Coffee 101: The Real History of Instant Coffee
Instant coffee has been around for many years, and much has changed since its inception.
Instant coffee can now taste good and more and more people are falling in love with this convenient coffee solution.
What do you really know about this old school product? From countries battling for the title of the first place to make it, to fascinating facts about the delicious crystals. We gathered the most interesting facts about the perfect pick-me-up coffee: instant coffee.
The First Country to Introduce 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 "coffee compound." There is no documentation to how successful his product was or even how he made it back then.
What makes it even more unclear is the fact that the drum method, in which coffee was boiled down to crystals, wasn't really used until the early 20th century.
New Zealand is also claiming the title of the first country to introduce instant coffee. David Strang of Invercargill, New Zealand, owned a coffee and spice factory called Stang’s Coffee. On January 28, 1890 Strang patented "Strang’s Soluble Dry Coffee-Powder" in New Zealand, which could be made instantly with boiling water.
The role Strang played in coffee history was rediscovered when The New Zealand Heritage Agency registered the Invercargill home of his son, James. Under the description of the listing the agency writes: ”Strang’s powder seems to have been the first commercially available instant coffee in the world.” You can read Strang's full business notice here.
We cannot declare the winner without another superpower claiming to be the place where the first instant coffee was invented. In April 11, 1901 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 was what is known as the first stable soluble coffee powder.
“I, SATORI KATO, a subject of the Emperor of Japan, residing at Chicago, in they county of Cook and State of. Illinois, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Coffee Concentrate and Process of Making Same, of which the'foll'owing is a specification.”
He was successfully granted with the patent on August 11, 1903. Read the full patent here.
The First Massive Production of Instant Coffee
However, instant coffee wasn’t massively produced until 1910. While George Washington was one of the Founding Fathers of the US and served as the nation's first president, another George Washington had a great impact on the instant coffee industry. In 1909, the Belgian-American businessman, George Constant Louis Washington, invented the first mass-produced instant coffee.
He founded the New York based G. Washington Coffee Company in 1910 to manufacture and sell his newly invented product. The company became an important military supplier during World War I as American soldiers took their cup of joe with them to the battlefield.
The instant coffee product became so popular during World War I that US soldiers called their coffee “a cup of George.” After successfully marketing instant coffee (and making Washington a very wealthy man), the company was interested in developing additional products. In 1938, G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth was created to expand into the instant soup broth category.
The company was sold to the pharmaceutical company, American Home Products (which changed its name to Wyeth in 2002 and acquired by Pfizer in 2009) in 1943, shortly before his death.
American Home Products sold the brand to International Home Foods which later sold it ConAgra. In October 2001, Homestat Farm, Ltd. purchased the brand from ConAgra and is still selling the seasoning and broth products. While the instant coffee brand was discontinued by 1961, Washington's name is still used today in the product G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth.
The Revolution of Instant Coffee
While it was a technological advancement in the coffee industry, the early powdered coffee version wasn’t dissolving easily in water, leaving chunks of coffee floating in the cup. Another problem was that heating the coffee further after roasting the beans made the coffee’s flavor worse and removed the aroma from the beans.
However, these problems didn’t stop the instant coffee to become even more popular during World War II as American soldiers were hooked to the convenience of making coffee anywhere by just adding water. The increasing demand also promoted the growth of cheaper Robusta beans for use in instant coffee blends.
In the 60s, some manufacturers started adding oils from fresh coffee beans as an afterthought to capture the aroma of the original coffee. That way, customers smelled the coffee aroma when opened the coffee jar or packet, but as soon as the instant coffee was mixed with water or milk, the aroma disappeared.
In 1964, a new and revolutionary method was created. Instead of applying heat to extract the liquid from the beans, now you could use the freeze drying method to do so. Freeze-drying in essential is the production of quality instant coffee. First, the coffee beans are roasted and grounded.
Then, the grounded beans are dissolved in water and brewed into a very concentrated liquid. After filtration, the coffee liquid is then frozen to about -50 degrees celsius at a very thin layer. It is then broken into smaller pieces and placed into a freeze dryer.
The product that comes out is the beloved instant coffee crystals that you see in Waka Coffee's packets. The freeze drying process maintains the flavor and smell of fresh coffee with the convenience of instant.
In the1970s, when instant coffee was at its peak, nearly a third of the roasted coffee imported into the United States was used for instant coffee products. In the early 90s, instant coffee saw the beginning of a major decline in sales as fresh brewed coffees and coffee shops became more appealing to the American consumer.
Forget What You Know About Instant Coffee
Fast forward to our time, and we are at the beginning of a new era in instant coffee again. Instant coffee now tastes better and sold over the internet by independent companies around the globe. Companies like Waka Coffee offer a superior product made from 100% Arabica beans and freeze dried to perfection. Read more how Waka Coffee is a different instant coffee here.
Even though it is still not popular as fresh brewed coffee, the instant coffee community still has many followers and customers. People prefer instant coffee because there is no waste after preparing it, it is so fast and easy to make, and you can take with you anywhere you go. It is also very convenient for making ice coffee or baking.