The Wirecutter's "The Best Instant Coffee"


The Best Instant Coffee


Your guide

  • Liz Thomas

After spending a dozen hours doing research and interviewing experts, and following up with outdoor athletes and guides we had enlisted as testers—who, with instant coffee in their packs, hiked in New Mexico, camped in Colorado, backpacked across the island of Corsica, and road-tripped across the US—we vetted 14 different instant and device-free coffees. While none can approximate the work of an artisan roastery, Mount Hagen Organic Single Serve Instant Coffee offers a mild, smooth cup that will satisfy most palates at a reasonable price per cup.

Our pick

Mount Hagen Organic Single Serve Instant Coffee

The best instant coffee

This mild, smooth coffee balances price with a taste that pleased most of our testers.

Buy from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $6.

Mount Hagen instant coffee received a “best of the instants” rating from more of our testers than did any of the other coffees for a reason: It has a mild, smooth flavor without bitterness or too much acidity. This German-roasted instant is among the most affordable coffees we considered. It is also the only instant coffee in the lineup that’s certified to be fair trade and organic (more about what this might mean below). None of our testers found the flavor of the Mount Hagen offensive—a miracle in the instant coffee world. While Mount Hagen is not going to compete with what your local roastery can accomplish, it’s a great balance of quality, convenience, and price.



Starbucks Via Ready Brew Colombia

Reliable and predictable

It’s expensive, but it provides almost the same taste of a Starbucks coffee far from a store.

$40* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $41.

Our testers found that the flavor of the Starbucks Via Ready Brew was reliably consistent with what you’d get in a Starbucks store. The Via instant single-serving sticks satisfied our testers without offending anyone. Unlike many instant coffees, the Via isn’t weak or watery. It also contains more than twice the caffeine of most instant coffees. It was most enjoyed by those testers who like Starbucks already or who would be happy to drink Starbucks when other options aren’t available.

Upgrade pick


Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo

The best single-use pour-over

Here is good coffee in a convenient package for those who want pour-over quality without dealing with the bulk, weight, or cleaning that pour-over setups require.

$18 from Treeline Coffee Roasters

If you’re willing to spend more and deal with more trash afterwards, single-use pour-overs or brew-in-bag systems are a great option. These systems don’t require investing in or bringing special equipment—all you need comes in a clever coffee-making package. Because they use ground beans, the right single-use pour-over or brew-in-bag coffee can give you a drinking experience close to what you’d get at home. We found that the single-origin ground coffee in the Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo resulted in the best-tasting, most-satisfying cup of these options, and it’s the most convenient to prepare. Treeline also uses specialty-grade coffee beans—an industry rating restricted to only the highest-quality available. You’ll pay more for it than you will for most instants, but Treeline was a treat to have in the outdoors.

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The Research

Why you should trust us

I’m a former holder of the Appalachian Trail speed record who relies on caffeine as much for making miles on the trail as for meeting deadlines in my role as a Wirecutter staff writer. After a bad experience with caffeine pills years ago, I turned to instant coffee as my go-to for liquid courage in the backcountry. I’ve tried dozens of instant brands, suffering through the watery, the overly sweet, or the not fully dissolvable.

Wanting the help of professional palates, we recruited Arno Holschuh, a 14-year veteran of the specialty-coffee industry—here, too, the term “specialty” specifically refers to the highest-grade beans available. As the vice president of production at the revered Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, California, he was in charge of the company’s coffee supply chain and roasting facilities in California, New York, and Tokyo. Currently, he is COO of Bellwether Coffee, a zero-emissions roaster based in Berkeley, and he consults for start-up roasteries. Along with helping us narrow down our criteria and testing pool, Holschuh tested our 14 coffee finalists on a 500-mile trekking and rafting trip across New Mexico. Another two of our adventure testers had been baristas at Colorado-based coffee companies that cater to outdoor adventurers: Ozo Coffee Companyin Boulder and Camp 4 Coffee in Crested Butte.

To understand what typical coffee consumers want—there’s a reason Starbucks is so popular—we talked with Katherine Johnson, who spent five years working at the chain, first as a barista and then as a manager, training employees on tastings and averaging five Passports per year (that’s a complete tasting of all 30 to 40 coffees that Starbucks offers worldwide).

We also relied on the coffee knowledge of our own staff, starting with two of our former colleagues on the Sweethome coffee team, Cale Guthrie Weissman and Thais Wilson-Soler. Weissman worked as a barista for more than five years in Portland, Oregon, where he went through Stumptown Coffee Roasters’srenowned training program, and in New York City, where he trained with a Northeast National Barista Championship finalist; he co-wrote our pour-over guide. Wilson-Soler was a barista at several high-volume Brooklyn restaurants and coffee shops for three years; she wrote our cheap coffee maker guide. Daniela Gorny, the associate managing editor on The Wirecutter’s Outdoors team, is a former barista who ran cuppings according to the protocols and best practices of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA); she led a blind tasting at our LA office with local Wirecutter staff members.

Who this is for

The United States is a nation of caffeine addicts. According to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans start the morning with a cup of Joe. Most follow that up with nearly two cups over the course of the day. Just because they’re traveling or trekking through the woods for a weekend doesn’t mean Americans don’t want, or need, their fix.

If you drink coffee every day in real life, going without while on the road or trail can be bad news. Charlotte Austin, who leads climbing, mountaineering, and trekking expeditions in remote places like Tanzania, Patagonia, and Nepal for International Mountain Guides, told us, “One thing that’s really interesting is how often I see clients go through caffeine withdrawal—it’ll be 9:30 am, and somebody will starting complaining of a headache. They often assume it’s altitude-related, but if they’re used to drinking a pot of coffee every day and then they suddenly switch to half a cup of instant, that’s a recipe for an instant headache.” Studies show that caffeine withdrawal syndrome includes not only headaches but also physical and mental fatigue and, in limited cases, flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. That’s one more reason it’s worth finding an instant coffee palatable enough that you can bear to drink more than just half a cup.

Okay, so coffee is, for many people, a must. But for backpackers—and business travelers living out of a carry-on—the weight and bulk of beans (whole or ground) and the gear needed to transform them into coffee can be prohibitive. Lighter backcountry coffee contraptions do exist: Professional backcountry skier (and former barista) Beverly Johnson uses either a coffee mug with a built-in French press or a collapsible pour-over coffee maker, but, she admitted, cleaning either device can be a pain. Last fall, Outside magazine recommended instant coffee over a range of portable coffee-making devices for most backcountry adventurers because of its ease of use. Two final arguments against devices that leave you with coffee grounds to dispose of: Not only can coffee grounds that spread through your pack cause difficult-to-clean stains, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo reports that coffee grounds are like “catnip” to bears.

Pull Quote

The biggest problem with instant coffee is that there are a lot of instant-coffee brands out there that don’t use great coffee beans.

In theory, the range of quality in instant coffee and “real” coffee should be the same. A Huffington Post review says that instant could use “the same beans you’ll find in traditionally brewed coffee, roasted using the same method—plus two additional steps. Not all brands use the exact same method, but most manufacturers A) dissolve the roasted beans in water to concentrate the coffee solution, and then B) dry that product out by either freeze-drying or spray-drying. That final step is what creates either crystals or a powdery substance.” The big problem with instant coffee is that there are a lot of brands out there that don’t use great coffee beans—which is one reason why, in this guide, we seek to separate the good grinds from the dregs.

If you are brewing for a whole group of campers, the picks here could work, but you might find a camping coffee maker to be less expensive and more fun; see our guide to the best coffee maker for camping. If you are looking for a more permanent option for an office that has the counter space, check out our best cheap coffee maker guide. And if you’re willing to invest in a great pour-over system, it can provide superior coffee for those situations where you don’t have to haul the setup far. The picks in this guide, however, will work as long as you have access to hot (and, in some cases, even just cold) water—meaning they’re perfect for travelers, adventurers, and laptop warriors.

