What Is Instant Coffee

In today’s world, it’s all about instant solutions. We live fast and tend to have less and less free time. Roasting coffee at home is simple, but who has the time for that? We need our cup of joe, and we need it now. So, instant coffee is one of the signs of the rush life we are leading nowadays. You take a spoon of coffee granules and add it to your cup of hot water. Stir it up with a spoon, and your instant coffee is good to go. Around 15% of the USA coffee market is instant coffee, mostly used in homes and offices. Simplicity wins. 

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Benefits of Drinking Instant Coffee

Besides quick prep time, drinking instant coffee will give you some health benefits. Give it a look, and it might just change your usual decision to start your day with a cup of homemade mocha

There are different benefits of drinking instant coffee:

  • contains less caffeine than the usual coffee
  • available in the decaf version
  • boosts your metabolism and digestion
  • reduces the mental health risks
  • improves your mental health and concentration

How Does Instant Coffee Work

It works great, cheap, and quick. Instant coffee is the fastest and most cost-efficient way for you to get your cup of coffee. Honestly, it takes more time even for a professional barista to take your order, make it, and serve it than for you to prepare instant coffee.

If you have a pod machine, the process is also silly quick. Put the pod inside and press the button. Oh, instant coffee, we love you, especially when we are late for work and need that caffeine boost as soon as possible.

Short History of Instant Coffee 

  • In 1771 in Britain, the first instant coffee was born and patented. It looked and tasted nothing like modern brands.
  • 1853 was the year the first American instant coffee was born. It gained popularity among soldiers in the Civil War.
  • In 1901, Chicago chemist Dr. Sartori Kato invented the soluble coffee powder, a predecessor of today’s instant coffee. At first, Dr. Kato wanted to make instant tea, but he used the science behind the process to make instant coffee, too. 
  • 1909 was the first year of instant coffee mass production in the USA.  George Constant Louis Washington was the founder and the owner of the company. A cup of George was popular among the USA troops in World War 1, and possibly caused the term cup of joe. After the war has ended (1918), the soldiers went back home with new coffee drinking habits.
  • In 1930, Brazil had tons of unsold coffee, and the Brazilian Coffee Institute called Nestle for help. The first products didn’t go well, but in 1937, a Nescafe was born.
  • The Second World War rages, and instant coffee is more popular than ever among US troops.
  • By the 1950s, Nescafe was making instant coffee from pure coffee beans, without any additives.
  • In 1964, a freeze-drying process was invented. This allowed instant coffee to retain the aromas and flavors of the bean.
  • Today’s world instant coffee market is estimated to worth more than $36 billion!

Pros and Cons of Instant Coffee

Pros and Cons of Instant Coffee

Pros

  • Convenient. You only need instant coffee, hot water, and a spoon to stir it. Or a simple machine.
  • A plethora of choices. Instant coffee comes in all flavors, from Irish coffee to pumpkin spice.
  • Simplicity. Instant coffee machines are foolproof to use. You press the button.
  • Handy for reusable pods. Reusable Nespresso pods can be used various times and will reduce the amount of waste your household produces, as well as your carbon footprint.
  • Cheap. Instant coffee is the cheapest way to make coffee at home. Not just for the coffee price, but also the cost of the equipment. You don’t need a coffee grinder to grind beans or any other part of the coffee equipment.
  • High-quality flavor. No flavor is lost, as instant coffee will taste the same for much longer.
  • No need to wash a lot of dishes. What cleaning? You will only need to clean your coffee cup and a spoon.

Cons

  • Possibility of bland flavor. The flavor can be bland for both instant coffee and instant coffee machines. As you don’t have much control over the process, you only get what the producer gave you, nothing more.
  • Less caffeine. This can also be a pro and a con. This time, it goes in the con section.
  • Acrylamide presence. Instant coffee contains a chemical compound called acrylamide, which can be harmful to you in larger quantities. Although the effects are not yet fully researched, it still rings a bell. 

Stages of Instant Coffee Manufacturing

Beans

As we all know, Arabica and Robusta dominate the coffee market, leaving just fractions for the other bean types. For instant coffee, Robusta is the main bean, as it is cheaper and easier to process.

Grinding and Roasting

Manufacturers usually use medium roast for instant coffee beans. The beans are roasted at temperatures around 300 F. As we all know, roast levels can affect coffee acidity, so the medium is the best choice for this process. Then, the beans are ground to a coarse level. This method minimizes the appearance of smaller particles that could spoil the further process. 

