it.

I’m well aware that this probably looks and sounds just like a product placement in a K-drama show, but I swear, it’s not. Maxim brand instant coffee has been in my life forever, but I just wanted to let all of you in on a well-known secret that’ll hopefully perk up your day as much as it does mine.

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