How we picked

The 14 backcountry coffee options we tested. Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Before considering any coffees to test, we consulted food and beverage publications like Coffee ReviewFood & WineBon AppétitSerious EatsCoffee Guide, and Just Burr Grinder, devouring any coverage of instant coffee (especially reports of new, smaller companies aiming to expand instant-coffee horizons), as well as outdoor publications like OutsideGear JunkieGear Patrol, and Gear Caster, who all recognize the importance of speedy, easy-to-prepare, and mess-free coffee in the backcountry. In addition, we read Amazon reviews and regular news coverage on instant coffee, including articles from The Huffington PostThrillist, and The Denver Post. We also interviewed coffee experts, professional outdoor athletes, and our own coffee team at The Sweethome to get a better idea of the options that are out there and the criteria by which to judge coffee.

Thanks to the convenience and long shelf life of instant coffee, many countries and cultures have adopted it, adapting its flavor to match local customs and tastes. Although these products sound interesting, we decided to focus on coffees that have a reliable US supply chain and that are easy to purchase in the US at a normal grocery store.

Caffeine in the wild (from left): Starbucks Via Instant Colombia, Mount Hagen Single Serve, and Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo single-use pour-over. Photo: Caleigh Waldman

To make comparing coffees easier, we eliminated any that had sugar or non-dairy creamer already added. We wanted to compare black coffee versus black coffee, not find out which coffees have a better balance of sugar and cream. Using black instant coffee also allows the most versatile drinking experience—you can always add your own sugar or creamer. Similarly, we excluded flavored coffees, as added flavors can mask defects in a coffee, and also because, well, yuck.

In the past, instant coffee was sold only in jars of 20-plus servings, but these days many companies sell theirs in single-serving packets. We thus restricted our samples to the one-cup sticks (though companies often define one “cup” as 6 ounces). The single-serving sticks are more expensive and generate more trash than instant from a jar, but they are also pre-portioned, allowing us to better assess what the manufacturer thinks is the best ratio of granules to hot water. More important, the single-serving sticks are easier to use on the go and less messy than dumping a jar into a plastic baggie at home and then trying not to spill the baggie’s contents all over camp each morning.

How and where we tested

Once we came up with our list of contenders, we had to decide upon our criteria for judging them. We loosely based ours on the SCAA cupping guide, but we recognize that many of their procedures, which were created for evaluating speciality coffee (the highest grade out there), just don’t work for instant coffee. One reason is that with instant coffee, the beans are roasted and ground in a factory, not at the testing location, where we would be able to smell the beans at different stages in the roasting process. Also, because companies make instant coffee by brewing it and then freeze- or spray-drying it into crystals, we couldn’t make sure the water-to-bean ratio was to the SCAA’s specs.

To best capture the views of SCAA experts and of average coffee drinkers, we recruited as testers people who have worked in the coffee industry as well as “civilians,” albeit civilians who drink coffee every day. Our testers in the field prepared their samples using available water that was clean and without odor, including water collected from springs or streams (the SCAA recommends avoiding distilled or softened water), and following the instructions on the packaging. We wanted the process to approximate how backcountry users or travelers will prepare their instant coffee—without a thermometer, scale, or other equipment (although our testers did try to measure their water by using the lines on their cook pots).

Aroma: While many coffee tastings include smelling the ground beans to evaluate their fragrance, this wasn’t, of course, an option with instant. Instead, we asked testers to rank the coffee’s smell after it was infused with hot water.

Blind coffee tasting at our LA office with Wirecutter and Sweethome staff. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald


Pull Quote

Nobody likes coffee that is too thin or watery. Unfortunately, “thin” and “watery” are common adjectives in the instant coffee world.

Flavor: You sense this when you slurp the coffee, allowing it to run across the many taste-sensory areas on your tongue, but you also pick up so-called retro-nasal aromas (the ones that go between your tongue and nose). The term flavorencompasses your first impressions (“principal character”), the midrange notes, and the aftertaste. You also should take into account how intense the flavor is. A bad taste that is weak can be forgiven. A strong bad taste cannot.


Our coffee-industry tasters were on the lookout for noticeable defects. While there’s some controversy about the extent to which these might add character to a coffee versus marring it, the less forgivable of these defects are caused by lower quality beans tainted by pests, disease, or mold or by beans harvested at the wrong time. (That is, too early, or too late.)

Balance: In their instant coffee, most people want a balanced cup—meaning that acidity, body, aftertaste, and the overall flavor work together, having consistent quality on the front, middle, and end of each sip. No single element sticks out too strongly. Most notably, testers did not like aftertastes that were overly bitter or harsh.

Body: This measures the mouthfeel of the coffee and its thickness—nobody likes coffee that is too thin or watery. Unfortunately, “thin” and “watery” are common adjectives in the instant coffee world. We prepared each cup of instant as recommended on the package for the testers doing the blind tasting in our office, and testers in the field did the same.

Our candidate coffees ranged from single-use pour-overs like Treeline’s Geo (top) to standard add-water-and-stir instants like Mount Hagen to innovative options like the Jiva Coffee Cubes.Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Residue: That is, there shouldn’t be any. Residue isn’t (usually) an issue for coffee made with ground beans, but it was a make-or-break criterion for our instant coffee. Weissman told us the thing that grosses him out the most about many bad instant coffees is the texture, describing it like something “you’d find on the bottom of a French press. It tastes muddy, even if it supposedly is all dissolved.” We asked our testers, Do the crystals or granules fully dissolve? Does the coffee feel grainy?

The ride: This is the hardest thing to quantify—it’s impossible, in fact—but some coffees can make some people nauseous, jittery, or anxious. We asked our testers to report any such effects they experienced. After all, in the backcountry, a good-tasting coffee can turn bad if it leaves you more anxious than usual on a big-exposure climb.

Availability and price: These factors apply as much to commuters and travelers needing a dependable, affordable jolt as they do to climbers and trekkers. Our picks should be easy to find and not break the bank.

Backcountry-specific criteria:

Packaging: Is it easy to open without scissors? Would you be able to get the package open with gloves or cold or numb hands? Does the box or tube or packet have sharp edges that could snag on delicate gear or rub weirdly in your pants pocket? Does the coffee come with a bulky container that you have to carry out as trash (and could it potentially leak all over your gear)? Note: The single-use pour-over and brew-in-bag systems we tried have significantly more packaging than the just-add-water instants, which is one reason we put them in a different category.

Ease of use and cleanup: Instant coffee has the easiest use and cleanup: Just add water and you’re done. Disposable single-use systems like the brew-in-bag coffee or disposable pour-overs require more prep. These setups also need to remain stable on whatever surface you’ve put them on while the hot water drips through the filter and grounds—that is, not blow or tip over easily while you’re making your coffee.

Testing coffee in a backcountry camp on the GR20 trail in Corsica, France. Photo: Liz Thomas

In addition to our blind tasting in the office, three staff members spent two months testing the entire lineup in the course of 7,000 miles’ worth of road trips. We also enlisted four teams of adventurers to prepare and drink instant coffees on their expeditions. Three of the teams had at least one person whose coffee knowledge was barista level or higher. Here is where the teams prepared their beverages and why:

  • Northern New Mexico Loop: This 500-mile trek through the Sante Fe and Carson national forests is where our expert Arno Holschuh prepared instant coffee on a backcountry stove with water from springs and rivers, going up to seven days between ventures into civilization. The idea here was for him to test it in places where he’d be unlikely to find a good coffee shop, even when he went into towns.
  • GR 20: Called by some “Europe’s hardest hike,” this scrambly trail across the island of Corsica takes most trekkers two to three weeks to complete. As is common in Europe, our testers camped near mountain lodges scattered along the trail; those lodges bring in supplies, including “real coffee,” by helicopter, putting our picks in direct competition with more traditional (albeit more expensive) options.
  • Midwest road trip with Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers: This duo of testers, who are spending a year traveling from North Dakota to Minnesota to Iowa to Illinois to Missouri, go from schools to festivals to public land visitor centers to teach the ethics of outdoor adventuring. Operating on a shoestring budget and living out of a Subaru, they prepared coffee on their dashboard with water from RV campground spigots, an excellent example of how many real-life campers actually experience their coffee.
  • Collegiate Peaks range, Colorado: Our team of testers took the coffees out on a series of hiking and camping trips over many spring and early summer weekends, preparing coffee over camp stoves and at elevation on the Colorado Trail, at Turtle Rock, at Harvard Lakes, in the shadow of Mt. Albert, at Twin Lakes, at Interlaken historic presidential camp, and on a trail maintenance trip with the Colorado Trail Foundation.

