Smooth, aromatic, and just that little bit fancier, gold coffee blends are marketed as a step up from regular instant coffee. But is it worth spending more for big-name brands or can you still bag a distinctive-tasting 'gold' brew from your local supermarket?
We tested Nescafé and Douwe Egberts gold coffee blends alongside 10 cheaper supermarket own-label options - including those from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco - in August 2021.
We uncovered some standout coffee that tickled our testers' taste buds. But there were also some low scorers that failed to impress.
Only logged-in Which? members can view our test results and tasting notes below.
All prices are correct as of 10 September 2021.
95p per 100g
The joint-cheapest coffee on test, did our taste testers notice the difference or has Aldi produced an excellent-value instant brew?
£1 per 100g
Is Asda’s reasonably priced coffee more bronze than gold? Our tasters reveal all.
£2.10 per 100g
Our panel has rated the flavour, mouthfeel, aroma, and appearance of Co-op’s coffee. Find out whether it deserves a spot at your breakfast table.
£2.64 per 100g
One of two big-name brands on test and the most expensive coffee per 100g. Does paying more get you a better-tasting coffee?
£1.40 per 100g
Did Iceland top the lot with its gold roast, or could its instant coffee make you wish you'd shopped somewhere else?
95p per 100g
Lidl’s gold coffee is joint-cheapest on test, so if you want your caffeine hit on a budget it could be a great choice. Is it too good to be true?
£2.25 per 100g
This isn’t just any coffee; this is M&S gold coffee made with 100% Arabica beans. But does it make for a top-scoring beverage?
£1 per 100g
Morrisons claims that ‘great days start with a great cup of coffee’. But will its gold blend be able to provide just that? Read on to see how it fared.
£2.50 per 100g
At more than double the price of the cheapest coffee we tested, is Nescafé’s proprietary gold blend coffee worth paying more for?
£1.50 per 100g
Does Sainsbury’s deliver when it comes to its own-brand coffee? We’ve put it to the test.
£1.50 per 100g
Tesco promises a coffee that’s ‘rich and smooth’. Did it win over our panel of tasters?
£2.50 per 100g
This coffee is the most expensive supermarket own-label coffee we tested per 100g, so should Waitrose shoppers favour this one over the big brands?
The term ‘gold blend’ was trademarked by Nescafe in the 60s. A slew of other brands then followed suit, creating their own ‘gold’ varieties. But what is a gold blend, and how is it different from your basic instant coffee? The words that crop up most on the labels to describe it are 'rich, smooth and well-balanced'.
Our coffee expert Giles Hilton explains: ‘Gold is more of a class of better-tasting blended coffees rather than the name of a specific bean or a description of a specific roast.
The standard supermarket instant is probably 50% Robusta, a coarse near-wild coffee grown en masse in China, Vietnam and Africa. Hence the basic, sometimes flat taste.
Gold blends and own-label stylish coffees are more expensive and contain near 90% (or even 100%) Arabica.
The varieties vary by country (like wine). But typically, they're properly farmed, with care, harvested when ripe and give all the distinctive flavours. Though the quality and taste of each brand can certainly still vary.’
One teaspoon of instant coffee diluted in 250ml of water contains around 65mg of caffeine. Instant tends to have a lower caffeine content by volume than filter coffee or espresso.
A 250ml cup of whole bean filter coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine, while a short 30ml shot of espresso contains around 60-80mg of caffeine.
As ever with anything where the environment is a factor in your decision, there are a lot of things to consider.
As far as environmental impact is concerned, the most important aspect is to ensure you’re picking a coffee, whether it’s whole bean or instant, that has been cultivated the right way (shade-grown, bird-friendly or using a recognised certification such as Rainforest Alliance).
This is because the damage done by deforestation or poor land management is often far greater than any other part of the process.
How the coffee is consumed (instant, fresh grounds or pods, for instance) has less influence.
However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the energy used when making a coffee.
Reduce your energy use by only filling your kettle with the water you actually need and opting for energy efficient appliances.
When choosing coffee in the supermarket, you might notice food assurance labels on the packaging, such as the Rainforest Alliance logo. This means that the coffee has been certified as compliant with certain sustainability and welfare standards. See below for what each logo means.
Co-op, M&S and Waitrose use Fairtrade-certified coffee for their gold coffee blends. This scheme ensures farms have fair working conditions and meet environmental criteria, such as responsible water use. Forced and child labour is banned, and there is a set minimum market price for what farmers and producers are selling, to cover the cost of sustainable production.
Of the products we tested, only Tesco uses Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. Products that carry the Rainforest Alliance logo must have systems in place to protect the farm’s natural biodiversity and resources, such as restrictions on the use of pesticides. They also must ensure workers are treated fairly and that child labour is not used.
Douwe Egberts pure gold is made with UTZ certified coffee. UTZ is a sustainable farming program covering social, economic and environmental issues. It merged with the Rainforest Alliance in 2018, so products carrying the UTZ logo are likely to soon be transitioning over to the Rainforest Alliance logo.
Instant coffee is designed to be simple and quick to make, so it's not rocket science - but there are some tweaks you can make that will improve the taste of your brew:
The coffee was assessed by a large panel of consumers who regularly buy and drink gold coffee blends.
Each coffee was assessed by 67 people, and the panel broadly represented the demographic profile of adults in the UK.
We made the coffees using 1.8g of coffee (around a teaspoon) and 200ml water (Nescafe serving suggestion). Most coffees we tested suggest using one to two teaspoons of coffee, but you can adjust the amount depending on how strong you like it to be.
The panellists rated the taste, aroma, mouthfeel and appearance of each product and told us what they liked and disliked about each.
The taste test was blind, so the panellists didn’t know which brand they were trying. The order they sampled the coffee in was fully rotated to avoid any bias.
Each panellist had a private booth so they couldn’t discuss what they were tasting or be influenced by others.
The overall score is based on:
These weightings are based on consumer rankings of the importance of different coffee attributes.