What is Instant Coffee? All You Need to Know

freshly opened instant coffee in a jarWhat is instant coffee? Well in short, a very popular hot drink that half the coffee-drinking world starts their morning with. Also known as soluble coffee, instant coffee is quick and convenient to prepare – a major reason why some people prefer it over fresh coffee. It is also a lot cheaper and has a significantly longer shelf life than fresh coffee, making it the go-to option for rushed or beginner coffee drinkers.

When did it come about?

Instant coffee was first invented and patented in Britain in 1771. The Americans also made their own instant coffee in 1851, which was rationed out to soldiers during the Civil War. David Strang of New Zealand invented and patented the “Dry-Hot Air” process in 1890 and George Washington (no, not the president) invented and patented his own coffee process shortly thereafter.

red nescafe cup on brown wooden deskNescafe, arguably the most popular instant coffee brand globally, was introduced in 1938 by Nescafe – they developed their very own production process after years of research. From that point on the instant coffee process was improved and refined continuously to bring us the product we know and love today.

Bottom Line: Instant coffee was first invented in Britain in 1771 and has seen significant improvements from many nations since then.

How it differs to fresh coffee

Chances are most people have tried both instant and fresh coffee. The difference between fresh and instant coffee is that fresh coffee is well, fresh, while instant coffee has been dehydrated in order to be preserved. Fresh coffee refers to whole or ground-up beans while instant coffee refers to the granules bought just add hot water to. Fresh coffee requires a much more complex brewing method and is normally prepared using a french press, moka pout, pour-over or machine, while instant coffee just needs hot water.

three cups of coffee in a row on a wooden tableCoffee bought from coffee shops and restaurants will only ever be fresh coffee. Instant coffee is very much a home coffee solution.

While safe to assume fresh coffee is preferred by most if not all coffee drinkers out there, fresh coffee can’t compete with the price, convenience and shelf-life of instant coffee.

Fresh coffee constantly loses its freshness after being roasted and becomes stale even quicker after being ground up. Although not a deal breaker, all rather serious coffee drinkers prefer to have fresh beans at the ready. Because instant coffee has been dehydrated, it has an unbelievably long shelf-life, ensuring that it’s almost virtually impossible for it to go stale.

Bottom Line: The choice between fresh and instant coffee comes down to personal preference: fresh coffee is miles ahead in terms of taste, complexity and creativity, whereas instant coffee is cheaper, easier to prepare and lasts longer.

How is it made?

As with fresh coffee, instant coffee also begins with green coffee beans that are roasted in order to bring out flavor and aroma. Roasting entails the green beans being roasted at around 329 °F in big, rotating cylinders for about 8 – 15 minutes. The roasted beans are then cooled down and ground very finely. From this point on, the process for fresh and instant coffee differ significantly.

coffee beans being roasted in industrial roasterThe roasted and ground up beans are then brewed. This liquid coffee then needs to be dehydrated in one of two ways – by spray-drying or freeze-drying.

  • Spray-drying: the liquid coffee is sprayed as a fine mist through very hot air and by the time the droplets land on the ground, they have dried and turned into small coffee granules
  • Freeze-drying: the liquid coffee is rapidly cooled down to around -40 °F until they form frozen coffee slabs. These slabs are then broken up into small granules that are sifted and sorted according to size. These granules are then sent into a drying vacuum where the previously frozen water evaporates, leaving behind dried coffee granules that are then packaged and sold.

Spray-drying is a quicker and cheaper process but freeze-drying produces a much better quality final product.

Bottom Line: Instant coffee is roasted, brewed and then dehydrated by either spray-drying or freeze-drying.

Is it healthy?

Coffee, when consumed in moderation, is very healthy. Because instant coffee is essentially freshly brewed coffee that has then been dehydrated and packaged, it contains many of the same health benefits as fresh coffee does. Let’s have a look at what makes this wonder drink so good for you…

coffee beans arranged in heart shape with mug of coffee in the centreCaffeine is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world. The caffeine found in coffee can lead to improved brain function and focus and is therefore likely to provide a significant boost to productivity. Black coffee has almost zero calories and helps boost your metabolism and burn fat quicker. It can also help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as the risk of liver disease and liver cancer. It’s even though to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease! Impressive right? Those are just the most significant benefits, there are lots more that make coffee so wonderful.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. Consuming too much coffee can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness, jitters, tremors, upset stomachs and other negative effects, and therefore drinking a safe amount of caffeine is key. It’s thought that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most adults. This is roughly the equivalent of around 4 cups of freshly brewed cups of coffee or 8 cups of instant coffee. However, everyone reacts to caffeine differently and therefore experiment by starting off with smaller amounts to see what works for you.

Bottom Line: Caffeine in moderation has proven health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer, halving your chance of having liver damage and even helping you live longer!

Final thoughts

While instant coffee obviously can’t compete with the fresh, rich, full-bodied taste of fresh coffee, instant coffee offers a convenience factor that beginners will find seriously appealing. It’s long shelf life, short preparation time and low price tag means it will always have a valuable spot in the hot beverage industry.

What do you enjoy most about instant coffee? Be sure to pop your thoughts in the comments down below!

Thanks for reading,


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