Our pick

Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Our pick


Mount Hagen Organic Single Serve Instant Coffee

The best instant coffee

This mild, smooth coffee balances price with a taste that pleased most of our testers.

Buy from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $6.

Mount Hagen Organic Instant Coffee has great reviews on Amazon for a reason: It offers crowd-pleasing flavor at an affordable price. Most coffee drinkers want a beverage that has a smooth, mild flavor and is low in acidity, and those traits are exactly what won Mount Hagen, which is roasted in Germany, the “best of the instants” title from more of our testers than any other coffee. Every other candidate had at least one tester who found it undrinkable, but Mount Hagen—while not blowing anyone away—seemed to work for everyone. Per cup (which the German company defines as 6 ounces) it is among the least expensive of the coffees we considered. But it’s also organic and fair trade—the only coffee we tested with this certification. Such certifications often add a price premium, and we haven’t seen enough evidence to be convinced that they guarantee better conditions for the growers or the inhabitants of the region in question or a healthier environment—what’s more, they can be expensive for coffee growers to attain—but we realize many eco-minded outdoors-folk look for them.

Pull Quote

As several testers put it, Mount Hagen’s flavor is inoffensive, which, we discovered, is a true rarity among instant coffee.

Coffee consultant Arno Holschuh noted that it “tastes like it was made with pretty good arabica,” which is a species of coffee associated with high-quality beans. (By contrast, we suspect that the lower-scoring Nescafé Clásico contained the high-producing, heartier, and bitter Coffea robusta.) The Mount Hagen, he added, “is not over roasted to the point of leaving a dry taste in the mouth,” which was a common problem among many of the other instant coffees we tried. Most testers noted a short aftertaste and smooth mouthfeel—two features that, per our criteria, most coffee drinkers want in coffee. One team of testers wrote, “YAY! Something not leathery!”—“leathery” being a common adjective appearing in our results. As several testers put it, Mount Hagen’s flavor is inoffensive, which we discovered is a rarity among instant coffee.

Making a cup of coffee with single-serving sticks is as easy as rip and pour and stir.Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Unlike the other crystallized or granularized coffees we evaluated, the Mount Hagen crystals fully dissolve after a few stirs and don’t leave a residue. Another plus is that unlike other instant coffees, most notably the Jiva Coffee Cubes, it can easily be prepared as a cold coffee—an advantage for people who may not have time to heat up water for a coffee or people who want a pick-me-up in the heat of the day. Adventure testers also found the packaging on Mount Hagen among the easiest to open and dispense crystals from. While the corners were not rounded—which would be optimal—the packaging is thinner and more flexible than that of many other coffees, including the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee or the Starbucks Via, making it less likely to, say, damage the other gear in your backpack.

Gear PatrolJust Burr Grinder, and The Denver Post have also singled out Mount Hagen as adventure fuel, and the jar version consistently gets 4.7 stars or more from hundreds of reviewers on Amazon.

Up close and personal with Treeline’s Geo, Mount Hagen, and Starbucks Via. Photo: Caleigh Waldman

The stick varieties tend to get slightly lower Amazon reviews (4.3 stars and up)—the main complaint of many reviewers being that a single serving isn’t strong enough. Amazon reviewers as well as our testers said that they enjoyed Mount Hagen more when they used two sticks of coffee for each cup. Yes, this doubles the price of your cup of coffee, but the price is still less than what our testers’ other favorites cost.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The Mount Hagen won’t impress those searching for a complex, acidic, or strongly flavored coffee. As Arno Holschuh told us, “There is no acidity to speak of, and little sweetness. There’s no satisfying taste of caramelized sugars.” Another testing team described it as “meh,” while yet another described it as tasting like “cheap diner coffee.” But said Weissman, “I actually like bad diner coffee. You know, the type where they haven’t washed out the coffeemaker for years? It’s generally lighter but pretty strong.” Our coffee experts agree that for an instant, this isn’t a bad flavor profile to have.

Almost all the testers found the aftertaste short and the mouthfeel to be smooth, but one tester called the coffee harsh and its mouthfeel astringent. This is not a complex coffee, but it is one where you could make a pot by the campfire and not have anyone spit it back into the flames. And with instant, that’s an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.


Photo: Caleigh Waldman



Starbucks Via Ready Brew Colombia

Reliable and predictable

It’s expensive, but it provides almost the same taste of a Starbucks coffee far from a store.

$40* from Amazon

*At the time of publishing, the price was $41.

Starbucks Via Ready Brew Colombia has a flavor similar to what you will get from a medium roast at a Starbucks store. This doesn’t sound like this should be such a big deal (or such a surprise), but it was actually a notable achievement in instant coffee. In 2009, Starbucks woke up the instant-coffee world by releasing Via, which uses better quality beans than what had been found in the previous benchmark, Nescafé. Eight years later, Via has become the standard by which we measure instant coffee. To our astonishment, it is a standard that the competition is still struggling to beat.

Unlike other instants we tested—which contain only brewed coffee concentrate that’s been spray-dried or freeze-dried—each packet of Starbucks Via Ready Brew Colombia adds very finely ground coffee beans (labeled as “microground coffee beans” on the packaging). In a 2009 interview with Fortune, Andrew Linneman, then the director of green coffee quality for Starbucks and now the company’s director of global coffee quality, explained that the microground beans add both texture and flavor. According to Amazon reviewers and anecdotal stories from our testers, though, the microgrind also gives it a shorter shelf life than many of the instants we tested, which seem like they were designed for a Cold War fallout shelter.

There’s another reason why testers may have felt energized about Starbucks Via: It has twice the caffeine of a regular instant. (We chose the Colombia because it’s Starbucks’s best seller on Amazon and it has the highest rating on Coffee Review. The mid-to-dark roast Colombian may, however, have more caffeine than a lighter roast like the Starbucks Via Veranda.)

The taste of the Starbucks ranked relatively high among our testers. Interestingly, the testers doing the blind tasting were more enthusiastic about the flavor. Our adventure testers (who prepared their own coffee in the field and saw its packaging) gave it lower ratings, and we can’t dismiss the possibility that they’re biased against a company that’s often seen as a threat to local coffee shops. In a 2011 article, Coffee Review poo-poos Starbucks’s claims that the Via offers the same flavor, body, and coffee-drinking experience as you’d get from coffee brewed from Starbucks beans. Our testers disagreed. Regardless of whether the individual tester admitted to liking or hating Starbucks, even our most highly trained tasters thought that Via tastes exactly like what you’d get at the store.

Oddly, the packaging doesn’t specify how many ounces of water to use when preparing a cup, so while we asked testers to use 8 ounces for their initial testing, there was a lot of tailoring afterwards on our part and among the testers to get a desired strength and thickness.

If you purchase Via online or in bulk, its price falls in the middle of the coffees we tested. When Via came out in 2009, the retail price was so out of line with other instants that it caused an uproar. These days, people are more accustomed to higher coffee prices, and given the proliferation of even more expensive instants, they’re evidently willing to spend even more for a reliable cup of coffee.