Extraction Process

Can you imagine a house-sized coffee machine that brews cold coffee? When extracting the beans for instant coffee, the coffee maker can take around 1500 pounds of coffee. Clean, filtered, and softened water flows through columns of finely ground beans. The first cells are 290-360F hot, with high pressure so that the carbohydrates can be extracted. The next cells are colder (cca 212F) for flavor extraction. The final extract goes through a 40F chamber. At the end of this process, coffee contains up to 30% solid parts.

Filtration and Concentration Process

The coffee is then filtered and ready for a concentration increase. At the end of this step, coffee should contain 40% solid parts. Three main techniques exist:

  • centrifuging the extract, so the water is separated
  • evaporating the excess water
  • freezing the extract and physically removing the ice crystals

Aroma Recovery

Instant coffee in this step doesn’t’ really smell like the world’s best black coffee, that’s for sure. That’s one of the reasons why the first versions of instant coffee were not so popular. The side effect of previous processes is losing a lot of aromas. When the coffee is roasted and ground, special machines gather the gasses released before and add them back to the extract. The extract can also be reheated to release more aromas. As oxygenation is one of the coffee’s sworn enemies, the coffee extract mustn’t contain any oxygen traces. 

Stages of Instant Coffee Manufacturing

Dehydration

Dehydration is a process of removing water from the coffee extract to get the powder form. The two main methods are spray drying and freeze-drying.

  • Spray Drying. Spray drying is a high-temperature method that can sometimes alter the taste of the final product. But, it’s also a cost-efficient method, so a lot of coffee companies use it. You will need at least 75 feet tall drying tower. At the top, a nozzle sprays the coffee concentrate. The hot (cca 480F) air blows through the coffee mist and evaporates the water. Hence, the coffee powder falls on the bottom of the tower.  There it’s being picked and packed for the next steps of the process. The result is a fine coffee powder with only 2-4% moisture. If you want your instant coffee to have coarser particles, you can release the fine mist before they reach the bottom of the tower. This way, the particles will clump a bit before falling.
  • Freeze drying. Freeze drying includes exposing the coffee extract to low temperatures. The primary freezing chills the extract to 20F, where it becomes slushy. In the next step, the extract is cooled to a -50F. Quick cooling (up to 3 minutes) will produce small, light particles, while slower cooling (up to 3 hours) will give you dark and bigger lumps.

The next step is mixing the particles with crushed ice and sieving them to achieve the desired size. Then, in the final chamber, a combination of heat and vacuum removes the ice (and moisture) from the coffee powder. 

Aromatization

All the aromas gathered through the instant coffee manufacturing process are now sprayed back to the coffee powder. Usually, this is done just before or during the packaging process.

Packaging

Every coffee attracts moisture from the air, and instant coffee is the most hygroscopic one. So, it must be packed under low humidity conditions in an airtight and waterproof package. Also, low-oxygen conditions are needed to prevent further oxygenation. 

Waste

The instant coffee making process is surprisingly eco friendly. The spent coffee grounds are used to heat the water for the next process. It is a part of an almost closed cycle.

How to Brew Instant Coffee

It is a simple process, and you don’t need to scale the correct amount of coffee grounds or anything similar. 

Step 1 – Add water

Fill the machine tank with clean, cold, and filtered water. Bottled water is also an option.

Step 2 – Add your K-cup

Insert your capsule, K-cup, or espresso pod. With more complicated machines, you can also choose the cup size or brewing time. Press the button.

Step 3 – Adding pressure to start extraction

The hot water goes through a narrow needle inside the machine to create the proper pressure needed for extraction.

Step 4 – Extraction process

Highly pressured water enters the pod and extracts the grounds. The filter inside the pod prevents the sediment from reaching your cup. 

Step 5 – Enjoy

Coffee starts dripping to your favorite cup in a thick, even stream. 

 

Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee

Brewing Time

Instant coffee requires about a minute of your time, whether you just put a spoon of coffee into a cup of hot water or use capsule machines. 

With ground coffee, it’s a whole different story. We’ll even leave the prep time out of the equation. For an espresso extraction, you will need 25 seconds. For making a cold brew, you will need at least 12 hours. 

Brewing Difficulty

If you are making instant coffee from the bag, you will need to master spoon swirling to dissolve your powder in a cup of hot water. With instant coffee machines, you will need to learn how to put the capsule in the capsule spot—practice, practice, practice.

