Coffee 101: Everything You Need to Know About Instant Coffee
Without noticing, instant coffee is suddenly making a comeback to our lives. Do you think you know everything about instant coffee? Think again.
Making instant coffee (also known as coffee powder, coffee granules and freeze dried coffee) is faster, less expensive, and easier than making any other type of coffee.
Instant coffee is made by pouring the coffee granules in a mug and mixing it with hot or cold water.
How instant coffee is made
Instant coffee is made from real whole coffee beans that were roasted, ground, and brewed. Similar to the process required for making coffee from ground coffee beans. After the coffee is brewed and filtered the coffee is sent to a giant evaporation (evaporation is when liquid changes into gas) tank heated at about 158°F (70°C). At this phase, the water evaporates from the coffee, causing the liquid to condense by about 50% into a thick coffee extract closely resembling honey.
Types of instant coffee: spray vs. freeze dried
In this method the coffee concentrate (that was previously condensed) is sprayed into a cylinder by a special sprayer. The cylinder itself is heated again at approximately 480°F (248°C), causing it to be full of hot air. As the fine mist is sprayed into the hot air, the remaining liquid in the mist will evaporate further as it goes down. The final coffee product that hits the ground is the small coffee particles (powder) remaining after the water was evaporated.
The freeze drying method is longer and more complicated, but can maintain more of the natural attributes of the coffee beans such as aroma and taste. Instant coffee made through the freeze drying method is also starting with the real brewed coffee concentrate.
However, in this method the coffee extract is transported into a freezing chamber, instead of a heated cylinder, that keeps an internal temperature of about -58°F (-50°C). These cold temperatures can only naturally be found in the arctic or at incredibly high elevations and exposure to these temperatures can cause hypothermia!
The brewed coffee, frozen in separate trays, is then broken up into coffee granules and transported to the next sublimation phase (the transition of a substance directly from solid to gas, without passing through the liquid state. The coffee granules have to go through the phase, as they still contain water that needs to be removed before it becomes the instant coffee you know.
The trays of frozen coffee granules are then transported through low-pressure tubes that are heated at about 140°F (60°C), depending on the manufacturer. They also contain a strong vacuum, which immediately removes the gas evaporated from the solids. Through this sublimation process, the frozen water solids turn directly into steam without becoming liquid again. After the process is completed, what’s left in the trays are the coffee granules, captured with most of the original coffee aromas and flavors.
Instant coffee vs. instant cold brew
Compared to regular brewed coffee or iced coffee, cold brew doesn’t use a different type of coffee bean, but rather has a different steeping and brewing method.
This cold brew coffee is made with coarse coffee grinds that are steeped in room temperature or cold water for 12-24 hours. This method uses more time to extract coffee by leaving it in the water rather than using heat or steam, like in traditional brew.
The main difference between instant coffee and instant cold brew is how the coffee was made prior to the initial evaporation process, before it becomes the condensed extract. After this process, the cold brew coffee will have to be processed via one of the same methods to become either granules of powder of cold brew coffee.
Depending on the manufacturer, cold brew might have more caffeine compared to other coffee types as the brewed liquid is more concentrated. However, cold brew usually acts as a concentrate or the base to a drink, so it should be mixed with more water or milk. That way, you can reduce the amount of caffeine. With instant cold brew, the amount of caffeine per serving will be determined by the ratios the manufacturer has used in the brewing process before evaporation and dehydration.
Instant coffee vs. instant espresso
Similar to instant cold brew, instant espresso differs from the traditional instant coffee by the brewing method prior to the evaporation and dehydration processes. Contrary to common belief there are no “espresso coffee beans,” but espresso is the coffee preparation method of the commonly used coffee beans (Arabica and Robusta).
Espresso drinks have more caffeine per serving than other coffee beverages as they generally include a smaller water to coffee ratio. In terms of taste, instant espresso contains a stronger taste, which is great for baking needs. However, instant espresso isn’t recommended as your daily dose of coffee. In addition, espresso is usually made with a mix of Robusta beans for a stronger taste and more caffeine, which can be more bitter and stronger in taste than Arabica beans.
Instant coffee vs. ground coffee
Instant coffee is made with coffee granules or powder that have already been brewed, dehydrated and packaged for an easy cup of joe. Instant coffee is actually made from coffee beans that were roasted and ground prior to the evaporation and dehydration processes.
Ground coffee is simply the result of grinding roasted coffee beans, with the aim of brewing them with coffee machines or tools such as French Press, Drip Coffee machine, etc.
Important to note that instant coffee will dissolve in water while ground coffee will not. Ground coffee needs the additional brewing step to extract the flavors from the beans to prepare a coffee drink.
Caffeine in instant coffee
According to Caffeine Informer, instant coffees on average have about 57mg of caffeine per 8 fl oz cup. Waka instant coffees have about 60 mg-70 mg of caffeine in the caffeinated coffees per 8-10 fl oz cup and about 3.6 mg of caffeine in the decaffeinated coffees per 8-10 fl oz cup.
The history of instant coffee
According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, the first instant coffee was invented by John Dring in England in 1771 and patented by the British Government as a "coffee compound."
In addition, on April 11, 1901 the Chicago chemist of Japanese descent, Dr. Sartori Kato, applied for US patent No. 735,777 for his “Coffee Concentrate and Process of Making the Same.” It is known to be the first stable soluble coffee powder that is more similar to the product we know these days.
Instant coffee wasn’t massively produced until 1910. In 1909, the Belgian-American businessman, George Constant Louis Washington, invented the first mass-produced instant coffee. His company became an important military supplier during World War I as American soldiers took their cup of joe with them to the battlefield.
How to make instant coffee the right way
Instant coffee is very easy to adjust to your taste preferences. If you like your coffee on the darker side add more coffee granules in your cup (about two and a half tsp). If you like your coffee lighter, consider starting less coffee at first (about 1 tsp).
The most common instant coffee recipe is 1-2 tsp of instant coffee for about 8-10 fl oz of water, which is an average cup of joe. Add milk and sugar as you desire on top of that.
Start by pouring the coffee granules in the mug, then add warm water (not piping hot) and stir. Adding the water on top of the granules instead of the other way around will help more coffee to dissolve faster and more evenly.
Recipes with instant coffee
- Instant Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Instant Café Mocha
- Dalgona Coffee Muffins With Dalgona Coffee Frosting
- Instant Coffee Vegan Tiramisu