February 9, 2010

Review: Nescafé Taster's Choice Single Serve Instant Coffee Packs

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With the recent arrival of some new Nescafé Taster's Choice Single Serve Instant Coffee Packs, it can only mean it's time for another one of our "mega reviews". Apologies in advance to our readers if this article seems rather long, but we're reviewing over 6 different flavors at once, so keep that in mind.

As we had previously noted, we always thought of Taster's Choice coffees as being something along the lines of our parents' bland freeze-dried crystals and the brand itself has been around since forever, but it appears they've taken a new competitive approach towards Starbucks' VIA instant coffees as they claim the samples they sent us were made from 100% pure coffee beans and their marketing is obviously aimed against Starbucks.

The main difference between these Taster's Choice packs and the VIA packs would be the amount of hot water required to brew a cup... Nescafé only calls for 6oz in order to obtain maximum flavor. Add any more and you risk watering-down the taste. Further evidence they're taking aim at Starbucks is present when you take a look at the sample sleeve as it asks what would you rather have? "A lot of hype" or "A lot of flavor"? Need further proof? Check out the clever ad video they have posted on their site (see link at bottom of review)

So, DO these packs offer a lot of flavor? Let's have a go at all 6 to find out. We won't use our usual scoring scale for this review but will instead provide our general impressions/likes/dislikes for each flavor.

Taster's Choice Original

The tried & true "old timer" of the bunch. This is the classic original Taster's Choice flavor which has been around since our parents started drinking it back in the '70s. Nescafé even claims they're the original "inventors of instant coffee" and a quick Googling of "World's first instant coffee" yields a Nestlé page showing that they did indeed introduce the World's first commercially-available instant coffee in Switzerland back in 1938. So with such history & family tradition behind it, we naturally had to start our review with this flavor.

The granules of Taster's Choice coffee from the packet.

The granules are the same stuff you can get in the glass jars at most supermarkets and as expected, the flavor still tastes somewhat watered down despite using the recommended 6oz. Billed as between mild & medium roast, this one is definitely more on the lighter side of things with a slightly sour finish. Not what we were hoping for, but for those who like the original flavor, this is bang-on identical to the jar variety but in a more convenient "carry anywhere" format. We think only the die-hard fans of the brand will care for this flavor.

Taster's Choice Decaffeinated

This is the same as the original, minus the caffeine. What more can we say? On the bright side, they did manage to capture the same flavor as their "original" without making it taste any further watered-down than it already was. The taste profiles and characteristics are pretty much identical. Once again, we feel the die-hards will prefer to use this as their decaf option.

Taster's Choice Gourmet Roast

Billed as their "boldest, darkest blend" between medium & dark roast, we were expecting a bold aroma & taste. Aroma-wise, we found the scent to be a bit bolder than the original but nothing out of the ordinary. It all but disappeared a few seconds after we stirred the cup. As for flavor, this is indeed bolder than the "original" but still nowhere near what we'd get from a K-Cup. That might be comparing apples to oranges, so we won't hold Nescafé too much at fault here since we don't usually drink instant coffees in the Single Serve Coffee kitchens.

After all, a look on the Nescafé site does show this as falling between medium & dark, so we suppose it can't really be considered a true dark roast. Flavor is somewhat woodsy/smoky with a VERY faint hint of mocha undertones. Finish is less sour than the "original" likely due to reduced acidity. Unfortunately, as far as bold flavor goes, we hate to say that Starbucks VIA has them beat.

Taster's Choice 100% Columbian

Labeled as having the taste of 100% pure Arabica, this flavor turned out to be 10x stronger & bolder than the aforementioned "gourmet roast". If ever there was a bold flavor in this lineup, THIS is it & it's definitely more in line for what we were hoping for. The aroma put us off at first since bizarrely enough, it came across as somewhat oily, but the taste more than made up for it. Lots of smoky notes here with dark, almost molasses-like characteristics throughout.

If we had to pick an unflavored selection as our favorite out of the bunch, this would be our top pick. We had some orange-infused almond cantuccini (mini biscotti) with a cup of this coffee and the flavors blended together quite well. Acidity was a bit more pronounced but still in check. Finish was smooth overall. Yep, we're really liking this flavor a LOT and will likely use the coupon from the sample pack to purchase a box for when we're on the go. Really not bad for an instant coffee & given the past 3 flavors, way above our expectations. Good job Nescafé!

