how is instant coffee made

Soluble coffee, more commonly referred to as instant coffee, can be a great alternative to brewed coffee. Instant coffee is an excellent option if you are camping, do not have a coffee maker or French press, or need one cup and don’t want to wait for the brewing process.

Making instant coffee at home requires adding hot water and stirring. It’s that simple. And like most people, you might be wondering, “How is instant coffee made, and how is it different from regular coffee?” This article explores these topics and more. By the time you are done reading, you should have the answers to all of your questions about instant coffee and understand how this convenient coffee compound is made.

How Instant Coffee Is Made: The Basics

A Brief History of Instant Coffee

granules, beans, and grounds from the Coffea plant

While there were some early contenders and patents issued by the British government, instant coffee was not immediately popular.

It didn’t start to become accepted until the 1930s when Brazil had a coffee bean surplus that needed to be sold. Brazil joined forces with Nestle to help them find a possible way to use the overstock and instant coffee as we know it was born.

Is Instant Coffee the Same as Ground Coffee?

While instant coffee and regular brewed coffee start as coffee beans, they have some significant differences. After all, you can not put coffee grounds in hot water and stir to make a coffee drink. With brewed coffee, the coffee beans are roasted and sometimes ground and then sent to you, the consumer. Instant coffee follows this same process but then goes on to become a soluble coffee extract.

How Instant Coffee Is Made: The Process

Instant coffee is dehydrated crystals of coffee, but how do the original coffee beans become this dried coffee extract? Let’s find out.

Green coffee beans are harvested and roasted to bring out the coffee flavour and add colour. The roasted coffee beans are ground, just like real coffee that doesn’t come as whole beans, but then the process diverges.

Next, the coffee grounds are brewed. Then, hot water is used to extract the beans. This process helps to recover more of the coffee aroma and flavour. The brewed coffee is then heated to a low temperature for an extended period so that it can condense into an extract.

In addition, the coffee extract is then dried using one of two methods, freeze-drying or spray drying. Some instant coffees will re-add extra aroma and flavour after the drying process, but this is not always done. Either way, you are left with soluble coffee granules or coffee powder, which quickly dissolve in hot water.

Spray Drying vs Freeze Drying

The two methods used to dry coffee extract achieve the same instant coffee result.

Spray drying instant coffee is the most common drying method used. It involves spraying the liquid coffee concentrate into a jet of hot air. The hot air sprays over the top of a cylindrical tower to create a fine mist of coffee concentrate. When the concentrate and the hot air combine, the droplets fall and dry, resulting in a fine powder as the coffee hits the bottom of the tall tube.

While the coffee powder can be texturised to form granules, it isn’t necessary. The spray drying process is typically more cost-effective, and the coffee produced is often less expensive. Of course, spray drying the coffee concentrate may preserve a bit less of the aroma even though a good amount of the coffee’s flavour and aroma is preserved.

Instant coffee granules

With the freeze-drying process, instant coffee extract is frozen to an extremely low temperature, about -40 degrees Celsius. The frozen coffee extract is chopped into granules and then dried using a drying vacuum at a low temperature. The slower drying process is known for preserving ample flavour and aroma.

If you are unsure if a type of instant coffee was produced via the freeze-drying or spray drying process, it’s most probably the latter. Since freeze drying is seen as an upgrade, instant coffees will boldly say if they were freeze-dried.

Hence, both methods may produce the same results, but instant coffee is usually spray-dried.

Does Instant Coffee Contain Less Caffeine Than Ground Coffee?

Considering how instant coffee is convenient and quick, why don’t more people drink it regularly? There are a few reasons, but the main reason is that it contains less caffeine. Instant coffee contains significantly less caffeine than brewed coffee or espresso. It depends on the specific coffee, but most instant coffees only have about half the regular caffeine content per cup compared to brewed coffee grounds.

Does Instant Coffee Have Any Health Benefits?

Coffee drinking comes with various potential health benefits aside from the apparent boost of energy it provides. Coffee has also been credited with speeding up the metabolism and improving concentration and brain functioning overall.

Furthermore, studies suggest that there is evidence that coffee drinkers have less chance of getting liver or kidney disease and may be less likely to experience neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

On the other hand, instant coffee contains about double the amount of acrylamide’s potentially harmful chemical than brewed coffee. The chemical develops while the coffee beans roast and has been linked to possible nervous system damage and an increased risk of liver cancer.

How Do You Make a Cup of Instant Coffee?

Making instant coffee at home is easy and fast. Simply add water to about a tablespoon or two of instant coffee powder or granules and stir; the water should be hot and not boiling water. In less than a minute, you will have a fresh cup of coffee without spending time grinding whole coffee beans and brewing coffee grounds.

Some instant coffees will also dissolve in cold water, which is excellent for keeping you cool and energised in hot weather. And contrary to what most people think, some brands of instant coffee have come up with instant coffee varieties that boast bolder and richer flavours. 

From Bean to Cup

As we now know, making instant coffee follows the same process as making coffee for brewing up until a point. However, with instant coffee, the grounds are brewed, turned into a concentrate, and then spray-dried or freeze-dried to create a soluble coffee product. You only need to add hot water to return it to its liquid form. After learning about the process, instant coffee should no longer be a mystery. 

So now that you know the answer to “How is instant coffee made?”, do you think you will drink more or less of it? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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