Upgrade pick

Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Upgrade pick


Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo

The best single-use pour-over

Here is good coffee in a convenient package for those who want pour-over quality without dealing with the bulk, weight, or cleaning that pour-over setups require.

$18 from Treeline Coffee Roasters

Single-use disposable coffee systems let you make coffee with real ground beans (not dried crystals or granules) in a relatively fuss-free way that doesn’t require investing in extra coffee-making equipment. However, they are more expensive than the just-add-water instants. You’re paying a premium for the handy disposable contraptions and for generally (but not always) higher-quality coffee grounds. The best of the pour-over or brew-in-bag systems we tried was the Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo, which has not just the best coffee flavor but also the best single-use disposable prep system we tested.


Pull Quote

Apparently, Treeline, a single-use pour-over, gave our testers more fuel for their imagination than did the monotonous instants they had been drinking.

Treeline’s single-use pour-over system suspends coffee in a paper filter over your cup using paper hooks. It was stable, even in the wind, and worked equally well on small camp cups or wide-mouthed Nalgenes. Its closest direct competitor, the Libra Pourtables, has a similar design that was also loved by our testers, who observed that both of these systems resulted in a complexity of flavor and body that most of the instants couldn’t match. Both Treeline Geo and Libra Pourtable use real ground coffee that’s roasted in small batches. But between the two, we preferred the fresher, smoother, more balanced flavor of the Treeline Geo. Treeline uses specialty-grade coffee whereas Libra uses an organic premium-grade coffee—a distinction that even casual drinkers sensed, even if they didn’t realize coffee does have grades. The Geo packets also have rounded edges, as opposed to the sharp corners on the Pourtables—another plus for those worried about the rest of their gear.


Holschuh noted that the Treeline has “acidity, a raisiny sweetness, and a distinct savory note that one would expect from Nicaraguan coffee.” Other testers sniffed out a berry or fruity aroma, tasted a woody flavor, and discovered a smooth mouthfeel. Apparently, the single-use pour-over gave our testers a little more fuel for their imagination than did the monotonous instants they had been drinking.

Unlike traditional pour-over filters, which are usually round when seen from above, the Treeline Geo’s is square. Photo: Caleigh Waldman

One more thing: The Treeline Geo system doesn’t have much coffee inside. Holschuh commented that it has “less than 15 grams, which is maybe 50 percent less coffee than I’d recommend [for that amount of water].” Yet it packed a bigger taste than he expected for that amount, as long as you don’t try to make more than the 8 ounces directed on the package. In fact, none of the other coffee testers noticed that, in effect, 15 grams’ worth of flavor were missing from the Geo’s bag.

Coffee aficionados already want to know: What does the single-use filter look like? When you open the package, you’ll see the coffee is in a paper mesh container that looks like a rectangular tea bag. You tear the top off (there’s a perforated line to guide you), then you expand what look like paper hooks and hang the bag from the rim of your cup.

Video: Caleigh Waldman

The major drawbacks of the Treeline Geo have more to do with single-use pour-overs as a genre than with the ground beans themselves. The Treeline Geo is more expensive than the crystallized freeze-dried instants that we considered. Because it is made with ground fresh coffee, it also doesn’t have the shelf life of an instant; it’s good for only a few months, and it should be used soon. Making coffee with a pour-over system takes between 90 seconds and 2 minutes, which testers found slow after instant’s dump in and stir. The brewing instructions also require precision: Your water must be between 200 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. With many of the instant coffees, hottish water is good enough to get the job done (and sometimes cold water even works). For adventurers trying to save camp fuel, or for the impatient, this requirement can, of course, be a disadvantage. Then there’s the usual problem found in many real pour-over system designs: the possibility of uneven extraction.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of a single-use pour-over system is that it generates more trash than the other instant systems. According to the Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, the trash you bring into the backcountry you should also pack back out. (Treeline, which is based in Montana, suggests burning your filter after you’re done with it, but this smells to us like a forest fire waiting to happen.) Most car campers and weekend backpackers probably won’t be going so far from a garbage can that disposing of their coffee trash appropriately will be a huge burden. But for those headed far into the backcountry, device-free systems such as the Geo will require you to carry extra trash weight for, quite possibly, many days. And coffee-related garbage isn’t like a candy bar wrapper. If you don’t wrap up your used filter well, it could create a mess in your pack. Also, whether you’re using one of these device-free systems in the front or in the backcountry, they will nonetheless create more trash in landfills than other systems.

That said, for many people, having a real cup of coffee in the wilderness may be worth all of these drawbacks.

Why instant coffee is so bad—and what you can do about it

Instant coffee has a reputation for being awful, but it doesn’t have to be. According to coffee consultant Arno Holschuh, “the biggest reason instant sucks is that they use shitty coffee. Start with shitty ingredients, end with a shitty product.”

Holschuh said there’s another reason, though, that instant can’t achieve the experience of freshly ground beans: the smell (or lack thereof). While scientists debate about how much what we call “taste” is related to smell (common numbers cited are 75 to 90 percent) they do generally agree that smell has a dominant role in what we call “taste.” The problem with instant, Holschuh told us, is that “a lot of the chemicals that make fresh-roasted, fresh-ground coffee taste so good are volatile,” which means that they turn into gases very easily. Once released into the air, they hit our smell receptors, or dissipate into the air. But then, they’re gone. Losing these smell molecules is especially significant in a hot beverage like coffee, Holschuh said, because the heat helps them turn into a gas, and we’re used to smelling them as part of the coffee drinking experience. “The freeze-drying process [used to make instants] would do nothing to preserve such compounds,” he said.


Pull Quote

If your usual daily caffeine intake is more than 8 ounces of coffee, don’t think that a single cup of instant is going to serve you like your usual Starbucks Grande.

Cale Guthrie Weissman, who wrote many of The Sweethome’s coffee guides, added: “Normal coffee has you grind beans, and some parts dissolve in water and some don’t. It’s all about getting the ideal ratio.” With instant, the company does this in its factory and dries the results. The drinker has almost no control over that ratio—how much and what parts of the ground beans ends up in the drink and how much is discarded—so you have to trust the company to do a good job of it. Often, you will find that what ends up staying in the brew is all the worst characteristics of a bad coffee. He especially found that bad instant brings out an intense tobacco note. “You can get that flavor naturally in bad coffee, but in instant, it is exacerbated.”


Amazon reviewers, experts, and our own experience all agree that another reason instant sucks is that it’s often watery and flavorless. Combine that observation with another drawback with instant packets—that they make small cups of coffee—and you’ve got the makings of an old Woody Allen joke. (“The food at this place is really terrible!” “Yeah, I know—and such small portions!”) To solve both problems at once, we’ll share the advice of our experts and our amateur testers: Double the amount of the instant coffee you use, and increase the amount of water by half again. (So that’d be two packets of instant coffee, each intended to make 8 ounces of coffee, dissolved in a total of 12 ounces of water.)

As coffee expert Arno Holschuh pointed out: “No one actually drinks 8 ounces of coffee and is satisfied—most consumers want at least 12 ounces.” Keep in mind guide Charlotte Austin’s advice: When you’re traveling or in the outdoors, try to keep your caffeine levels consistent with what you normally drink back home. If your usual daily caffeine intake is more than 8 ounces of coffee, don’t think that a single cup of instant is going to serve you like your usual Starbucks Grande.

Last, if your instant is otherwise unpalatable, flaws and defects in your coffee can be “masked by cream and sugar the way steak sauce hides a bad steak,” one writer says on the specialty roaster blog Kohana Coffee, based in Austin, Texas. We tested our coffee candidates black so that our coffee experts and civilians could find those defects for you.

