To the untrained eye, instant coffee and espresso powder might seem perfectly interchangeable.
After all, they’re both powdered beans that provide you with that quick, much-needed fix of caffeine.
However, are these products really as similar as they seem at first glance, and if not, what do you need to know when choosing a new coffee variation to add to your weekly rotation?
Instant coffee and espresso powder are made through the same process of dehydrating ground coffee. However, while the former provides a milder, balanced taste that caters to a wider percentage of coffee drinkers, the latter is much more concentrated and stronger-tasting, not to mention costlier.
The difference between instant coffee and espresso powder is a fascinating topic to learn about, as it goes to show how a similar manufacturing process can yield two entirely different results.
Therefore, if you’re looking for the best source for your daily coffee fix, stick around until the end of this article to learn everything you need to know about what makes these two varieties so similar yet different from one another.
Are instant coffee and espresso powder the same?
Instant coffee and espresso powder are not the same. The former is usually made from Robusta coffee beans, which are cheaper, and usually yield a mild coffee balanced in flavor. The latter is made from Arabica beans, which are significantly more expensive and concentrated.
Considering their notable differences in concentration and flavor profile, it’s easy to understand why these products yield such different-tasting coffees.
Moreover, even when it comes to non-coffee-related food and beverage recipes, instant coffee and espresso powder have unique purposes and aren’t interchangeable (at least not entirely).
For example, most baking recipes call for espresso powder, as a dessert could benefit from the richness and flavor complexity of such a strong-tasting coffee variation. On the other hand, instant coffee is better used in your milder, everyday meals.
The powder is an excellent addition to your daily oatmeal or flavored granola. Instant coffee also makes for a perfectly-complementing ingredient in marinades and sauces, where you don’t want one robust flavor to overtake the whole mixture.
Even when it comes to actual coffee, the differences remain pretty much the same. Espresso powder is best enjoyed by connoisseurs who are ready to invest a bit extra to get to enjoy a certain level of flavor and aroma.
On the other hand, instant coffee is a popular favorite among your average coffee drinkers, as it gives you that caffeine boost you need at a fraction of the price, not to mention that not everyone enjoys espresso powder’s highly concentrated taste.
Here’s a more thorough rundown of the differences between instant coffee and espresso powder:
- Purposes. I already summarized the difference in uses between instant coffee and espresso powder in the previous section. In short, the former is a better option for day-to-day beverages and meals, while the latter provides a more concentrated flavor and aroma that’s best utilized in strong-tasting coffees and decadent desserts.
- Taste. The reason why these coffee varieties are used in such different recipes is that they provide unique flavor profiles. Instant coffee is light and mild, while espresso powder is robust and aromatic. This contrast boils down to the type of bean each variety is made out of. Instant coffee and espresso powder are derived from Robusta and Arabica beans, respectively.
- Price. Arabica beans are still much smoother and sweeter tasting than their Robusta counterparts. As a result, they’re much more popular among coffee drinkers and enthusiasts, which explains their higher price. Espresso powder is usually much more expensive than instant coffee.
- Caffeine content. This is the reason many regular drinkers indulge in their daily coffee drinking ritual in the first place. Instant coffee provides a much higher caffeine content than espresso powder, even though it’s cheaper, measuring at around 50 – 90 mg of caffeine per cup. However, beware that such high caffeine levels can sometimes lead to an unpleasant, bitter taste.
For this reason, you’ll often find instant coffee accompanied by milk and sugar, which help counterbalance some of the bitterness. On the other hand, espresso powder is usually prepared using just hot water.
Even though they’re not interchangeable in most recipes, instant coffee and espresso powder still share a wide range of similarities. From the way they look to the way they’re prepared, here’s what these two coffee variations have in common:
- Preparation process. It’s fascinating to see how similarly instant coffee and espresso powder are manufactured, considering their vast difference in taste and purpose. The simplified preparation process goes through these steps: brewing the coffee beans, concentrating the brewed coffee, dehydrating it, and lastly, grinding it into a fine powder. This is usually referred to as the freeze-drying process.