Ground coffee, on the other hand, usually needs a lot of effort, as coffee beans can be brewed in different ways. Grind levels, roast levels, proper temperature, and equipment; it all takes time to learn. Even the simplest way of making ground coffee is complicated when compared to instant coffee.

Taste

Ground coffee wins this test easily. Instant coffee is made using Robusta beans, almost every time. Cheap, and sometimes old robusta beans. Not all the instant coffee producers use this practice, but a lot of them do. And even with the aromatization, some aromas are irreversibly lost.

Ground coffee tastes better. You can choose the beans by origin, roast level, grind level, and freshness. Hence, you have more influence over the whole process, especially the brewing process.

Waste

The only waste that instant coffee produces is the package. Sometimes not even that, if you use recyclable ones. When using ground coffee, sometimes you need to use many little helpers, like filters, electrical appliances, heat sources, and more. And, you need to dispose of the used grounds and clean your equipment, every time. 

Cost

For a ground coffee, you need equipment, and usually a lot of it. From premium grinder for French press, thermometer, kitchen scale…the costs add up. Not to mention if you have an acquired taste and prefer more expensive beans. Instant coffee can be ridiculously cheap, and even the fine brands will cost you less than a ground coffee. 

Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee

Health Benefits

Both of these choices have almost the same usual coffee health benefits. The only downside of instant coffee is that it contains acrylamide, which can be harmful to humans. However, you would have to drink unreasonably large amounts of instant coffee every day, to get to the dangerous level. 

Do’s and Don’ts With Instant Coffee

Do’s

  • Do try every flavor of the instant coffee there is. It can taste like anything you desire.
  • Do froth some milk and add it to your instant coffee. Froth milk is the perfect layer for any beverage.
  • Do find a decent instant coffee machine. They are just a fraction of the price of the espresso machine.
  • Do try some food recipes that include instant coffee powder from meat marinades to chocolate brownies and coffee cocktails. 
  • Do use recyclable pods if you are using an instant coffee machine.

Don’ts

  • Don’t neglect the other coffee brewing methods just because instant coffee is practical.
  • Don’t buy your instant coffee from companies that use unethical labor to produce it. It happens far more often than you would believe.
  • Don’t use your instant coffee after the expiry date. Technically, it can last for a decade or so, but why risk it?

FAQ About Instant Coffee

How do you make instant coffee powder?

Instant coffee powder is made by extracting the coffee concentrate in special coffee facilities. You pick the beans, roast them, and grind them. Then, you cook a nice small batch of 250.000 cups of coffee, usually. Not a great occasion to bring a portable coffee maker to brew coffee on the go. Filter the coffee, and extract it. Then, dehydrate the concentrate using the freeze-drying or air-drying method. Aromatize the coffee, and pack it into water-resistant and air-resistant packages. Simple as that. 

Does instant coffee expire?

As instant coffee is dehydrated coffee, by default, it should never expire. However, air, light, and humidity turn even a piece of iron bad, let alone a coffee bean. The best coffee is fresh coffee, and you should stick with that credo even with instant coffee. 

Can you make homemade instant coffee?

Of course, and we call it a cold brew concentrate. It’s a perfect base for almost all coffee drinks. To make your instant coffee powder, you would probably need tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. 

How do you make instant coffee stronger?

Same as with all the other coffee drinks. You add more coffee or less water. However, some people claim that dissolving your instant coffee in a small amount of cold water preserves the strong taste better. Instant coffee will never have the rich and smooth texture of nitro coffee, but it has its advantages. 

What is the difference between instant coffee and regular?

Instant coffee is quick, simple, and affordable. Also, it’s a major turn down for anyone who likes the coffee beans’ true taste. Regular coffee needs roasting, grinding, and proper brewing equipment, depending on your preferences. 

Should you refrigerate instant coffee?

You could, but there is no need for that. Instant coffee powder is dehydrated, and you can keep it in an airtight container, in a cool and dark place. If you choose to refrigerate it, make sure the container is closed tight. The excess moisture will negatively impact the quality of your instant coffee. 

Conclusion

Instant coffee is one of the things coffee purists will look down. But, it’s your cup of coffee, not theirs. If you truly enjoy the taste, we say go for it. Freedom for the instant coffee aficionados!

Photos from: Subbotina / depositphotos.com, BestPhotoStudio / depositphotos.com, vvoennyy / depositphotos.com and jirkaejc / depositphotos.com.