The competition

The half-coffee, half-mushroom blend of the Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffeehas become a health fad, complete with celebrity endorsements. As it’s the best-selling instant coffee on Amazon, we had to see what the fuss was about—even if we weren’t convinced it was actually coffee. (It’s also ranked first in coffee substitutes, plus the package says not to consume more than one cup in a day!) Blind taste testers and adventure testers gave it the highest overall score for flavor of any of the coffees, including the pour-overs. No one found it disgusting or unpalatable. It has a mild acidity and isn’t bitter—it’s a slightly bolder version of the Mount Hagen. But we ran a Fakespot scan on the Amazon listing, and it gets a D, which indicates that more than 50 percent of the reviews are possibly fake. Between the suspect reviews, the “influencer” sponsorships, and the questionable health claims (the “adaptogenic” qualities of mushrooms—or any substance—are far from proven), we just see too many red flags to be confident in making this a pick.

Libra Coffee Pourtables: The Libra has a satisfying aroma, but when consumed as a full cup instead of just a tasting spoonful, it comes across as weaker than our upgrade pick. (It still tasted better, though, than almost every other coffee we tried.) The grounds also don’t seem as fresh as those in the Treeline Geo. Still, it’s a good backup if the Treeline Geo is unavailable, and it’s the same price. It’s also a good option if choosing an organic coffee is more important to you than a slightly better flavor—though, again, we couldn’t find scientific consensus as to whether organic coffee is better for the environment. Libra also touts a social mission (the company says that it donates water filters to the towns where it sources its coffee).

Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground Bella Donovan: This was the one single-serving coffee we tested that wasn’t instant but also didn’t come with its own single-use filter or device. Perfectly Ground packets are single servings of ground coffee that claim to provide the same freshly ground coffee experience you’d have in a speciality coffee shop, even when you are far from civilization. Blue Bottle claims to achieve this by removing any oxygen in its packets while sealing them—the idea being that oxygen degrades the coffee, making grounds come across as stale. Our testers tried making the Perfectly Ground cowboy style, a device-free method that involves stirring hot water into a couple of spoonfuls of ground beans and pouring off the liquid. Those in, or who have worked in, the coffee industry were crazy about this product because it captured all the aroma, acidity, and body that they felt were lost in the instants and faded in the single-use disposable systems. However, a “civilian” tester remarked that “this has got to be instant”—he tasted too much acidity, which he equated with a lower grade of coffee. If you live and breathe coffee and can put up with the mess of making cowboy coffee (or are willing to bring along an Aeropress or pour-over system), this is an excellent choice.

Alpine Start: The favorite of four testers but loathed by others, this polarizing instant coffee stirred up controversy in our cups. Those passionately in favor of it described it as tasting like scotch, with an earthy, smoky aroma. Those disgusted by it called the flavor “sour and acrid.” Still others, including Holschuh, thought that it had simply been over-roasted. The crystals were also much finer than those in other instants, and many of us had trouble removing them from the packaging without making a mess. While some drinkers (including most of our testers) may find Alpine Start more delicious than our pick, given that it costs more than twice as much as the Mount Hagen and that so many people hated it, we can’t say that it is the best instant coffee for most people.

Sudden Coffee Helvetica: This coffee is marketed as a luxury instant coffee made with specialty-grade (aka the highest-quality) beans. Yet, despite being “better than the coffee in 90 percent of the restaurants you’ll go to,” Holschuh said, “it still tastes a touch faded … like a slightly worn out copy of your favorite LP.” Meanwhile, our casual coffee drinkers couldn’t sense what all the fuss was about. It was also the most expensive of the coffees we considered, almost six times the cost per cup of our pick.

Nescafé Taster’s Choice Instant 100% Colombian: Another divisive coffee, this budget instant isn’t pretending to be anything fancier than what it is, but it still gets good marks for an instant from Coffee Review. Some testers called it “sour, acrid, and gross.” But as Holschuh pointed out, “The other products that tested this well or better are all specialty items.” This coffee was the least expensive of the ones we tested and is widely available at most grocery stores. Holschuh also appreciated that “they put enough coffee in a serving that it actually tastes like coffee at its recommended 8-ounce serving size.” It won’t please everyone, but it’s inexpensive enough to take a gamble on.

Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Jiva Coffee Cubes Black: These instants come in cubes like sugar and dissolve in a hot cup of coffee. Some of our adventure testers loved the low waste, packable design—so much so that one of the teams went out and bought more after they were finished with testing. Despite being called “black,” the cubes are, it turns out, held together with sugar, which resulted in a flavor that some testers found overwhelming. Other testers thought that the cubes took too long to dissolve and left granules at the bottom of their cups, especially if they didn’t use hot-enough water—a shortcut they could get away with using traditional instants. We ultimately dismissed the Jiva cubes because they didn’t quite meet our criteria: It’s hard to compare a sugary coffee with a lineup of straight black coffees. (We’d tried, in fact, to avoid this situation by limiting our search to black coffees.) Nonetheless, if the cube design and the assortment of flavors available—they include mocha and caramel—appeal to you, the Jiva cubes are comparable in price to Starbucks Via. And watching the Cubes dissolve does provide low-tech fireside entertainment.

Café Bustelo Instant Coffee Single Serve Packets: Serious Eats calls this inexpensive, low-flavor coffee the “PBR of Instant Coffee.” Even when the single-serve stick is combined with just 6 ounces of water, as prescribed on the package, it was weak and watery. Holschuh compared the coffee to “a stale, bitter non-alcoholic beer left out overnight.” Other tasters detected a woody flavor, with low acidity and a smooth mouthfeel that made it better, to their palates, than many other instants. While no one thought this coffee was the best of the bunch, there was something about it that some of our barista testers and casual drinkers loved. Like the Nescafé, it’s so inexpensive that it may be worth a try if our picks aren’t available.

Trader Joe’s Pour-Over Coffee Brewer Brew in the Bag Brazil: Producing weak and watery coffee, the ground beans in the filter had clearly lost some flavor during their time on the shelf. But this brew-in-the-bag container was easy and fun to use, and its container was more stable than that of the Nature’s Kettle. The flavor was stronger, too, although it wasn’t as good as the Mount Hagen, the Treeline Geo, or the other disposable pour-over we tested, the Libra Pourtables. And, like the other in-the-bag systems we tried, this setup creates a lot of waste that needs to be packed out.

Nature’s Kettle 100% Colombian: This in-the-bag system makes 32 ounces of coffee and could be a good option if you have a big group. Yet the flavor of the resulting coffee is weak—so much so that the instructions suggest running the coffee through the filter a couple of times to get a stronger cup. Multiple testers reported that when they used the bag system in the field, it was top-heavy and spilled easily. Unlike the Trader Joe’s bag, which has a clear bottom, this bag makes it hard to see whether you’ve finished all the coffee inside. At least one team of testers spilled even more coffee during cleanup, thinking the bag was empty.

Nescafé Instant Clasico: Holschuh diagnosed this coffee as being phenolic, a defect in the coffee world that is often associated with a taste of chlorine or metal. (He also described the flavor as “poisonous … tastes like plastic fishing lures smell.”) There’s little acidity in this cup, and everyone found it to be watery—even when made with just 6 ounces of water. Most Amazon reviewers agree, and repeatedly suggest that other shoppers opt for the Nescafé Taster’s Choice instead.

What to look forward to

We didn’t receive the new Kuju Coffee Pocket pour-overs in time to send them to our testers. Nonetheless, we are intrigued by this specialty coffee, which is sold in a single-use pour-over system similar to those used in the Treeline Geo and the Libra Pourtables. We’ll test the Kuju internally, and we will run it past our testers alongside the other coffees for the next update of the guide.

Although this guide attempted to consider only black coffees, in future editions we do want to include flavored or sugar-added options such as Know Brainer or Copper Cow, a single-use pour-over Vietnamese-style coffee that comes with its own sweet cream. This would give us a better direct comparison for the Jiva Coffee Cubes, which we ultimately dismissed because it didn’t meet our criteria.


