TASTE

The Best Bottled Iced Coffees, Ranked. Here Are The Results Of Our Taste Test.

06/17/2015 12:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post

It's iced coffee season, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're in the mood to make it every morning. Even if you cold-brew big batches of your own concentrate with a Filtron or Toddy -- and you should -- there will inevitably be days when you can't even muster the energy to mix it. Or you find yourself craving coffee, but you're surrounded by more gas stations than proper coffee shops.

For these occasions and more, bottled iced coffee can be a savior. But which to buy?

HuffPost conducted a taste test of several brands back in 2011, but the category has exploded since then -- along with cold-brew coffee in general -- so it was time for another head-to-head competition. We rounded up all the brands of iced coffee with milk and sugar we could find to see which one we liked best.

Frankly, our 12-person panel wasn't very enthusiastic about most of the options. Many of the bottled iced coffees available are just too sweet. That may reflect the coffee-drinking preferences of most American consumers, but it didn't sit well with us.

But we found one brand we loved, and several others that would be totally adequate in a pinch.

As usual, the brands included in no way influenced our results.

  • 1 Starbucks Iced Coffee & Milk -- Best In Show
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 7.1

    Tasters Said: "Nice roasted balanced flavor." "Not too sweet. Drinkable." "Sophisticated." "A little watered down but doesn't bother me." "Passable." "Really solid." "Light & refreshing."

    Price: $2.39 for 11 ounces

    Calories: 110

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Reduced-Fat Milk, Sugar, Pectin
  • 2 Real Beanz Diet Cappuccino -- Highly Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 6.5

    Tasters Said: "Milky and a little sweet." "Chocolatey!" "Fairly sweet." "More like a dessert than a coffee."

    Price: $1.99 for 9.5 ounces

    Calories: 60

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Reduced-Fat Milk, Erythritol, Maltodextrin, Sugar, Natural Flaovr, Caramel Color, Salt, Sodium Phosphates, Guar Gum, Mono- Di- and Tri-Glycerides, Conjugated Lionoleic Acid, Sodium Citrate, Carrageenan, Stevia Rebaudinia Leaf Extract, Chromium Picolonate
  • 3 High Brew Double Espresso -- Highly Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 6.2

    Tasters Said: "I could drink a lot of this." "This is pretty strong, not as sweet as bottled coffee usually is." "Dark and sludgy." "Nice balance." "Very lightly sweetened. Solid, fairly bold flavor."

    Price: $2 for 8 ounces

    Calories: 50

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Reduced-Fat Milk, Sugar, Natural Flavors, Pectin, Potassium Phosphates
  • 4 Kohana Cold Brew Coffee Island Latte -- Highly Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 6.1

    Tasters Said: "Creamy." "Not too sweet. Enjoyable." "This is right up my alley." "Too light and creamy." "I don't mind this." "Nothing wrong with that! Balanced and drinkable."

    Price: $2.50 for 8 ounces

    Calories: 100

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Reduced-Fat Milk, Erythritol, Sugar, Monk Fruit Extract, Carrageenan, Potassium Phosphates
  • 5 Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino -- Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 5.9

    Tasters Said: "A little milky and sweet, but not unpleasant." "Smells like caramel." "Feels full bodied." "Tastes like butterscotch. Good for dessert." "Kind of like a caramel candy." "Middle of the road."

    Price: $3.19 for 13.7 ounces

    Calories: 275

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Reduced-Fat Milk, Sugar, Pectin, Natural Flavors
  • 6 Hi Ball Energy Cold Brew Coffee With Milk & Sugar -- Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 5.8

    Tasters Said: "Chocolatey. Slight coffee flavor but not much." "Condensed milk." "Reminds me of Mexican hot chocolate." "Seemingly vanilla flavor, pretty sweet."

    Price: $2.79 for 8 ounces

    Calories: 140

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Non-Fat Milk, Sugar, Cream, Pectin, Dipotassium Phosphate, Vitamin B3, Guarana Extract, Ginseng Extract, Tripotassium Phosphate, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12
  • 7 Marley's One Drop Coffee -- Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 5.2

    Tasters Said: "Inoffensive but boring." "Lacks a definitive taste." "Too smoky." "I like the flavor but I wish it were less sweet." "Decent balance." "My sister who doesn't like coffee would like this."