- Convenience. Coffee drinkers gravitate towards these variations because they’re extremely easy to prepare in a pinch (which, let’s face it, applies to most mornings). As long as you enjoy that raw, strong coffee taste, all you need is a cup of hot water, and you’re good to go. Even if you prefer milder flavors, the addition of some milk and sugar should achieve the result you’re looking for.
Even though they’re not entirely interchangeable, swapping out espresso powder for instant coffee and vice versa should be doable in most food-related—or, in this instance, beverage-related—emergencies.
As long as you don’t expect the end result to taste exactly the same as the original, you should be satisfied with the taste and aroma.
If the premise of instant coffee intrigues you and you’re looking to purchase a batch, there are a few factors you should keep in mind when it comes to determining whether the investment would be worthwhile or not.
The most important element to consider is the type of coffee drinker you are.
If you’re someone simply trying to get their caffeine fix in the mornings and aren’t too fussy about flavors and aromas, going for the cost-effective instant coffee is the most logical choice.
In the following sections, I’ll be listing some of the variety’s main advantages and disadvantages in an effort to help you determine whether investing in it is the right choice for you.
- It’s affordable.
- It has a high caffeine content (this could also be considered a con, depending on your preferences).
- It’s the easiest coffee variation to prepare.
- It’s easy to find in most supermarkets and local stores.
- It usually has a harsh, bitter taste that often requires some milk and sugar to fix.
- It’s not as concentrated as espresso powder.
- It doesn’t deliver the same fragrant aroma as espresso powder.
- It’s usually made from Robusta beans, which are not the highest-quality variety in the market.
If you can’t get past instant coffee’s flavor profile, espresso powder makes for an excellent alternative.
This coffee variation is qualitative, rich, and provides a caramelly yet dark aroma that’s enough to make anyone drool (even your allegedly coffee-hating friends).
If you’re looking to invest in a batch of fantastic-tasting coffee, take a look at the following pros and cons to determine whether espresso powder is the right choice for you.
- It is very concentrated.
- It provides a delightful aroma that’s hard to find in other coffee products.
- It is generally made from Arabica beans, which are renowned for their excellent quality and pleasant taste.
- Due to its sweet, soothing flavor, espresso powder often requires nothing but hot water for preparation.
- It can be too expensive for most regular coffee drinkers to rationalize buying it.
- It can be difficult to access, as not all supermarkets and stores carry it.
Instant coffee vs. espresso powder: the right choice for you
Now that you have all the information you need at your disposal, you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision regarding which variety would make the best choice (and investment) for you.
Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind.
Instant coffee is best if your tastes aren’t particular
If you’re looking for a quick fix of caffeine to keep ready at home or your office, there’s no point in making that extra investment and effort to get your hands on espresso powder; instant coffee will work just fine.
Most coffee drinkers don’t have the time (or the desire) to sit and dissect the underlying flavors and aromas of their daily cup of coffee. If this sounds like you, instant coffee is the most sensible choice.
Espresso powder may be worth the investment
On the other hand, if coffee drinking is a ritual that you want to take your time on and enjoy, investing in a good brand of espresso powder might make your experience that much more rewarding.
As long as your budget and palate allow you to take pleasure in sipping a smooth, dark, yet pricey shot of espresso, there’s no reason why you should compromise on that pleasure.
If you’re still undecided, I’d recommend trying the cheaper, more accessible instant coffee first.
If that doesn’t seem to fulfill your coffee drinking expectations, try experimenting with the more luxurious espresso powder.
Both instant coffee and espresso powder are excellent varieties of coffee that allow you to get your caffeine fix in a pinch.
However, even though they look similar and are manufactured using a similar process, they can widely differ when it comes to overall taste, aroma, and mouthfeel.
I hope that after reading this article, you’ll be able to pick a new favorite way to make coffee at home. You can check out some delicious espresso-based recipes below if you’re interested!