Instant coffee is a dissolvable coffee drink. It is made from brewed coffee that was converted into powdered coffee by extracting the liquid of the coffee bean. This can be done in two ways: spray drying or freeze drying. The instant coffee granules are easily dissolved when mixed with water to create a great cup of coffee, instantly. Contrary to some myths, instant coffee is made of pure coffee beans.
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.
The market size of instant coffee is projected to grow from 28 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to around 36.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 worldwide. Surprisingly instant coffee is the preferred coffee format in predominantly tea-drinking markets like China, Russia, the UK, and Turkey. If you look at the revenue forecast from soluble coffee worldwide, Japan leads the list with the highest revenue forecast, topping the US in the 2nd place. Philippines, the UK, and China are right after in the top 5.
Spray drying vs. freeze drying
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.
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 like in the other method. 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.
Advantages of instant coffee
Some of the advantages of instant coffee include: speed of preparation as it quickly dissolves in water, lower shipping weight and volume than beans or ground coffee for the same coffee serving, and a longer shelf life compared to other coffee formats. With instant coffee you also save the coffee cleanup as there are no coffee grounds left after making your cup of joe. You also don't need to spend money on coffee machines and at least one study has found that it has a lower environmental footprint than other preparation methods in addition to creating less carbon emissions due to its light weight and packaging.
More names for instant coffee
Coffee crystals, coffee granules, soluble coffee, coffee powder, coffee mix, freeze dried coffee, spray dried coffee.
Cooking with instant coffee
Because instant coffee easily dissolves in liquid, it is often used in cooking, baking, and speciality coffee drinks. Some examples to dishes and drinks that incorporate instant coffee are: coffee cakes, coffee rubbed salmon or meat, coffee oats, iced coffee, coffee milkshakes, and more.