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What Is Instant Coffee Powder?

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When you’re running behind schedule, and you really need your cup of joe to help you get up and go, what do you do? You weigh up your options.

Do you have time to turn on your coffee machine? Will it take too long to brew? There’s definitely no time for a drip-brew, no matter how tasty it is.

So, you reach for the back- up; your plan B: instant coffee powder. We know, we know. Some people balk at the very thought of choosing to drink the instant version of the real deal. But just wait…

Try and think about it this way: we’re often skeptical of what we don’t know. So, here’s an easy guide to instant coffee powder to help you learn a little about the quick way to ‘coffee up’ when you’re pushed for time.

What is Instant Coffee?

Instant coffee powder is a kind of coffee that’s made from coffee extract. The process of making instant coffee is almost the same as making regular brewed coffee, with a few more steps.

Known originally as a ‘coffee compound’ when it first appeared on the beverage scene, instant coffee went through a metamorphosis that eventually rendered it the stable, soluble granules or powder we know today.

While a ‘coffee compound’ may have undergone some changes to get it to where it is now, the final product has, for the most part, remained the same.

Instant coffee is made when coffee is brewed from beans, to make the extract. Of course, this solution is much more concentrated, because after it’s brewed, the water is removed from the extract to create small dried bits and powder, which can both dissolve in water.

What’s the difference between instant coffee powder and instant coffee crystals?

Well, coffee powder is made through a process called spray drying which incorporates the use of high heat. It’s extremely fast and due to the intense heat that’s used, the result is small fine dust-like coffee particles. While it’s a quicker, less expensive way to produce instant coffee, this method can alter the natural aroma and flavor of the coffee and, some people say, give it an almost burnt taste.

Now, instant coffee crystals are made via a freeze-drying process which results in larger bits of dehydrated brewed coffee. It’s like instant coffee powder in that the crystals also dissolve however; it’s made by freezing the concentrated coffee and slowly drying it in a vacuum. The flavors have a chance to deepen further and the process allows for the preservation of coffee’s natural essence.

Is instant coffee better than ground coffee?

Well, it depends on what you’re willing to trade. If you’re looking for convenience and speed; instant coffee is the way to go. If you’re seeking full-bodied flavor and robust aroma profiles; opt for ground coffee.

You see, instant coffee, no matter what roast it comes from, tends to have a flavor that’s very much the same across the board. This is because all the steps that ground coffee goes through, the ones that determine the subtle flavor differences, are absent in the process of making instant coffee.

So, where does the difference lie, between instant coffee and ground coffee?

In the processing. Instant coffee is coffee, however, it’s a coffee that has already been brewed, processed, and packaged, whereas ground coffee undergoes far less processing (other than the washing and roasting that’s considered the norm).

Your cup of instant coffee is, by and large, coffee but the ability to challenge the flavors rendered from the instant powder or crystals is limited to the amount of product you add to the hot water. Ground coffee, on the other hand, leaves more room for fine-tuning and tweaking. It affords you the ability to engage with your brew and become an active participant in the entire process – from start to finish.

And what about the caffeine content of instant coffee?

Coffee is thought to be the largest dietary source of caffeine, so it’s no surprise then, that instant coffee contains some, though its caffeine content is slightly lower than regular ground coffee. A cup of instant coffee made with one teaspoon of instant coffee powder can contain between 30 and 90 mg of caffeine while a cup of brewed coffee can contain between 70 and 140 mg of caffeine.

Ground Coffee or Instant Coffee – The Overall Differences

Ultimately, instant coffee is still coffee. It might make the toes of coffee aficionados curl, but the facts are the facts. Instant coffee, regardless of whether it’s powder or granules, still makes a cup of coffee.

Now, whether or not it’s a very good cup of coffee, is always up for debate and indeed, a matter of personal opinion. Some people swear by the instant version and others swear it off for life, and whichever end of the coffee-making spectrum you find yourself on, is totally up to you.

Ground coffee and instant coffee smell similar, they retain the general aroma and the overarching taste that hits your tongue and tells you what it is. The thing is, instant coffee does not have the same depth that ground coffee does. It can also, if it’s not a high-quality version, taste burnt and really, is just lacking the dimensions that ground coffee comes complete with.

Look; this is the deal: instant coffee has some fans around the world and if you’re wondering which granules or powder are best, try and opt for those made from 100% Arabic beans, rather than the products made from Robusta beans. Arabica beans tend to retain their natural notes and imbue your brew with fruitier flavors than the harsher, stronger Robusta bean flavor.

The bottom line is this; while it may seem that ‘coffee is coffee’ in the world of instant coffee, the fact is that you, as the coffee maker, do have some say in how it turns out. Add some more powder or granules for a stronger flavor, less if you want it weaker and while it isn’t the coffee playground that traditional grounds can be, it’s still a cup of coffee at the end of the day…or is it? You decide!

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