If you are lost and don't know what type of coffee to make, instant coffee or ground coffee, read on to discover what is the best coffee for you.
Coffee is one of America’s favorite beverages and no wonder many people are looking for more ways to get their caffeine kick while on-the-go. Instant coffee is making a comeback in 2020 with new and innovative startups that are trying to bring the instant coffee back to its glory days. With the new instant coffee trend, we wanted to take a moment to compare between brewed coffee and instant.
1. The History of Ground Coffee vs. Instant Coffee
Coffee has been around for multiple centuries, leading back to the 9th century in Ethiopia. The legend says that an Ethiopian herdsman named Kaldi was in charge of discovering the coffee tree. While Kladi was walking with his goat, he came across the coffee tree. When the goat saw the coffee tree, it ran off thinking it was berries and tried to eat it. Kaldi noticed his goat eating the ‘berries’ and actually thought they were poisonous.
Curious as to what the goat was eating, Kaldi tried a “berry” himself and noticed that it has a strong taste... a taste we all now can associate to coffee. Kaldi brought back the coffee berry with him to his village and shared with his friends and family and the rest is history. Originally, coffee used to be only eaten and never used as a drink. People would eat the beans whole as a snack when seeking a new strong taste. Slowly people learned how to grind and use the beans to make a liquid, forming a drink.
Centuries later, Arab traders brought back the coffee beans with them from Ethiopia to their own respective countries. These traders planted their own coffee trees using the seeds that they brought back. The traders started boiling the beans forming a potent drink called “qahwah.” The seeds also made their way to the Turks, who began adding spices of their own to the newly formulated coffee drink like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.
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." It wasn’t massively produced until 1910. There is no documentation to how successful his product was or even how he made it back then. You will learn how it is made these days in the next section.
In 1909 George Washington (not one of the Founding Fathers of the US), a Belgian-American businessman, invented the first mass-produced instant coffee and 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 wanted to take their instant coffee 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.” Now, while you might be thinking that this is how “cup of joe” came about, the legend actually has a different explanation. One such is that during that time (still World War I), Josephus Daniels, Secretary to the Navy, started banning alcohol on naval ships in order to have higher moral standards for the Navy. Because of this, sailors had to start drinking more coffee instead of alcohol and nicknamed the drink “cup of joe” after Josephus Daniels, out of anger.
2. How Instant Coffee is Made Compared to Ground Coffee?
Instant coffee is made from brewed coffee that was converted into powder (or crystals) by extracting the liquid of the coffee bean. First, raw beans are poured into large ovens where they are roasted. The beans are roasted at a range of temperatures based on the desired troast (dark, medium, or light roast). Once the beans are roasted to the preferred roast, they are transferred into a large mill where they are ground into a coarse powder (become ground coffee). This is the ground coffee powder that you can purchase from the grocery store or make at home by grinding coffee beans. We will discuss it more when we get to ground coffee section.
The ground coffee then gets transferred into a coffee machine where the flavor of the bean gets extruded from the bean with hot water and high pressure, brewing up large quantities of fresh coffee. This is essentially a mass brewing process that yields tons of coffee rather than the few cups that your at-home coffee machine might produce. The coffee is heated until it is condensed into a thick coffee extract closely resembling the viscosity of honey. From this phase, there are two options on how to transfer the coffee from ground brewed coffee into instant coffee.
Spray dried vs. freeze dried instant coffee
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 condensed coffee liquid drops down, it meets the hot air, which evaporates the liquid so only the dry fine instant coffee powder you are familiar with falls to the ground. 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.
Freeze-drying in essential in the production of quality instant coffee. First, like in the other method, the coffee beans are roasted and grounded. Then, the grounded beans are dissolved in water and brewed into a 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 of the freeze dryer are the coffee crystals that you see in Waka Coffee’s packets and bags.
Not to confuse with instant espresso, instant coffee is a different product. Instant espresso powder mix is made a bit differently than how instant coffee is. The first step of making instant espresso is by taking finely ground beans (usually Robusta) and brewing it as an espresso. After the espresso is finished brewing, the already brewed coffee is dehydrated into crystal granules. Instant espresso powder is mostly used by bakers for chocolate-based dessert recipes to enhance flavor. It gives an extra and more complex type of flavor in baked goods while complimenting chocolate flavors.
Ground coffee is simply roasted coffee beans that have been grinded by a grinder so they could be easily brewed. There are several ways in which you could make ground coffee. Some of the methods are: Roller grinding, chopping, pounding and burr grinding.
Burr grinding is the most common method. This method utilizes two revolving abrasive elements like wheels or cone-shaped components to crush and squeeze the coffee beans between their surfaces. As a result, the oil quickly extracts from the beans for a smooth and tasty infusion process when the beans meet the hot water.
Machines that use this grinding method can be electrical or manual. They grind relatively uniform sized coffee with a wide range of grind settings. The settings determine the space between both grinding elements and the overall size of the ground. Coffee grounded using this method is suitable for different brewing styles like espresso, French Press, drip, and many more.
4. Caffeine Content in Instant Coffee vs. Ground Coffee
The caffeine content in ground coffee is determined based on the type of coffee (bean and roast) and the method of brewing, which will be discussed in the next section.
Light Roast vs. Dark Roast
The type of roast you choose, whether it is light, medium, or dark, can influence the amount of caffeine that goes into your cup. Usually, dark roasts actually have less caffeine than light roasts as roasting burns off some of the caffeine. If you prefer less caffeine in your cup, opt for a dark French or Italian roaast for a less jolting cup.