Taster's Choice Hazelnut

We've had some bad experiences with flavored instants in the past... some REALLY bad experiences which make us cringe just thinking about them. We're glad to say this experience was a little bit better. While not overbearing, the flavoring is rather on the sweet side of things (hmm... maybe we should have saved our cantuccini for this flavor?) but the hazelnut flavoring is too bland for our liking... we felt like there should have been a bit more flavoring and less sweetener. At least the aroma was spot-on full of rich hazelnut scents, but the texture of the grounds however was not the same as the previous flavors... this was more a mix of the crystal-style bits and a micro-grind powder (the flavoring or sweetener perhaps?)

The overall flavor was just a bit too light for our tastes. After searching the website for nutritional info, we found out that the artificial sweetener in these flavored varieties is ace-k (acesulfame potassium), something some coffee drinkers might not care for. If that doesn't bother you, then you'll find that the hazelnut flavor is complemented by very faint hints of caramel and low acidity. The finish was clean with little aftertaste.

Taster's Choice Vanilla

The second of the flavored varieties, this offering is also sweetened with ace-k and is done much in the same style as the hazelnut flavor, however, since some of us here at the Single Serve Coffee kitchens don't care too much for vanilla, the milder flavoring actually appealed to us and we found ourselves enjoying the flavor more than the hazelnut. Bizarre, yes, but totally unexpected.

Sweet vanilla scents are present in the aroma while as noted, a light vanilla flavoring is present throughout. Once again, low acidity and a clean finish are present with little aftertaste. Those of us who actually prefer vanilla were in the same boat as the hazelnut crowd, wishing that more flavoring had been present.

Overall conclusion

Overall, we think this is a hit or miss venture by Nescafé which will appeal more towards its already established fans & perhaps those who have never tried or those who are curious to see just how this stacks up to the VIA packs. The strongest flavor, being the 100% Columbian, was a welcome surprise while the flavored varieties such as Vanilla & Hazelnut will definitely appeal to the fans' wishes for a flavored version of Taster's Choice which they can now carry anywhere.

The 2 advantages these packs have over Starbucks VIA? No micro-grit at the bottom of the cup when you're done drinking it! There's nothing more disconcerting than to see something which was supposed to be 100% soluble turn out to be the exact opposite, so Kudos to Taster's Choice on that front. The main advantage & reason we still recommend giving these packs a try has to be the price. Not only because Nescafé is offering free samples (see below) but mainly due to the fact that you won't go broke buying them at your local supermarket if you decide to do so.

Do these Taster's Choice varieties beat Starbucks VIA offerings? Price & grit-wise, definitely but strength & boldness-wise, no. We still think the VIA flavors are the darker & bolder of the bunch which taste more like traditional coffee without any watered-down taste. Still, you shouldn't let that fact deter you from at least giving these flavors a try. Who knows? Maybe you'll end up preferring them over the VIA after all. Everyone's tastes are different & we have a feeling most readers will prefer more exotic offerings such as Trung Nguyen's G7 lineup (see our review here), so we can only suggest you use this review as research towards your purchase and not "the final word" on the product.

In closing, we would like to thank Nescafé for sending us these sample packs for the purpose of this review. You can find more info about Taster's Choice Single Serve Instant Coffee Packs via their official website at Smart Choice where you can even register to receive a free 6-flavor sample pack of your own (while supplies last).

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Posted by Jay Brewer at February 9, 2010 7:18 AM
Recent Comments

The recipe/formulation for Taster's Choice Original was changed in the last 10 years, so it's actually not the same as it was in past decades. Instead of using 100% arabica beans, they now use a blend of arabica and robusta (considered by many a "filler" bean). Clearly, the product isn't as flavorful as it used to be, to my disappointment.

Posted by: Mr. Haney at November 18, 2010 3:06 AM

They have some really good packets that also have cream and sugar overseas. It makes it really convenient (and its good actually). But unfortunately I've only seen the plain coffee packets in the U.S. Perhaps they will remedy this soon?

Posted by: William K at November 9, 2010 10:53 PM

The indiviudal packets are just too expensive and a waste of packaging. It apepars Tasters Choice did this because thats the way Starbucks packages their coffee (is it maybe the same?). They lost me as a customer.

Posted by: Mike D at March 29, 2010 2:55 PM

For Cannucks who are curious to give these products a try, the original & decaf flavors have started appearing on Canadian grocery store shelves (well, in Atlantic Canada Sobeys anyway)

Posted by: SH at February 16, 2010 8:19 AM
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