Instant coffee is an alternative to ground coffee that’s both convenient and easy to make. You just scoop some instant coffee into your mug of hot water, and voila!
You’ve got a steaming cup of joe ready to wake you up on those groggy mornings.
Instant coffee is made by brewing and drying coffee grounds. The coffee beans are ground into an extremely fine powder and are then mixed with water to create a syrup-like substance. This liquid is frozen or sprayed with hot air to dry it, creating small crystals ready for distribution.
You can purchase instant coffee at most grocery stores or make instant coffee yourself with the same brewing method.
Keep reading to learn about the raw materials used to make instant coffee and everything else you need to know about how instant coffee is made.
The raw materials used to make instant coffee
Just like in regular coffee, the only raw material in instant coffee is coffee beans. During the process, manufacturers also use water, air, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen gas.
The main difference between instant coffee and regular coffee in terms of ingredients is the variety of coffee used.
Most regular coffee uses Coffea Arabica, while instant coffee usually uses Coffea Robusta.
Arabica is smoother and more acidic and fruity, while Robusta tastes a bit more bitter and fruity.
Arabica is usually the preferred type of coffee bean among coffee lovers.
But even if you don’t believe Robusta is inferior to Arabica, the fact is that instant coffee is usually made with lower-quality Robusta beans.
Coffee companies use various machines in the process of making instant coffee powder.
For example, they have machines to roast, hull, and sort the coffee beans, as well as devices to dehydrate the powder in order to make it more water-soluble.
Steps to make instant coffee for brewing
There are two ways to make instant coffee: freeze-drying and spray-drying. Both of these methods are done in a warehouse.
But before reaching the drying stage, the beans are prepared in the same way.
Robusta beans primarily grow in Africa, Indonesia, and Asia.
Robusta beans are grown from the canephora plant and collected to make most instant coffees available today. As you can see, instant coffee is real coffee.
The main reason Arabica beans aren’t usually used to make instant coffee is that they’re more expensive. They’re mostly reserved for coffee that gets brewed.
Separating and hulling
Some companies will hull the coffee beans to remove the parchment or extra layer of skin that beans grow with.
This can take upwards of 8 hours to complete, including rinsing the beans afterward to rid them of parchment.
Once they’re hulled and fully dried, the beans are ready for roasting:
The Robusta beans are roasted, which involves putting loads of harvested beans into a roaster and heating them up to 180-230 °C (356-446 °F).
After approximately ten to fifteen minutes of roasting, the beans are removed from the machine and cooled to 40 °C (104°F).
This is done to ensure that the residual heat doesn’t continue to cook the coffee beans. It also helps the beans release more flavor.
Using industrial-sized burr and blade grinders or an industrial-sized roller-mill grinder, the coffee beans are turned into a fine powder.
This is where the flavor and aroma of the coffee beans are released. Nitrogen gas is pumped into the ground coffee to help preserve the aromas.
The ground coffee beans are filtered through water in a series of large brewing machines, which are useful in extracting carbohydrates and other compounds from the powder.
During this process, the coffee powder gets turned into a syrup-like extract and releases its flavors. It is thanks to this step that you don’t need to brew instant coffee.
This is where things can vary. There are two main drying methods: spray drying and freeze drying.
In spray drying, the syrup extract gets sprayed out with very hot and dry air, which evaporates the water in the extract and turns the coffee into small, dried crystals that resemble large granules of sand.
At this point, the coffee can be stored and sealed in an airtight container for distribution.
Instead of spraying the coffee extract, it is chilled and turned into ice. The ice is then broken into pieces to make smaller granules.
The granules are sent to a drying vacuum in which the ice dissipates. What’s left is the tiny granules you see in instant coffee.
Now it’s ready to be sealed and stored for distribution.
The end result is identical to what you get with the spray drying method.
Now, all the coffee drinker needs to do is add their instant coffee to hot water.
Instant coffee versus ground coffee
If instant coffee beans get ground up into a powder just like regular coffee, you may wonder how different they actually are.
After all, you can purchase coffee beans as whole beans or as a powder, so shouldn’t you be able to use all coffee grounds like instant coffee?
You cannot use ground coffee like instant coffee because, unlike instant coffee, ground coffee needs to be brewed first. Instant coffee gets brewed during the manufacturing process, so all it needs is hot water to mix in properly. Ground coffee is not brewed during manufacturing.
Both instant and ground coffee use natural, harvested coffee beans. However, instant coffee uses Robusta beans, while regular coffee mostly uses Arabica beans:
In this in-depth article, you can read more about the differences between instant and regular ground coffee.
How to make your own instant coffee
Although you can’t make instant coffee exactly like the one that comes out of a manufacturing company, there is a way that you can use whole coffee beans to make DIY instant coffee.
The steps are pretty simple. You’ll need your preferred coffee beans, a burr grinder with size settings, a sieve, and an airtight container for storage.