Robusta vs. Arabica
Most coffees are made with either Arabica, Robusta, or a mixture of those two types of beans. Arabica beans, have half the caffeine of Robusta beans. Although a higher dose of caffeine may seem like a good thing by some, it makes the taste of Robusta beans unpleasantly bitter and acidic. You can find Robusta beans in espresso-like coffee or coffee blends or traditional instant coffee brands (Waka Coffee is 100% Arabica instant coffee).
Generally, instant coffee has less caffeine than in ground coffee. According to the USDA, one 2-gram packet of instant coffee contains 63 milligrams of caffeine. On the other hand, one cup (8 fluid ounces) of ground coffee contains 92 milligrams of caffeine. Hence, instant coffee and decaffeinated instant coffee are good solutions for people that want to cut down on their caffeine intake.
How much caffeine in Waka Instant Coffee products?
Colombian freeze dried Arabica instant coffee: 2.3% caffeine = about 70 mg of caffeine per 0.1 oz coffee (about 3 grams).
Colombian freeze dried Arabica Decaf instant coffee: 0.13% caffeine = about 3.6 mg of caffeine per 0.1 oz coffee (about 3 grams).
Indian freeze dried Arabica instant Coffee: 2% caffeine = about 60 mg of caffeine per 0.1 oz coffee (about 3 grams).
5. Brewing Methods of Ground Coffee vs. Instant Coffee
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. There is no need for any complicated equipment, coffeemakers or measuring tools. If you use instant coffee from a jar or bag, usually 1-2 tsp will be enough for 8-10 fl oz mug. If you use single-serve instant coffee packets, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the right coffee-to-water ratio.
Pour coffee into the mug, add water, stir and enjoy. That simple. If you are making cold instant coffee, we would recommend mixing it first with a little bit of hot water until all the granules are fully dissolved. Then add cold water and ice to your liking.
There are different ways in which you can make your ground coffee. By using a coffeemaker, or without a coffeemaker. 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.
Theses are a few of the more common methods to make ground coffee:
Drip or Filter
The most common method of making coffee in the US is by using the drip coffee technique. In order to make drip coffee, the coffee needs to slowly be dropped into a pot. Poured over a filter, the coffee grounds are mixed with hot water and then seep into the filter below. The formed mixture drips down into a pot to create drip coffee. The filter that is used for the drip coffee can be made out of a paper, mesh, or a plastic filter. The caffeine content of coffee made using this method is usually 115 – 175 mg caffeine with an average of 145 mg.
French Press or Plunger
A modern French Press is usually made with a glass beaker and metal mesh. It works by steeping coffee grounds in the glass beaker and then using a metal filter to press the grounds to the bottom of the glass beaker. The coffee can then be poured into a mug leaving the grounds at the bottom of the beaker. One of the reasons French Press is so popular is because the metal mesh allows for all of the oils and flavor of the bean to remain in the coffee. The typical caffeine content in coffee made by this method is 80 – 135 mg caffeine with an average of 107.5 mg.
Percolation is the process of filtering liquids through a porous material. A coffee percolator is a specific type of pot that is used to brew coffee. In a continuous cycle the coffee beans are boiled until they reach a specific desired strength. Coffee that is brewed with a coffee percolator can be easily extracted too much since the already brewed coffee recirculates throughout the pot multiple times as the grounds reach a very high temperature when brewing. You can expect about 64 – 272 mg caffeine (with an average of 200 mg) if your cup of coffee is made using this method. Like with the other methods, the final amount will also depend on the type of beans and roast.
Boiled Coffee (for example, Turkish or Greek)
In this method, you will not need any equipment or tools. Boiled coffee is made by first grinding the coffee beans into a fine powder. This coffee powder is then boiled in water usually along with sugar. Then transferred to a cup where the coffee sediments settle at the bottom and the coffee is drank from the top. There will be about 160 – 240 mg caffeine with an average of 200 mg in a cup of coffee that was made using the boiled coffee method. Unlike with instant coffee, here you will still have coffee grounds left at the bottom of your cup, which are unpleasant to drink.
6. Health Benefits of Ground Coffee vs. Instant Coffee
Coffee in general is a healthy drink; However, the method of preparation and brewing process can affect its overall chemical constituents, thus its health benefits and risks.
Instant coffee beats the ground counterpart on the total amount of antioxidants. This study finds out that instant coffee brews have the highest values in content of phenols, chlorogenic acid derivates, caffeine and antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are a huge reason for the benefits coffee provides. In addition, this study on nutrition and metabolism shows that instant coffee can help in reducing the blood sugar level.
On the other hand, instant coffee has more Acrylamide than ground coffee. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), heating food rich in carbohydrate at high temperatures produce this toxic compound. The National Agency for Research on Cancer even classifies acrylamide as a probable carcinogen. However, it is important to note that any type of coffee that derives from roasted coffee beans will contain some quantities of acrylamide, including instant coffee and ground coffee.
A 2013 study compared the amounts of acrylamide in 42 samples of coffee, including 28 types of ground roasted coffee, 11 instant coffees and 3 coffee substitutes (grain coffee). The results showed that the highest mean acrylamide concentrations were found in the coffee substitutes group (818 pg/kg) followed by instant coffee (358 microg/kg) and then roasted ground coffee (179 microg/kg).
When you compare ground coffee to instant coffee, there are many differences in the preparation method, caffeine content and even health benefits. However, both ground coffee and instant coffee are coffee! Which make them both a great way to make your morning, after lunch or early dinner delicious.
Check out our best instant coffees. Get them here.