  1. Arno Holschuh, coffee consultant and COO of Bellwether Coffeephone and email interviews

  2. Cale Guthrie Weissman, freelance journalist and coffee reporteremail interview, June 29, 2017

  3. Thais Wilson-Soler, coffee reporterphone interview, June 28, 2017

  4. Katherine Johnson, former Starbucks manager, in-person and phone interviews

  5. Cupping ProtocolsSpecialty Coffee Association of America

  6. Cupping StandardsSpecialty Coffee Association of America


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The Trek's Current Backpacking Food Picks

Check out this great article from the Trek!

The variety of options for backcountry food is mind boggling. With so much to choose from, hikers could fuel with a different diet, brand, or strategy every week of a thru-hike. Maybe. We haven’t actually tested this theory. If someone wants to, let us know.

While ramen and Pasta Sides have gotten many a long-distance hiker from one terminus to the other—yes, while saving money—sometimes it’s nice to switch it up, or test out more nutrient-dense options. Whether you’re eating paleo, need your daily fix of caffeine, or want to spice up your granola bar selection, these are our picks for foods you might not have heard of, or haven’t thought to try out.

Here they are, in no particular order besides the time of day…maybe. Hikers have odd eating habits.

(Good) Morning

GEO Single-Serve Pour-Over Coffee

MSRP: $20 for a box of 10
0 calories per serving, but we’re here for the caffeine

geo_treeline_coffee_backpacking-700x394 (1).jpg

This is good coffee. An easy, single-serve pour-over roast that is perfect for those trips when you’re not concerned about pack weight. Each package weighs in at 0.42 ounces and is handcrafted from small batches that are globally sourced (the beans we tried were from Ecuador and Colombia). One bag brews a small mug of coffee in about two minutes. I like my coffee a little weaker, so I used a bigger cup but had trouble keeping the little legs propped up on the side.

The pourover process is simple: you open a package, tear off the top of the filter bag, set it up on top of your cup, and pour water through 3-6 times (depending on your preference). While the grinds could be left in nature to feed the nearest plant, the filter, the package and the grinds should be carried out for best LNT practices.

We loved the packaging and the ease of making a good cup of coffee in the outdoors. Don’t limit this coffee to just camping trips though – these are perfect for road trips or on Saturday mornings when you don’t have time to swing by your local shop before heading out on an adventure. If you know good coffee and can’t imagine starting a day of travel without it, this $2 cup of mobile pour-over java is perfect for you.

-Emily Pritchard


See the rest of the article here!



There are so many fun coffee gadgets and brewing devices on the market, and you can spend some mega dollars if you want to. But in my opinion, if you are going to invest in one piece of equipment, it should be your grinder! 

Quality Grinders Mean Quality Coffee

The reason for this is that you will get the most out of every cup you brew if you can grind to the appropriate coarseness. Be prepared to spend $100+ on a good burr grinder.

A burr grinder works differently than a blade grinder, creating a uniform grind, meaning the coffee grinds all come out a similar size. This can be adjusted by moving the burrs apart, creating a larger particle size, or adjusting the burrs so they are closer together resulting in a smaller size,

The issue with a blade grinder is that it chops up your beans into a million different sizes. The fines (dust-like coffee) will over extract when brewed, bringing out bitter flavors, and the boulders (large bean chunks) will under extract, bringing out sour flavors, making an inconsistent and unbalanced cup of coffee.  

Some days your coffee might be great, but more often than not, it’ll taste wildly different from day to day. How frustrating!

Note: There are other variables that go into making the perfect cup of coffee. Ratios of coffee: water, water temperature, filtered water…But don’t worry! We will get into those details in later posts.

While purchasing a nice grinder is a larger up front investment, you will save money, time and a headache in the long run by brewing a more consistent cup. Your beans will also go further, as you won’t need to updose in order to achieve the that rich flavor you are looking for. 

Our favorite burr grinders:

There are lots of grinders out there to choose from! We love Baratza and carry the Encore, Virtuoso and Sette in our Roasting Room.

You can check them out online here, or stop by our shop for more details!

Mention this blog post and receive 10% off!

How to Buy Coffee Series - Step 2: Know Your Coffee’s Origin

Coffee grows in various tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. Other than Hawaii and an experimental farm in California, coffee cannot be grown in the U.S., so we must import it. While shopping at your local grocery store, you might have noticed that not every bag of coffee will tell you where it’s from. Sometimes, this is because it's a blend and coming from a few different places. However, we are seeing a trend in specialty coffee where roasters are offering more information about the coffees on the bag. This may include not only the country of origin, but also the farm, the elevation at which it's grown, and the varietals.

Regional Coffee Profiles

Once you’ve chosen your preferred roast profile, you should consider the regions where coffee comes from, and what characteristics they typically have. Keep in mind that these rules are not hard and fast, as a coffee from two parts of a single farm can have dramatically different flavors. These guidelines should still serve as a helpful starting point though.

Latin America
(Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru…)

Being the closest coffee growing region to the U.S., Latin America has greatly influenced our coffee-flavor preferences.These coffees are usually very balanced, with a good mixture of sweet, chocolatey and nutty flavors. There can be some tart, fruity acidity, but comparatively, the acidity is relatively mild. They are often described as having a “clean” flavor.

(Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi…)

Coffee originated in Ethiopia and was then introduced to other regions around the globe through trade routes from the 1500-1800’s. In Ethiopia grows in the wild, which makes the flavor profile extremely diverse. African coffees are usually described as complex, fruity and floral. These are stronger, fragrant-rich and full-bodied coffees. 

(Indonesia, India, East Timor…)

Asian coffees tend to be earthier. Unlike the more commonly liked and known Latin American coffees, Asian beans tend to inspire polarizing opinions. The beans are less acidic, more complex and, at times, even savory.


Here at Treeline we love all coffees. Seriously! They are all so amazing, unique and special in some way. 

That said, we tend to carry far more Latin American coffees, as we have great direct relationships with farmers there, and the flavor profiles are popular with our customers. We have a soft spot for many African coffees too, especially Ethiopians. 

How to Buy Coffee Series - Step 1: Understanding Roast Levels


Step 1: Understanding Roast Levels

With so many coffee options out there, choosing what kind to buy can be an intimidating task. 
Do you like light, medium or dark roasts? Should you get a blend, or a single origin? If you get a single origin, what country should you pick? 
Luckily for you, it’s our job to know these things. We know way too much about coffee, and we genuinely like sharing what we know with other people. 
Let’s start with an overview of how roast levels work. 

Roast Levels

Roast levels are really tricky, as there’s no standardization among roasters. This means one person’s definition of “medium” could be drastically darker than someone else's. The best way around this is a little trial and error to find a roaster you trust and like. 

Typically, the lighter the roast, the more “origin” characteristics are preserved, and the darker the roast, the more “roasty” the coffee can taste. 

Think of it as a spectrum: On the lighter end, there will be more acidity and less bitterness.  Then, as it comes into a medium roast, more sugars are caramelized, but you can still taste the origin characteristics, although they won’t be quite as “bright.” On the darker end, the acidity is muted, and the bitterness increases. 

Once you’ve settled in on a roast profile, you should consider regions and what characteristics they typically have. We will go over that in our next blog post, so stay tuned! 

Treeline founder, Natalie Van Dusen, looooves talking coffee! Check out what she has to say about roast levels in the video below!

Bozeman coffee roaster rebrands, opens new cafe

Natalie Van Dusen still remembers the epiphany she had while working as a barista during high school.

“I wanted to have a cafe one day because I loved making people happy,” Van Dusen said.

Several years later, while on a trip to South America, the 35-year-old again found herself face-to-face with her future. Traveling through Colombia, Van Dusen met a coffee farmer who showed her how to roast the green, raw beans over a fire.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It’s funny to look back on that and how it shaped my life.”