How to make your own instant coffee
- Place the coffee beans in the grinder. You could grind just enough coffee beans for a single cup of coffee, but if you’re making instant coffee, you’ll probably want to make enough to last you for a while.
- Grind the beans using the finest size. Using the finest setting of the burr grinder, grind the coffee beans with a combination of pulses and high-speed grinding. The end result will have your coffee grinds feeling like espresso powder.
- Filter coffee beans through a sieve. Filter the entire contents of the burr grinder into a sieve over an airtight container. If you don’t have one, I recommend getting the ComfZtar Coffee Sifter, which uses fine mesh steel as a strainer.
- Return leftovers to the burr grinder and repeat. Return anything that isn’t ground down to its finest size back to the burr grinder and repeat the process. Do this until you have no more coffee beans left to grind.
- Store the granules in an airtight container. Put it somewhere dry and away from the sun.
In order to use this coffee, you will need to follow a few additional steps other than just mixing it with boiling water.
If you want to learn more about when you should use each setting in your burr grinder, check out the grind size chart I made for every coffee brew.
Let your boiled water cool slightly before pouring
In Turkish coffee, you boil water with fine coffee grounds in a cezve, allowing the brew to cool for a few minutes prior to distributing the coffee into mugs.
Using homemade instant coffee, you’ll want to follow the same process. Boil your water, but let the water cool down to just below boiling temperature using it to brew the coffee grounds.
If you have a cezve, you can brew your homemade instant coffee the way Turkish coffee is made.
Let your coffee sit for a few minutes before drinking
After you have combined the coffee grounds and the water in a mug, let it sit and brew for a few minutes before drinking it.
This will allow the hot water to brew the coffee. Then, you can add creamer, milk, or sugar to your mug of joe.
The coffee grounds will sink to the bottom of the mug, so try to avoid that last big gulp!
Allowing the hot water and coffee grinds to sit for a few minutes first allows for the coffee to release its flavors.
It also allows the grinds to sink to the bottom of their container. Otherwise, you’ll end up drinking coffee with bitter flakes in it!
Another way to remedy this problem is to strain your coffee into a second container after you’ve allowed it to brew.
This will remove all of the leftover coffee grinds from your mug, which may offer a more pleasant coffee-drinking experience.
Is instant coffee healthier than regular coffee?
Instant coffee is not healthier than regular coffee. It contains less caffeine but more acrylamide, a harmful chemical that forms in coffee beans that get roasted at high temperatures.
There are pros and cons to both instant and regular coffee. However, as with most processed food, instant coffee is the less healthy option.
Acrylamide is the biggest concern. It has a range of negative effects on the body.
In fact, according to a report conducted by the National Toxicology Program, there is a significant relationship between acrylamide and cancer cells in the body.
Instant coffee has almost double the amount of acrylamide in it in comparison to brewed coffee.
Most food and drinks that contain acrylamide only contain trace amounts, making it safe to eat.
However, it’s important to keep this in mind when considering the amount of foods you eat with this chemical in it.
Potatoes, French fries, and instant coffee have the highest levels of acrylamide.
Now, for the caffeine. Less caffeine is usually healthier for you. The FDA has cited 400 milligrams of caffeine a day as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.
Those that consume high amounts of caffeine—more than 4 cups of coffee a day—can experience negative health symptoms such as:
- Heart palpitations or fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
- Nervousness or irritability
If you’ve ever needed to stay up late to write a paper or finish a report for work, you may have experienced one or more of the above symptoms as a result.
Shaking hands and insomnia are the most common.
Instant coffee naturally contains less caffeine, and that is a positive health factor if you drink a lot of coffee.
However, drinking a lot of it will render the same negative health effects listed above.
If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake, you should drink less coffee rather than switch to instant coffee or try decaf coffee instead.
Why is instant coffee not popular?
Instant coffee is not popular because it’s regarded as lacking in flavor and aroma compared to roasted and brewed coffee beans. The beans used to make instant coffee are lower in quality and don’t have the same rich taste and smell regular coffee has.
Many people who drink coffee are trying to get caffeine, and instant coffee has less of it.
Instant coffee might not be the drink of choice if you have to cram for an exam or finish some last-minute work.
At the same time, instant coffee uses different coffee beans than brewed coffee, as we discussed above.
Beans used for instant coffee are called Robusta beans, while higher-quality brewed coffee beans use Arabica beans.
The taste of Robusta beans isn’t nearly as rich and complex as that of Arabica beans.
Keep in mind that instant coffee was only created as an alternative plan if you couldn’t, for whatever reason, brew up your own delicious pot of freshly ground coffee beans.
Instant coffee is made from coffee beans that are ground into a powder and either frozen or spray-dried for preservation.
Instant coffee is brewed during the manufacturing process, which is what sets it apart from regular coffee beans.
Another difference is that instant coffee is usually made with Robusta coffee beans, while regular coffee comes from Arabica beans.
You can make something similar to instant coffee out of regular coffee beans, but you’ll still need to brew it.