What is Instant Coffee, Anyway?

What is Instant Coffee, Anyway?

Posted on 30-07-2019
By Pact Coffee

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You’ve just started a new job. Great salary, pretty good perks (4pm Friday finishes, discounted cinema tickets, free team lunches). All’s going well, and then you head to the kitchen for your inaugural cup of coffee…

Only to find a lone, half-empty jar of instant coffee granules.

Brutal. Nothing is as disappoinment-inducing when someone casually offers “is instant okay?”. But why the bad reputation? It’s a long story…

How is instant coffee made?

Coffee granules, crystals or powder - whatever you call it, its production has changed through the years. These days, there’s two main methods: spray-drying and freeze-drying.

Before that though, the coffee is often concentrated - like orange juice! - to try and maximise the flavour after the pretty brutal process is next goes through:


Pros: It’s as quick as brewing a cup of coffee itself!

Cons: The heat affects the flavour, as it impacts the coffee oils

  1. Brewed coffee (concentrated or not) is dispersed from a height into a hot chamber
  2. As it falls, the water in the coffee evaporates
  3. The remaining coffee crystals fall to the bottom


Pros: It creates the best tasting instant coffee, as the oils are protected

Cons: It’s a more costly process, so it’ll cost you more too

  1. Brewed coffee (concentrated or not) is frozen very quickly, to 40 degrees
  2. It’s then dried by placing it in a vacuum and heating up
  3. As it warms, the water rapidly turns to gas leaving dry granules behind

But the process has come a long way…

The history of instant coffee

1771: First recorded mention, a “coffee compound” was invented by John Dring and patented by the British government

1890: First commercially available in New Zealand, David Strang invented “Strang’s Soluble Dry Coffee-Powder” which just needed to be mixed with water

1901: Dr. Sartori Kato makes a stable coffee powder and applies for a US patent for “Coffee Concentrate and Process of Making the Same.”

1909: George Constant Louis Washington invents a coffee powder that supplied US troops during the First World War

1930: Nestle began fine-tuning the methods of making instant coffee, after pressure from Brazil

1938: Nescafe is launched, after refining a process using soluble carbs for stabilisation

1939-1945: Instant coffee, now a much tastier product, is very popular with WW2 troops

1954: Nescafe invents an instant coffee method that uses just coffee

1960s: A ‘clumping’ method is invented, to create granules - improving the look but worsening the flavour. Some manufacturers add coffee oils afterwards to improve the smell (temporarily)

1964: Freeze-drying is invented, improving flavour massively

1970s: Instant is at its peak: it uses almost a third of all roasted coffee imported to the US

1990s: Declines in sales, as Third Wave Coffee culture grows


But why does it taste bad?

The benefits of instant coffee are, ironically, exactly why it tastes so… meh:

Long-shelf life: It’s true, it does. But only in the same way a tin of garden peas does - because they’re not fresh! Obviously, peas popped straight of their pod will taste nicer.

Cheaper: It’s cheaper at a cost to quality. The process of ‘instant-ifying’ is pretty spenny itself, so they have to start with even cheaper green coffee to begin with. Most instant coffee uses robusta beans for that reason [link].

Quick to brew: The process coffee goes through makes it highly soluble, for quick brewing, but also means more of the caffeine is lost - 65 to 85 milligrams to brewed coffees 75 to 165mg.

Standardised: Coffee shouldn’t be homogenous, in our opinion - but that’s just the nature of instant coffee. That’s why we promote single origin and full transparency of blends, so flavour and farmers win in the end.

Want to make a change?

If you want to rescue your office from instant coffee, drop us a message here - we’d love to see what we can do.