The experience led Van Dusen to open Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters in Bozeman in 2013, a small operation located in the back of Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot. The business grew on the back of a grassroots effort that included long days at farmer’s markets, as well as Van Dusen’s self-described “bullheadedness,” but the California native still craved a cafe of her own.

“We always wanted a full cafe; we just had to decide where and how,” she said. “Spaces are challenging in Bozeman.”

After a thorough search, Van Dusen and new co-owner Deejay Newell located their dream spot: a corner building on the northeast side of town at the intersection of Cottonwood Street and Wallace Avenue.

As part of the transition, the owners decided to rebrand their business.

“While we adored our brand before, we had outgrown it,” Van Dusen said, adding that a copyright issue also prompted the change.

After a six-month build out, the combination cafe, roaster and distributor, Treeline Coffee Roasters, celebrated its grand opening over the weekend.

“It’s surreal,” Van Dusen said. “I took part of the day off yesterday and was like, ‘Oh my god, we did it.’”

The interior of the shop, centered around a large wood bar accented with repurposed tiles from the old Stylon building, Edison bulbs and photos of coffee plants, reflects Van Dusen and Newell’s “eclectic” aesthetic. Francis, Treeline’s San Franciscan roasting machine, which toasts beans in 6-pound batches, sits exposed in one corner. In another, packaging, scales and a printer mark the manufacturing and distributing side of the operation, all of which is done in-house.

The open layout is by design, and encourages customers to engage with the entire coffee-making process, Van Dusen said.

“We’re in the farm-to-table movement and coffee is right there. There’s so much information to share,” she said. “The whole coffee industry is changing and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

Connect with the Chronicle on Facebook for the latest news, links and more.

The owners have kept many of the practices that made Little Red Wagon successful, including the connection to its farmers. Newell and an employee returned Friday from Colombia, where they spent time connecting with one of their suppliers — something the company tries to do at least once a year.

“It’s easy to forget that it’s a crop, but there really is a lot going on behind the scenes,” Van Dusen said. “Ultimately, it would be a goal to know all the farmers we get our coffee from. That’s a unique priority for us.”

The cafe offers a small-food menu, which includes waffles and ice cream, as well as a rentable mobile coffee and espresso bar. Treeline also ships coffee across the country through its monthly subscription service.

Bozeman has a handful of coffee roasting operations, but much like breweries, there is room for them all, Van Dusen said.

“There is a lot of latitude for being creative,” she said. “There is an opportunity for everyone to do it different.”

And at the end of the day, all the businesses want to offer a good product, Van Dusen added.

“Right now our goal is to make the best coffee we can,” she said. “We just love coffee and want to share it.”

What's in a Name?

Turns out a lot. It's an identifier, an identity, and can say a lot about your personality. I had a really hard time coming up with a name for my new coffee roasting endeavor 3 years ago. I finally landed on Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters because I thought it was catchy, people were unlikely to forget it and it had a little personal backstory (it's a camp song...and in a former life, summer camp was my life).

However, if I'm being honest with myself, I always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the name. It had great nostalgia and people thought it was fun! But honestly, red isn't really my favorite color and everyone always wanted me to paint everything we built bright red (like a wagon!). And it was a mouthful! With long, often screwed up, web and email addresses. But it was our name...and we loved it.

Last year when planning our growth strategy we took the plunge to TM our name. Turns out, no can do. This was tough for us to hear, but created the opportunity for us to step back and really reflect on the company we'd been building. Who are we? What do we want to be when we grow up? Surprisingly, those questions were easy for us to answer. As you know, we are coffee lovers, but we are also adventurers, travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Our company was built on the idea that your coffee should fuel you to do the things you love, and we have gone to great lengths to explore creative and innovative coffee solutions that make for an unforgettable coffee experience for all of life’s adventures. 

We needed a name that reflected this. Interestingly enough, this time finding a name wasn't so hard.  I've always been enchanted by the treeline at dusk, when the trees are a silhouette against the grayish blue sky. One day while describing this visual to Deejay, it occurred to me that this could be a great name! And there it was, right before us. It's taken us a while to embrace the change (we understand if it takes you a minute too), but we are thrilled with what's come of it. 

Stacy, our incredible designer, has taken this beautiful Treeline drawing from our friend Jasmine Lily, and created awesome logos!

New packaging is on it's way and will be hitting the shelves this month! 


As a throw back to our first retail space, our new roastery will be fondly referred to as Treeline Roasting Room. We can't wait to share a cup of coffee with you there later this summer! See you soon! -Natalie


The aim was to have an adventure of a lifetime. Lots of Gore Tex and down layers, six ice tools, five bags of Little Red Wagon coffee, four pairs of skis, three pairs of boots, a couple ropes, at least two bottles of wine on hand at all times, and one trusty van, the Condorito.

 For six weeks our team of three, myself, my husband Tucker and our partner in crime, Jeb, toured Chile and Argentina to climb and ski some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic volcanoes. This part of northern Patagonia was as awe inspiring as our wildest dreams.  The Chilean side of the Andes is a mosaic of verdant valleys and ravines, dotted by araucarias (I preferred to call them Doctor Seuss pines). Swiss-like pastoral ranches cling to hillsides cross-cut by rivers roaring down from the Andes’ majestic summits. The Argentine side of the range has a sky so big it contends with Montana’s, vast plateaus of high desert and sage, indigo lakes that twist and turn around mountainsides and forests of larch straight from The Lord of the Rings.

The timing of our trip was to hit spring in the Andes (our September/October = their March/April) believing we might find some perfect "corn" snow for skiing, what we didn’t factor in was the fact that Chile has one of the largest temporal rainforests in the world and that Condorito, in all his glory, was still just a 1989 rear-wheel drive Mitsubishi van with no snow tires. So, our corn skiing dreams turned into a lot of car-camping below snow line, looong approaches but soft snow and spring powder conditions up high. What’s the saying again? April showers brings… high altitude powder skiing on volcanoes?! 

 The routine thus became, drive to one of Chile or Argentina’s rad mountain towns such as Pucón, Las Trancas, San Martin de los Andes, Bariloche, etc., post up at a café and read the weather as well as we possibly could via various internet sites, gear up on supplies, plan our route to the base of a peak, camp in the rain, drink lots of wine to forget about camping in the rain, alpine start with lots of LRW, climb to snow level, put on skis or crampons, climb some more, climb some more, stand on top of a big volcano, sometimes in a cloud, then ski six to ten thousand feet of vert back down to the car with a big fat smile, stuff our faces with empanadas and drink some more wine or one of the many tasty craft beers that both countries has to offer. REPEAT.  Out of all our ski adventures from the steep chutes of Cerro Catedral to the impressive Volcán Lanín, the two days that struck me the most were our ascent on Cerro Tronador and our descent of Volcán Villarica.

After driving for two days straight, mostly on dirt roads, we reached the base of the Tronador in a high alpine valley braided by glacial rivers. On the road up we had to check-in at an obscure outpost with a rather boastful gentleman of the Argentine National Guard, who very bluntly told us we would die if we tried to climb and ski the mountain in its current condition, “the trail is not maintained” he said, “bad storms are predicted… give me your passport numbers, if you don’t come back in three days, we’ll assume you died and send someone to look for you, but no promises.”  So with that warm welcome we made camp, went through our normal routine and woke up to clear, bluebird skies and an excellent weather window for a rapid two-day ascent. Thank you weatherman Jeb!  Tronador is Spanish for “The Thunderer” and it lived up to its name, shedding school-bus-size pieces of ice off its many seracs 24/7.  Every hour on the hour thunder claps of falling ice reverberated through the forest and echoed off the rock walls as we climbed. I was reminded of how small we were in this large landscape, with no other humans as far as the eye can see. While we weren’t able to capture the summit of Tronador due to impending weather (beware of the Patagonian winds!) we made it high up on the glacier and shared our ski down with a clan of curious Andean condors, diving and soaring just feet above our heads. This mountain did not want to be conquered, it was as wild as the condor’s wing span and I felt deeply satisfied that it was nice enough to share a short but sweet 48 hours with us.

