Coffee 101: Ground Coffee VS. Instant Coffee
Once and for all, here’s everything you need to know about ground coffee and instant coffee. In short, no, it's not the same thing.
Is ground coffee the same as instant coffee?
Instant coffee is coffee extract that has been roasted, brewed and then dehydrated.
To brew ground coffee beans you have to brew and filter the coffee to enjoy the coffee beverage, while instant coffee fully dissolves in water to create a cup of joe.
How instant coffee and ground coffee are made
Ground coffee is typically already packaged in stores and ready to brew, but there are a few ways you can grind the beans yourself. The easiest and most common way to grind coffee is with an electric coffee grinder. The size of the coffee ground will be based on the brewing method you will be using.
Instant coffee is made by dehydrating brewed coffee extract. You can think of it as coffee that is already made, but dried for later and easier use. There are two main ways to manufacture instant coffee: spray drying and freeze drying.
Spray drying involves spraying the coffee liquid in a chamber with very high and hot temperatures. As the thick coffee liquid falls down it is being dried and essentially evaporates mid air.
This results in a solid almost powder-like coffee, aka instant coffee. Most of the large instant coffee brands use the spray drying method because it’s easier and faster for mass produce. However, because of the high temperatures from spray drying, a lot of the nutrients and natural flavor properties of the coffee are gone. You can also taste some of the burnt taste from the applied heat.
Freeze drying is a little more complicated. First, the coffee extract is frozen to drastically low temperatures to turn the water into ice. The ice then goes into the sublimation phase, which is when the ice turns directly into a gas (in this case, steam) without going through the liquid phase. In other words, the solid skips right over to become gas, essentially removing all of the water and moisture from the coffee.
Lastly, the coffee goes through a vacuum to remove any of the water that is left. The end result is instant coffee! Freeze drying is a tastier alternative to making instant coffee because it keeps most of the original coffee flavors in the coffee.
The history of ground vs. instant coffee
There is no exact pinpoint to when and where coffee was first discovered or invented. However, there have been various legends as to how it came about.
One theory mentions a goat herder named Kladi, which noticed how energetic his goats were after eating coffee berries off of a tree. Kladi then shared these berries with a monastery who made it into a drink. The coffee then made its way to the Arabian Peninsula, which by trade allowed it to eventually spread all over the world. By the time it was introduced to Europe in the 17th century, coffee houses and shops opened all over global major cities.
As for instant coffee, there’s also a debate as to where it was invented first. Whether it was in London (1771), New Zealand (1890), or the U.S. (1901).
There were also certainly different variations as to how instant coffee was defined. Was it a concentrate, powder, or compound? Regardless, instant coffee began its first mass production in 1910 by the Belgian-American businessman George Constant Louis Washington.
Today, instant coffee has evolved due to more reliable technology and processing, and it’s gained more popularity because of its convenience and accessibility.
Taste test: instant coffee vs. ground coffee
The taste of coffee depends on your preference. In general, coffee by itself is known to taste bitter, earthy, and even nutty. The taste can also depend on the brewing method, amount used, and type of coffee.
Instant coffee is also made from real ground coffee. If the coffee it is made from is not of a good quality, it can taste acidic and burnt. However, the taste of instant coffee can vary based on how much coffee and water you add and what brand you use. In the past few years, more and more instant coffee companies are on a mission to reinvent the product and the its taste.
How to make ground coffee?
There are a few ways to make coffee with ground coffee beans. The most common method is by manually or automatically brewing your coffee. Most Americans use a coffee brewer which filters the coffee grounds. French press, pour over, and cold brew are also common methods for making coffee with coffee grounds.
How to make instant coffee?
The beauty of instant coffee is that it’s, well, instant. It doesn’t require any machines, prepping, or skill. You just add hot or cold water to a mug with the instant coffee granules and it’s ready to go. Apart from this, recently the internet has gone crazy about the dalgona whipped coffee, which is using instant coffee as well.
Frequently asked questions
Can I use ground coffee as instant coffee?
Since they are not the same thing, no. Instant coffee is made by adding water for the coffee to dissolve, but adding water to ground coffee won’t have the same result. Ground coffee needs to be brewed and filtered in order to become the coffee you’re used to.
When do I use each and why?
You can use ground coffee when you want to manually brew your coffee or if you have an automatic coffee brewer. The purpose of instant coffee is to provide a convenient, fast, and portable coffee method.
Can you make whipped coffee with ground coffee?
No. The reason you can make Dalgona Coffee with instant coffee is because it has the properties that make it easy to “whip.” The whipping process takes between 2-10 minutes depending on the equipment you have.