    Price: $2.19 for 11 ounces

    Calories: 220

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Low-Fat Milk, Cane Sugar, Natural Flavors, Pectin
  • 8 Califia Farms XX Espresso Cold Brew Coffee With Almond Milk -- Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 5

    Tasters Said: "A bit odd." "Nutty taste." "Too healthy!" "Very watered down." "Not a good look." "Weird for me... too nutty."

    Price: $2.69 for 10.5 ounces

    Calories: 110

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Almond Milk, Cane Sugar, Vitamin/Mineral Blend, Natural Flavors, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt
  • 9 Vita Coco Cafe Latte -- Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 4.9

    Tasters Said: "Not enough coffee flavor." "Tastes like melted coffee ice cream and has weird speckles in it." "This is just awful." "Kid's cough syrup... more like 'iced cough-y'!" "It tastes like popcorn and taffy, which is just NOT working for me as a coffee."

    Price: $2.99 for 11.1 ounces

    Calories: 140

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Coconut Water, Skim Milk, Sugar, Natural Flavor, Carrageenan
  • 10 Illy Issimo Cappuccino -- Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 4.8

    Tasters Said: "Pretty balanced -- I don't hate it." "Weird chemical aftertaste." "Bitter." "Stomach-turning. Like spoiled milk, but bitter." "A little funky." "Sweet and light. I can imagine buying this."

    Price: $2.69 for 8.45 ounces

    Calories: 100

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Low-Fat Milk, Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Potassium Bicarbonate, Cellulose Gel, Potassium Citrate, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan
  • 11 Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee With Milk -- Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 4.7

    Tasters Said: "The creamiest of them all -- in a bad way, like melted ice cream." "Almost gagged." "Blech!" "I actually like this. Very milky, but with a bitter aftertaste." "Very distinctive taste, I'll give it that."

    Price: $3.19 for 16 ounces

    Calories:

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Half and Half, Cane Sugar, Carrageenan
  • 12 UCC Coffee With Milk -- Not Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 3.7

    Tasters Said: "Has the flavor of burnt airplane coffee. Yuck." "Thin watery flavor." "Plasticky artificial flavor." "The aftertaste reminds of the smell of a tennis ball." "Hospital coffee. Nothing going for it."

    Price: $1.99 for 11.3 ounces

    Calories: 140

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Sugar, Milk Powder, Emulsifier
  • 13 Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee -- Not Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 3.7

    Tasters Said: "Bitter and cardboard-y." "A little like your mouth tastes after vomiting." "Strange grassy or vegetal taste." "Off, stale." "Tastes like rubber." "Sour."

    Price: $3.99 for 10.66 ounces

    Calories: 160

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Milk, Chicory, Cane Sugar
  • 14 Rockstar Roasted Caffe Latte With Almond Milk -- Worst In Show
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Average Rating: 2.8

    Tasters Said: "Just wrong." "Splenda bomb. Like cancer in a bottle." "Tastes like artificial sugar." "Too sweet for me." "Fake flavor." "Tastes like chemicals." "Liquid sugar."

    Price: $2.99 for 15 ounces

    Calories: 220

    Ingredients Besides Coffee: Almond Milk, Sucrose, Soy Protein, Taurine, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Salt, Natural Flavors, Caffeine, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Bicarbonate, Pantothenic Acid, Inositol, L-Carnitine, Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide, Milk Thistle Extract, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Ginseng Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Guarana Seed Extract, Cyanocobalamin

Also on HuffPost:

