Now that instant coffee is making a comeback in our lives, it’s time to answer the most common questions. Is it coffee, and how is it different from ground coffee?
Enjoying a fresh cup of coffee in the morning is just like brushing your teeth, it’s a routine that you simply can’t skip. For your own sake, but also for those around you. While brushing your teeth is a one a minute chore, making sure you have your favorite cup of joe can get much more complicated.
During hectic mornings, and what morning isn’t hectic, it can be challenging to make a freshly brewed cup at home. Instant coffee can save you time and money instead of buying coffee on your way. But, is it actually as good as fresh brewed coffee? Let’s explore.
Instant coffee vs. ground coffee
Ground coffee and instant coffee are not the same. Ground coffee is made from coffee beans that have been roasted and ground for brewing (with a grinder). Instant coffee is a coffee extract derived from coffee beans that have 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.
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 "coffee compound." There is no documentation to how successful his product was or even how he made it back then.
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 as we think about it today.
There are two ways to make instant coffee
Both methods start with real coffee that was roasted, ground (just like your ground coffee at home) and brewed into a thick-liquid-like concentrate. The methods differ in how the liquid is removed to create the dissolvable powder or granules.
1. Spray Drying - high temperatures
Coffee processed by the spray drying method is sprayed into a stream of hot air from the top of a tall cylindrical structure (similar to those used to keep grains and flour). As the small amount of extracted coffee liquid drops down it becomes the dry fine instant coffee powder you are familiar with. Spray drying is the most common way used by traditional instant coffee brands. This fast and cheaper process sacrifices the taste for speed and cost. The heat applied during this process is what's causing you to taste a burnt flavor when drinking traditional instant coffee.
2. Freeze Drying - low temperatures
Freeze drying food means removing all of the water from it. Moisture in food promotes bacteria growth which causes food to go bad, so removing the liquid will keep the food edible longer. First, the filtered and brewed coffee liquid is frozen at about -50° C. Then, the primary drying sublimation phase begins, where the pressure is lowered to allow the water to sublimate.
Sublimation is the process of when the ice immediately changes to steam, without defrosting first. Almost all of the water is removed in this phase. Lastly is the secondary drying absorption phase! In this phase the water molecules are removed from the product by vacuum to create the freeze dried granules you are familiar with. Yes, it is quite a complicated process to preserve the flavors of your coffee.
Can you use ground coffee as instant coffee?
As mentioned before, instant coffee and ground coffee are not the same thing. You can’t substitute ground coffee for instant and vice versa.
Brewing instant coffee is pretty easy as the coffee granules will dissolve in your water, leaving no waste. All you need is water and you can make it on the go, at home, in the office or wherever you drink your cup of joe.
Unlike instant coffee, ground coffee will not dissolve in your water. You will have to brew the ground beans to extract their flavor and then toss the remaining coffee grounds. You can brew ground coffee using machines and tools like drip or filter coffee maker, a French Press of a Percolator.
Advantages of instant coffee over ground coffee
- Quick to make: all you need is hot water and a mug
- Great for travel: light to pack and easy to transport
- Super simple: no need to learn a coffee vocabulary to understand
- Minimal Cleanup: the coffee will fully dissolve in your mug and not machine/tool to wash
- Single-Serving: you can take a packet of instant coffee with you
- Saves counter and storage space: no need in tools or machines only hot water