In contrast to the little known Cerro Tronador, Volcán Villarica is likely the most famous volcano in South America. Its perfect conical top and snowy flanks fall straight down into Pucón, the Lake Tahoe of Chile. Pucón is complete with lake front shopping, trendy espresso bars, dirtbag climbing shops, and microbreweries catering to every type of tourist out there from ski bunny to hard core mountaineer. Pucón also has a stoplight on its main street that is not for traffic, it’s for predicting the volcano’s eruptions. When we entered Pucón, the light had just switched from red to yellow and while there was no legit sign, it was apparently illegal to summit due to the danger.  Once again, the three amigos could not be stopped. We rallied Condorito to the base on a beautiful blue sky morning with fresh snow blanketing the peak. No smoke was rising, no lava was to be seen, people were snow shoeing around the base… of course it was safe to summit.  5,000 feet later we stood on top under blue skies, gusty winds, and looked down into the gurgling belly of a very active volcano spurting liquid orange magma into the sky.  It was like my sixth grade science fair experiment… BUT REAL!  Without being overly hasty we took a summit selfie and started the most epic descent of perfect corn skiing, Yes corn! Our dream had come true!  The clincher is that the Chilean Carabineros (Federal Police) were waiting for us in the parking lot… Wah waah waaaah. They managed to confiscate our celebratory beers that we had left cooling in the snow but luckily we got away with a warning and nothing more.  To not end the day on such a bittersweet note, we found one of area’s many incredible hot springs to soak our worries away and cheers to another successful mountain mission. 

Upon our departure from Santiago as I boarded the plane home to America, I could only help but think of Pedro de Valdivia, one of the first Spanish explorers that came to this region when he described it as “no better land, luxurious forests, and proud mountains… so tall they make the Alps seem like pygmies.” Chile, or Chilli, in the native Aymara means “where the land ends” but for us it was where the adventure began.


In 2008, I took a life changing journey to South America. It didn't necessarily seem that profound at the time. I mean, it was an adventure for sure. I was traveling by motorcycle with a life long friend though Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I'd never ridden a motorcycle before (except for in the parking lot to get my license) and I don't speak much Spanish, but if you know me, you know I'm always up for an adventure. 

What I didn't appreciate at the time was on that trip, in the small town of Salento, Colombia, when I stumbled upon my first coffee farmer who not only showed me all the amazing things about growing coffee but how to roast it in his small outdoor kitchen, it was the beginning of the next chapter in my life.

Fast forward to today. Little Red Wagon has been in operation for 2+ years and what started as a coffee drinking obsession turned hobby roaster, is now my full time job. In October I was able to return to Colombia for the first time since my incredible encounter in 2008. You can imagine my excitement.

Little of this return resembled my first visit. I didn't have to navigate unchartered territory, figure out the local currency or fix flat tires. Instead, I felt a remarkable familiarity withColombia's coffee growing region - the expansive mountain views and twisty, turny roads, the warm hospitality of the locals and the tasty cuisine.

Another major difference from my earlier journey through Colombia is that this time I was not there as a traveler, but as a business woman. One of the small businesses I was particularly interested in visiting was Traviesa. I was graciously hosted by Mauricio and Adriana, the founders of Traviesa Coffee. In Colombia, there are two distinct coffee harvests. “Traviesa” is the word that refers to the smaller, second harvest. Mauricio and Adriana chose this name for their business because this harvest cycle is unique to Colombia’s coffee-growing climate.

Mauricio and Adriana welcomed us into their home, took us to many farms throughout the region and even facilitated a tour of Cenecafe, a world class coffee research facility where scientists search for solutions to coffee disease and help develop agricultural practices for Colombian coffee farmers.  Finally, Mauricio organized a cupping where we tasted almost 50 different coffees. I know some of you think I'm a little nutty when I insist that every coffees tastes different and many of you can tell the difference between coffee from different countries, but it's pretty cool to be able to taste such distinctive differences between not only nearby farms, but varietals and plots from within a single farm.

At the end of the week in Colombia I'd settled on three distinct and special coffees to bring back to Bozeman. But stay tuned because in future seasons the Wagon will bring you additional coffees from Colombia, a region that never ceases to impress and continuously produces many excellent coffees.

Now, let me introduce you to the three new Colombian coffees Little Red Wagon is no offering:


Mauricio's family has owned and operated this farm for over 80 years. Upon arrival I was welcomed with coffee and an array of exotic fruits from the property. Then, one of the coolest things happened. I was invited to plant the Wagon’s very own Geisha tree--the acclaimedcoffee varietal that lives up to its reputation (...more on that later). Following the planting, I put on a basket and was taught how to pick ripe coffee cherries and spent some time doing so. The cherries were then placed in the tolva where the fruit was removed and I saw just how much (read: little) coffee I picked. It was a startling realization of the amount of that work goes into a cup of coffee. To put it into perspective, with a dozen pickers working for about 30 minutes, there were probably enough beans to fill one retail grocery store bag. Another way to look at it is, a coffee tree produces about a pound of roasted coffee annually. Americans consume about 400 million cups of coffee per day.

Regional Samaria’s coffee has tasting notes of red apple, orange, and wine, with a pleasant sweetness and good body.


La Paz is a beautiful seven acre farm on steep hillsides in Chinchiná, Caldas region owned and operated by Angelica Escobar. Angelica is a vibrant, energetic and proud farmer who employs mostly women from her community and playfully comments, "and a few men for balance!" Picking coffee is extremely hard work and these women are meticulous and impressive and take great care to ensure that quality is preserved every step of the way. Angelica's passion, dedication and drive shined through as she showed us the farm and explained the processing methods she prefers. She has even built her own coffee roaster in order to test her product at the farm. In addition to all of this, Angelica also maintains a part time job on the side to help make ends meet and send her daughters to college. La Paz farm keeps natural forest coverage in order to protect the water sources, a key factor in the coffee quality production process.  I've decided to buy this coffee not only because it's high quality and delicious, but because I believe in Cafe La Paz and feel strongly about supporting women in the coffee community.


Cafe de Mujer has notes of sweet fruits, honey, cocoa and nuts.




Lastly, some of you may have heard, but we finally did it and bought a small quantity of Geisha coffee. Geisha (or gesha - there’s some debate) is a varietal originally from Ethiopia that made its way to Costa Rica in the 1950’s. At that time, this unique coffee was planted amongst the rest of the trees and was not treated with special care and therefore it’s special character went unnoticed.

In 2004, however, it garnered acclaim on a cupping table in Panama when it was “discovered” for its unique and incredible tasting notes after a farmer had separated out the geisha varietal, planted it at a much higher elevation and processed it with great care. Since then, this beautiful coffee has become increasingly popular amongst the specialty coffee geeks of the world and sells for pretty penny.

Finding our first Geisha offering for the Wagon was great fun. It involved a bouncy 45-minute trip in the back of a red jeep up winding dirt roads to get to Finca Manantiales Del Frontino, located in Municipality Caicedonia Valle del Cauca. Once there, an impressive team had prepared a tasting of their six distinct varietals in both brewed form and as coffee cherries right off the shrub so we could tastes their unique attributes at the plant level.

We then explored the farm’s 170 hectares of coffee shrubs, 17 ha in the highest elevation section being devoted specifically to Geisha, and learned about the extreme care and planning that goes into planting, harvesting, and processing in order to preserve the excellence of the Geisha varietal. I couldn't help but bring a little bit home just in time to offer as a special treat for the holidays.

 Finca Manantiales Del Frontino is a sweet, balanced, floral and fruity coffee with a clean finish.