We all know that instant coffee is a convenient, quick coffee solution, but can the best instant coffee beat fresh coffee? What is instant coffee? What is actually in it? Is it even actually made of coffee or some chemical substitute? And how does it compare to fresh ground coffee? Is one better than the other? Of course our opinion is pretty biased, we are always going to say real coffee is better, but we’re setting out to explain why!
To understand the difference between real, fresh ground coffee and instant coffee we are going to take a look at how each are made.
How is Instant Coffee made?
Instant coffee, those brown, soluble granules, readily available in jars and canisters in every convenience store and supermarket, is also known as coffee powder (smaller granules), soluble coffee or crystal coffee.
Instant coffee is actually made of real coffee. Typically, soluble coffee is made from dried Robusta coffee beans, which are cheaper than the full-flavoured, Arabica beans that form the basis of the Get in the Mood coffee range and other higher end brands. The beans are roasted and ground in massive industrial grinders. When the coffee is ground the aromas, that would otherwise be lost, are sometimes pumped out and stored for use later in the manufacturing process.
After grinding, the coffee is brewed and usually subject to a concentration method; in an attempt to retain more of the coffee flavour prior to drying.
Instant coffee manufacturers may use the freeze concentration process where the liquid is frozen and the water-based ice is extracted, leaving the concentrated liquid to be dried. This is the same process as is used to produce concentrated fruit juices.
Or the brewed coffee may use the vacuum evaporation technique where the coffee is simmered until the liquid is reduced. This is the same method as is used in the production of powdered milk and ketchup.
Once the coffee concentrate has been produced it needs to be dried and turned into small granules ready to be packaged. There are two main drying methods used commercially. These are spray drying and freeze drying.
What is spray drying?
In spray drying, the concentrated coffee is sprayed out as a fine mist into a large tower of hot air (approximately 270°C). As the coffee droplets fall any remaining water is rapidly evaporated and the dried granules fall to the floor of the chamber, ready for collection and packaging. The towers have to have a very wide area otherwise the spray will hit the walls of the chamber and stick, instead of reaching the floor. Because the atomised spray is so fine the granules are often too small and have to go through a further process to fuse them together to form the appropriately sized crystals.
What is freeze drying?
Freeze drying is an even more complex process, but preserves more coffee flavour. For this reason freeze-dried coffee is usually more expensive than spray-dried instant coffee.
The coffee concentrate is rapidly frozen to approximately -40°C and broken into small crystals. It’s then moved to a drying chamber which is heated in a vacuum and any water in the frozen coffee expands into a gas (sublimation) and is removed from the chamber leaving the dry granules of coffee. At this point, any stored aromas are then sprayed back over the granules in a bid to add more coffee flavour back in. The granules are now ready for packing into jars or canisters.
As you can see, both these methods are highly energy intensive, so if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly option then real, fresh ground coffee is the way to go!
How is Real Coffee made?
Real coffee starts off the same raw ingredient as instant coffee, but is a much simpler, more natural process.
Get in the Mood coffee uses carefully selected blends of Arabica coffee beans (our Intrepid Baboon blend also includes a small amount of high quality Robusta for a special bite) which are then roasted in small batches to ensure premium, delicious, fresh coffee. Some of the batch will be ground ready for cafetière, filter, Aeropress or, in the case of Intrepid Baboon, as espresso. It is cooled naturally and then packaged immediately in airtight, recyclable pouches to ensure it arrives with you with optimum taste and aroma.
That’s it! No extra processing, no extra faff, just great, honest gourmet coffee.
Which is better – instant or ground coffee? Is instant coffee bad for you?
Of course, we, and most real coffee drinkers, are going to say ground coffee is better than instant coffee, but there is a firm basis for our opinion…
Real coffee does have a much better flavour than instant coffee – it starts by using the multi-layered, less bitter Arabica beans instead of cheaper Robusta beans. Fresh coffee keeps its fuller flavour because there’s no extra processing to strip it of its essential oils, unlike the many levels of processing that instant coffee endures.
But there’s more to it than that. Whilst instant coffee does retain some of the health benefits that real coffee provides including reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and depression, and contains antioxidents, it does usually contain less caffeine (so not so brilliant for training athletes) and contains almost twice as much acrylamide as real coffee. Acrylamide is a chemical found in a wide range of foods, but scientists believe that over-exposure (in very large doses) may lead to damage to the nervous system and could increase the risk of cancer.
Is instant coffee cheaper than real coffee?
Yes, it usually is, due to the lesser quality of the coffee beans used in instant coffee and the industrial size of the processing plants. But what you gain in money you definitely lose in terms of the flavour that is borne from the more expensive Arabica beans, the care and pride the coffee roaster takes in his craft and the short process involved in roasting and packaging the coffee blends. Plus, fresh ground coffee is better for the environment, especially when it comes in recyclable packaging!
Is instant coffee more convenient than real coffee?
Convenience as well as a cheaper price seems to be why some people still opt for instant coffee, but actually, once you’ve bought the basic equipment, real coffee isn’t inconvenient at all! All you really need is a French press or cafetière or a dripper and some filter papers, or one of our fantastic cafetière mugs that come with our Good to Go kits and a few minutes to let the flavour develop, and you are all set. Once you realise you love real coffee you can invest a little more in some of the other equipment available and really explore all the different methods of making coffee.