Veteran readers of this site know that if three’s one thing The Beat is obsessed with it’s Vietnamese Instant Coffee. This amazing product as sold by Vinacafe comes 24 packets for $3.50 and provides an all-in-one mix of coffee, milk and sugar that packs a morning wake up punch as strong as Anderson Silva.

These 3-in-1 instant coffee products are common in Asia, and so convenient and cheap we’re stunned that they haven’t caught on more here in the US. But that changed the other day when a trip to Trader Joe’s revealed a new product called TRADER JOE’S INSTANT COFFEE PACKETS. Being out of grounds or beans for our Aero Press the other day we eagerly gave this product a whirl. And here’s what happened. (Click for larger images)

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The packaging was promising; TJ’s trademark suburban retro. The product came in the long tubes that we associate with Korean instant coffee, doubtless to fill the layers of powdered ingredients more easily.

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Upon pouring it into the cup we were a bit more dubious. Mostly sugar! And what appeared to be a rather stingy portion of powdered Arabica.

This was the result of pouring in about 8 oz of water. Probably too much but I need more than a zip in the morning. The color is not what I would call enticing. It tasted, frankly, yukky and chalky. As for it’s wake-up properties, Ben said, “It would make a great bedtime drink because you’d go right to sleep.”

My comparison to Korean instant coffee was all too apt—as I’ve noted before here, other Asian instant coffee packets run from weak to mild. Only in Vietnam do they seem to prefer the particular brand of rocket fuel/poor man’s Aderall known as VinaCafe – 3 in 1 Instant Vietname Coffee Mix

Interestingly, TJ’s product has a list of actual ingredients—cane sugar, corn syrup, mocha flavor, etc (coffee is the last listed ingredient)—as opposed to Vinacafe’s intriguing yet troubling list of only three: coffee, sugar, milk. I’ve read that some instant coffee don’t even contain actual coffee…which I can believe, as it seems to be some sort of energy drink that smells like mocha cappucino.

Bear in mind, this is a drink so potent and addictive that some particularly nutty friends of mine once tried snorting it.

Vietnamese instant coffee is the only thing that gets me through San Diego Comic-Con. It’s easy to make in any hotel with hot water and two cups of it will get you up and blogging in no time. It’s an unhealthy, cheap, effective drink that should be in regular use on every college campus in the Western Hemisphere. Why it isn’t better known still amazes me.

Trader Joe’s has tried to get in n the 3-in-1 coffee market with a pallid imitation that wouldn’t give a toddler a buzz. TRY AGAIN. Someday America is going to get the instant coffee packets it deserves.


  1. Oh my god, Heidi… SO funny that you wrote about this becuase I’ve been drinking 3-in-1 coffees, too. My wife buys them from the Asian supermarkets in 42 count boxes. She used to fly around the world for business deals (Purchasing orders for Pottery Barn / William Sonoma, etc.) so she knows first hand the popularity of 3-in-1 coffee and teas. At first I was skeptical, but now I love ’em. They pushed me through my last comic deadline.

  2. Well, I always used chocolate-covered coffee beans as my buzz backup.

    I just discovered a Cambodian grocery in my neighborhood, so I’ll see if they sell it. (If not, I’m sure the Vietnamese restaurant next door does.)

    More information is here:

  3. Heidi, what do you think about Starbucks’ Via? I bought some (though it seems wildly overpriced) last month just before going camping in the Rockies, where toting a few packets of the instant stuff seemed a great compromise in lieu of toting a French press and real grounds. It took two packets to make a suitably strong and voluminous cup, and I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise, but overall: not bad.

    Now I’m curious to find out if I can find the Vietnamese three-in-ones at any of Chicago’s Asian grocers.

  4. Heidi, for the record, today I purchased another box of the Nescafe version at my local Asian market (99 Ranch Market). This particular box was called “2+1” (instead of “3 in 1”). Go figure. I was telling my wife and she was saying it’s all the same. She’s had so many overseas.

  5. Thank you for contacting us! Our Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packets contain .036g of caffeine per packet.

    Thank you,

    Trader Joe’s
    Customer Relations

    That is 36mg of caffeine, a starbucks 8oz is approx 180mg.

  6. It tastes ok to me for instant coffee. I keep it in my locker at work. Package directions say to mix it with 4-6 ounces of water. Did you notice the box states product of Korea?

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