How Instant Coffee Is Made: The Process & Health Benefits

By: | Updated: March 1, 2021

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While some coffee purists may scoff at it, instant coffee is a common fixture in any pantry. Whether it’s for those times when you sleep in and need to get a cup of joe down before you leave, or just in case you run out of coffee, instant coffee has its uses. This powder seems like a marvel of food science, and is made in a variety of ways. Depending on how its made, you may choose one brand over another. It also helps you understand how the coffee is going to taste. Let’s go over the manufacturing process for this unique product.

While it may seem like instant coffee is the result of modern engineering, it actually dates back hundreds of years. Patents date back to England in the 1700s, and America in the 1800s. During World War I, the army experimented with using coffee pucks that would dissolve in water, and Japan would start to mass produce freeze dried coffee. Instant coffee as we know it would begin in the 1930s. Nestle patented Nescafe, which would kickstart the competitive instant coffee market. By the 60s, you have modern instant coffee that looks and tastes better.

How Companies Make Instant Coffee

Just like with any product, there are a few ways you can make instant coffee. The two main ways that the instant coffee in your pantry made is through a misting technique, and through freeze drying. There are other ways, since neither of these methods were an option when instant coffee first appeared in the 1700s. But these techniques produce a reliable, water soluble powder that will come close to tasting like the real thing.

The misting method

With this method, coffee is brewed to make a strong liquid. It’s then pressed through a mister in a hot room. This causes the water to evaporate, so by the time the mist hits the floor, the only thing left is a crystalline powder. These crystals are made up of only the particles that give coffee its flavor. In addition, they rehydrate once you add them to hot water. This method won’t do as good of a job of preserving the flavor of coffee, but can be a bit more affordable.

Freeze drying

Freeze drying is a pretty common technique for making long-lasting, ready-made food. In this method, you freeze coffee and then run chemicals through it to cause sublimation. This process causes the frozen water in the coffee to immediately turn into vapor, without turning into water. It’s a more sophisticated process, but the result is a fine coffee powder that will rehydrate in hot water. This method gives you a better instant cup of joe, but involves chemicals that may make some coffee fans uncomfortable.

The Difference Between Instant and Regular Coffee

It’s no secret that instant coffee won’t taste as good or give you the same rush as the real thing. While you can find some instants that are better than others, the flavor and caffeine profile will always be degraded in the instant process. If you’re looking to buy a case of instant coffee, or just want to know more about this product, it helps to know the fundamental differences between espresso and regular coffee.

Distinct flavor

For many coffee aficionados, the flavor is the most important part of the drink. The powerful, bold toastiness of the coffee paired with the mello creaminess of whole milk and a hint of spices makes for a perfect morning beverage. Instant coffee will always have a distinctly processed flavor. It tastes like it’s supposed to be coffee, but doesn’t taste like coffee. Freeze dried coffee does a better job of preserving the flavor, but even then you’ll still have a weak flavor with a slightly sour aftertaste.

Caffeine content

Another huge benefit to drinking coffee is the nice caffeine rush. For some coffee drinkers, it’s the primary way they can get up in the morning, while for others it’s the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The processing involved in making instant coffee doesn’t preserve the caffeine content very effectively. Sure, you’ll get a mild rush, but for a single serving of coffee, expect 60-75% of the caffeine content. Of course, to fix this, you can simply add more instant coffee to your cup, but it’ll make the flavor more intense.

Is Instant Coffee Bad For You?

With all this talk of processing, you may wonder if there are any health drawback to using instant over regular coffee. When it comes to the nutritional value of coffee and instant coffee, there are no significant differences. Instant is just a crystalized version of already brewed coffee. The only significant difference comes with some of the chemicals used in making it.

The health benefits

Coffee and instant coffee both have no calories, and are both packed with healthy antioxidants. Just like with the regular stuff, instant coffee is fine to drink in moderation. Also like regular coffee, it isn’t recommended to drink excess instant coffee. The acid in the coffee and the caffeine content can have long-term health effects.

Chemicals involved

Some methods of making instant coffee involve chemical processing. These chemicals used are totally safe for consumption, and are found in a variety of food products. Plus, the FDA oversees all of this, ensuring that instant coffee is safe to drink. However, if you’re concerned with consuming any artificially added chemicals, you’ll want to make sure that your instant coffee is made with the misting method, which is chemical free.

Decaf instant coffee

Because instant coffee is made of brewed coffee, you can buy it decaffeinated. Nestle first began offering instant decaf coffee in the 80s, and it makes a perfect flavor additive for cooking for people with a caffeine sensitivity. The decaffeination process for regular coffee is also safe. It’s overseen by the FDA to make sure that no chemicals will have adverse health effects. But, again, if you’re sensitive to added chemicals, make sure that the coffee was decaffeinated using a natural method.

Why You Should Drink Instant Coffee

Despite the drawbacks in flavor and caffeine content, there are plenty of reasons to drink instant coffee. It’s convenient, makes an excellent cooking ingredient, and can be a great backup for getting your coffee fix if you run out. Be resourceful and open minded, and you’ll have no problem finding tons of ways to use instant coffee.

It can be a good backup

Nothing is more crushing than pulling yourself out of bed, setting up your coffee machine, and finding out you’re out of coffee. Or you may have coffee, but it’s gotten hard and stale. These mornings often require you to go to work without your morning fix, or stop by your local coffee shop to buy a latte. If you have a can of instant coffee in your pantry, you’ll be saved from the rough morning. Sure, it won’t have quite the same satisfying flavor, but it beats not having anything at all.

It’s quick

Instant coffee, as the name implies, takes no time to brew. If you hit the snooze button a bit too many times, or if you just don’t want to head to Starbucks during your lunch break, instant coffee is a great choice. Sometimes you just need something with a little caffeine as you head out the door. Throwing a spoonful or two of the instant stuff can be enough for you.

It needs no equipment

If you’re a fan of camping, or you travel frequently, or you don’t trust the K-cups in hotel rooms, you may want to take instant coffee with you. It’s easy to transport, since it comes in a sealed container, and all you need is hot water. If you don’t have access to a coffee machine, instant still lets you get close to that perfectly toasty coffee flavor. Sure, it’s a bit of a compromise, but you’re much better off than without anything.

Use it for cooking

If you’re a fan of coffee flavored pastries, ice cream, or even steak rubs, then instant coffee can be just the thing you need. Just like coffee extracts, instant coffee is easy to just throw into anything you’re cooking. It goes great in milkshakes, and it’s a powder, making it perfect for baked goods. Plus, you won’t notice the flavor degradations when you’ve mixed it into something, so it’s perfect for cooking.

Making The Most of Instant Coffee

Instant coffee is undeniably a useful part of the kitchen. While it may not be the first thing you reach for, it has some potent uses. From substituting for coffee extract and beans when you’re baking to providing a quick fix when you’re headed out the door, this product belongs in your pantry. It’s been around for centuries, but modern food science has made it a powerful accomplice to the real thing. Ultimately, it helps you get more of your favorite beverage into your life.

Joakim
by Joakim
Joakim is a coffee connoisseur who loves all types of coffee, no matter the type or region of origin. He loves writing about his coffee experience, sharing with readers the tastes, methods of making, and more.