  • #1: Starbucks Via Colombia
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "It's got a classic, enjoyable aroma." "This tastes like real, normal coffee." "Bitter and earthy tasting." "Rounded finish but lacking taste upfront." "Very balanced -- even complex. Chocolate overtones." "Smells like real coffee. Very strong and bitter, in a good way." "So close to tasting like a good cup of coffee!"
  • #2: Jacobs: Kronung
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    (made by Kraft Foods Deutschland) Comments: "Oaky aroma and flavor." "Not bad -- tastes like regular coffee." "Inoffensive and fine, but a little bitter." "Totally drinkable!" "This is instant? Not bad!"
  • #3: Starbucks Via Italian Roast
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Intensely rich." "Real coffee flavor." "Nice nutty flavor." "Watery but highly drinkable." "Very bitter, but possibly good with sugar." "Smells like real coffee." "Watery but not offensive."
  • #4: Bustelo Supreme
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Tastes like an average cup of regular coffee." "Nice aroma!" "Starts okay but finishes harshly." "Reminiscent of diner coffee." "A strong roasted bean flavor."
  • #5: Mount Hagen
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Inoffensive." "This tastes like normal coffee to me." "The flavor is nuanced and sweet. Solid." "Burned and complex." "A solid cup of coffee, but very bitter aftertaste."
  • #6: Giraldo Farms
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "This left a powdery coating on my tongue." "Caramel flavor." "Watery but not wretched." "Nice and mild." Note: In a previous version of this story, this brand of instant coffee was mistakenly called 100 % Colombian, when it should have been Giraldo Farms.
  • #7: Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso Coffee
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Smoky finish." "Bold flavor." "A little nutty." "Funky." "Very dark but not enough coffee flavor."
  • #8: Chock Full O'Nuts
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Bitter and slightly chemical." "Unpleasant aroma but okay taste." "Weak." "Potable. Some light sweetness." "I might not have known this was instant."
  • #9: Tchibo Family
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    (made in Germany) Comments: "Tastes dirty -- actually like dirt." "Bland." "A little too weak." "Pours dark, but the taste is average." "Starts good, but it has a very bitter aftertaste." "Smells like instant." "Looks like a nice dark roast, but the taste is weak."
  • #10: 365 Everyday Value
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Neutral and nutty." "Harsh, yet thin." "Fairly good, not too bitter." "Tastes rancid to me."
  • #11: Starbucks Via French Roast
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Smells like a forest fire." "Burned! This must be Starbucks." "Too strong, with a bad aftertaste." "Sandy and acrid." "As bitter as aspirin." "Smells like espresso. Very strong flavor." "Smells like burned drip coffee or a very old coffee pot."
  • #12: Mountain Blend
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Mild and earthy." "Average." "Fine, but definitely tastes like instant." "Smells acrid and tastes bland." "Dishwater."
  • #13: Sanka
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Tastes like poison." "Too thin and watery." "Bitter!" "Complex aroma, decent brew." "Not pleasant." "Sour!" "Strangely sweet."
  • #14: Jacobs: Cronat Gold
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    (made by Kraft Foods Deutschland) Comments: "Very acidic." "Almost no flavor at all." "Sweet and watery." "Thin and bitter." "On the bitter end of the spectrum." "Too sour and watery." "Fairly prominent chemical aftertaste."
  • #15: Cafe Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Foul raisin odor." "Tastes like soggy paper." "A little on the weak side." "Bitter, chemical smell." "Tastes like cheap red wine, or over-brewed black tea." "Not really drinkable."
  • #16: Folgers Classic Roast
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Sour and chemically." "Terrible, sweet lingering aftertaste." "Toxic nose -- hard to bring oneself to drink." "Some bright, fruity notes."
  • #17: Nescafe Clasico
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "An odd flavor that I can't place." "Really gross. Far too sweet." "Industrial chemical aroma, and harsh taste." "Undrinkable." "Watery and awful." "Smells like alcohol, and tastes like the last watered down sip of an overly sweet cocktail."
  • #18: Maxwell House Original
    Comments: "Smells startlingly sweet, like artificial sweetener." "No coffee flavor at all in this." "Offputting aroma, wretched taste." "Awful aroma." "Smells atrocious. No coffee taste, all chemicals."
  • #19: Taster's Choice: House Blend
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Potent!" "Awful. Tastes like weird chemicals and raisins." "Acrid. Smells acidic." "A little grainy and bitter, but good strength." "Extremely artificial tasting." "Bitter!"
  • #20: Ferrara Instant Espresso Coffee
    Joseph Erdos/The Huffington Post
    Comments: "Tastes like tar. Sludge-like." "The worst! Gross sludge." "Gross, thick and bitter." "Pours like tar. Smells like livestock. Foul." "Tastes like tea made of charcoal." "Looks and tastes like sludge. Just terrible."
  • WATCH: How to Make an Instant Iced Cappuccino
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