You can make instant coffee (also known as coffee powder or soluble coffee) using two common methods. In one, liquid coffee gets sprayed in the form of a fine mist through very dry and hot air. By the time these coffee droplets are landing, they will have dried into a fine powder.
The other method involves freeze-drying. Through chemical sublimation, the liquid gets forced from the frozen coffee. This chemical process forces vaporization of the ice without having to go through the liquid stage.
Both methods adversely affect the caffeine-content and general notes of flavor in coffee, although the freeze-drying method leaves intact more of the aroma compounds. In some instances, the coffee powder then gets supplemented with additional aroma compounds and flavor to give a better simulation of fresh coffee.
Brief History of Instant Coffee
Instant coffee has a fascinating and rich history. The first “instant coffee” was made in Britain in 1771 by John Dring. Known as a “coffee compound” it was also granted a patent by the British government. In 1851, the first instant coffee in America was created. David Strang of New Zealand invented and also patented soluble or instant coffee in that country.
Chicago chemist, Dr. Sartori Kato, applied for and was granted US patent No. 735,777 in 1901 for his “Coffee Concentrate and Process of Making the Same.” This became the first known stable soluble coffee powder.
In 1937 Max Morgenthaler, a Nestle scientist came up with a new technique of making instant coffee at the Nestle’s Research Center Laboratory in Switzerland. He named the new product Nescafe, combining Nestle and cafe. During the Second World War, instant coffee gained huge popularity among the soldiers.
Maxwell House began in 1963 to market freeze-dried granules. These, when reconstituted, turn into a beverage tasting more close to freshly brewed coffee.
How Instant Coffee Is Made
Manufacturing instant coffee starts by brewing using highly-efficient extraction equipment. The next stage entails passing softened water through a series of 5-8 columns of ground coffee beans. First, the water passes through a number of “hot” cells (140-180°C or 284-356°F) some of which are running at higher-than-atmospheric pressure. This is for extracting difficult components such as carbohydrates.
Then it passes through 2-3 more “cold” cells (about 100°C or 212°F) to extract the more flavourful components. Then the extract passes through a heat exchanger for cooling it to around 5°C (40°F). By the time this cycle ends, the coffee extract will contain about 20-30% solids or what we know as instant coffee granules.
Making Your Cup of Instant Coffee
Each time your water is boiled, oxygen escapes and the taste of the water changes. When you make instant coffee, you end up getting exactly the same effect as if you were making tea or cooking with boiled water. So, for that perfect cup of instant coffee, always draw fresh water from the tap or your water-filter. Set it for a single boil. The best tasting instant coffee is when you use fresh water that has not fully reached its boiling point.
Strong and sweet flavors are other fine ways of hiding poor taste in instant coffee. Some suggestions on what you can do:
- Replace the normal sugar and milk with homemade flavored milk or creamers.
- Add flavorings like cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, or vanilla extract thoroughly stirred. Be careful as it’s easy to overdo it.
- You can opt to replace the sugar in your coffee with flavored syrup. It’s even possible to purchase liquid coffee extract or essence for a bigger coffee flavor punch. Remember that most of the syrups sold commercially often have high fructose corn syrup.
The following final suggestion might not find favor with everyone, but after slogging through an awful jar of bad instant coffee, it may change your mind. After making your coffee, toss the beverage in your blender after adding 1 tsp coconut butter or oil and blend until it gets frothy.
Instant Iced Coffee
The coffee story would be incomplete without touching on the latest fad; iced coffee. You can also make iced instant coffee by mixing 1⁄2 cup of hot water and 2 teaspoons of instant coffee. Using a microwave heat the water for 30-60 seconds. Stir the instant coffee and the hot water until the granules are dissolved.
For creamier iced instant coffee, you may want cold milk in place of water. Fill a glass with ice cubes, and pour your coffee over the ice slowly.
Global Use of Instant Coffee Today
Since the invention of instant coffee, researchers have always sought ways of improving it. For example, several versions of the early powdered granules didn’t dissolve in water easily, leaving behind clumps of damp coffee powder floating in the mug or cup. Fast forward to today and we are at a new era of completely instant coffee. It not only tastes better but is widely used and even being sold online around the globe.
A major goal today is to produce instant coffee that as much as possible tastes like a freshly brewed cup of Joe and the coffee granules looking closer to ground coffee. Some internationally recognized companies are now offering superior instant coffee products that have been made from 100% Arabica beans and then freeze-dried to near perfection.
Globally, the instant coffee market size in 2020 is projected to grow to 36.3 million dollars from 28 billion in 2016. Instant coffee is today the preferred coffee format in markets that are predominantly tea-drinking such as the UK, China, Turkey, and Russia.
Looking at the global revenue forecast from instant coffee, Japan tops the list followed by the US. These are followed by the Philippines, the UK, and China.
The greatest benefit of instant coffee is that it allows you to make coffee as quickly as it takes to heat water with minimal equipment. All you need a mug and stirrer. Of course, a quality cup of instant coffee may take slightly longer if you want to add the additional ingredients.
Some coffee lovers have become so used to instant coffee that in a taste test conducted by one manufacturer it was found that some of their target audience had no idea how fresh-brewed coffee tasted. That goes to underline the position of instant coffee in our world today!
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.