Instant coffee is a convenient and tasty way to make your favourite cup of brewed coffee at home, whether you’re just starting your day or you need an afternoon pick-me-up. However, it can be both confusing and interesting to know how instant coffee is made. Learn more about the process here!
What is Instant Coffee?
There are three types of instant coffee, namely dried coffee, liquid coffee concentrate, and soluble powder. Freeze-dried coffee or spray-dried coffee is produced from brewed or boiled coffee. It retains its flavour well and can be stored for long periods without losing flavour.
Liquid concentrates are made by dissolving brewed or instant coffee in hot water. They keep their flavour for only a short time, after which they begin to lose their volatile aromas and tastes. Dissolvable powders are made from defatted ground or roasted beans that have been extracted with hot water, dried, and milled into small particles.
When Was Instant Coffee Invented?
The first instant coffee compound, which was a mixture of concentrated coffee, sugar and milk, was created during the American Civil War but proved very unpopular amongst the Union Army and therefore discontinued.
For years the invention of instant coffee was then attributed to a Japanese chemist, Satori Kato, who introduced the instant beverage at the Pan American Exposition in 1901. In actual fact, the first who patented instant coffee was David Strang of Invercargill from New Zealand in 1890.
Though instant coffee had been introduced a few years earlier, it wasn’t until World War I that it became a staple of military rations, which helped its popularity boom across Europe and eventually gain traction in America. America was cut off from coffee imports for much of World War II because of a trade embargo placed on Japan; soldiers and civilians alike turned to instant coffee as an alternative. By 1950, Americans were consuming four times more instant than brewed—and they’ve never looked back.
The Coffee Beans
But now to the main part: how is instant coffee made? The first step in making real instant coffee is to roast and grind green beans. The green coffee beans are roasted to remove any moisture, and then they will be ground into a fine powder. This powder is called soluble coffee that can be dissolved in water and mixed with other ingredients to make your favourite cuppa.
After grinding the roasted coffee beans, special ingredients are added to give each brand its unique flavour profile. Some companies add milk, while others use artificial creamer or sugar substitutes. When you choose which brand to buy, think about your drink preferences to find one that tastes like how you want it.
Next, all powdered coffee crystals get sealed into a pouch to be sold on store shelves. Instant coffee comes in a dried, powdered form that you add water to and shake. No brewing or melting is required.
When you add water to your favourite instant coffee granules, you can enjoy it as soon as it dissolves for an easy cuppa at home or on the go. Then all that’s left is to pour it into your favourite coffee mug and enjoy. You can even top off your drink with whipped cream if you want something extra special.
How Spray-Drying Works
One method used to make instant coffee—the spray-drying method—combines water and finely ground coffee under pressure. The mixture then goes through a spray-drying chamber that sprays hot air through it at high speed.
The process inside the chamber causes all but 0.5% of moisture in the solution to evaporate, which leaves hard dehydrated crystals of instant coffee powder that can be dissolved in water or other liquids later on. This method allows most manufacturers to create consistency across batches because they dry all their instant coffee at once.
Drawback of Spray-Drying
The downside to spray-drying is that it uses dry, hot air and a great deal of heat, damaging some components in dried coffee extract, such as its natural oils. Another drawback is that manufacturers have to dry all their products at once, so they have little control over timing.
Freeze Drying Process
How Freeze Drying Is Done
This manufacturing process is used to remove water from freeze-dried coffee using a refrigeration system (think air conditioner). The caffeine content in freeze-dried coffees can lose some potency if not stored properly. For example, when exposed to temperatures above 72 degrees Fahrenheit or room temperature.
When moisture is present in freeze-dried coffees, mould can affect them, which leads to bacteria growth and less potent coffee. To keep your freeze-dried coffee at its best quality and freshness, try packaging them with an oxygen absorber.
These will prevent oxidation and help extend shelf life. Place these oxygen absorbers inside each bag of coffee granules after vacuum-sealing your order. Then let them rest for around 24 hours before removing them from their packaging.
And if you’re worried about moisture in freeze-dried instant coffee affecting caffeine levels, don’t be—the amount lost is negligible compared to other methods of preserving bean quality.
Freeze-drying coffee also helps keep nutrients intact because it uses low temperatures and leaves most of its natural flavour intact.
The Downside of Freeze Drying
The only downside to freeze-drying is that it costs more than other methods because it takes longer than other preservation techniques (it can take up to two days). But, if you want to spend less on higher-quality frozen coffee, freeze-drying may be worth looking into. The final product retains most of its natural flavour and has a similar texture to freshly roasted beans.
Rapid Compression Process
Most commercial instant coffees are made using a rapid compression method that exposes ground coffee to high pressure and temperature. This approach can be used with green or roasted beans but requires much higher pressures (around 600 psi) than freeze-drying.
Instant coffee is made when water under pressure is forced through a bed of coffee at about 20 atmospheres (2600 psi). It takes as little as one second for water at around 230 °F to pass through an 8-mm layer of coffee in a 0.5-mm-thick steel tube.
Instant coffee particles are separated in a centrifuge or filter press and dried to form a hard cake. If dried at low pressure, it is called freeze-dried coffee. If dried at high pressure, it is called supercritical fluid (CO) decaffeinated coffee.
The coffee extract can be pulverized and added to water to make an instant beverage. This method makes for a fine grind and uniform particle size that improves mixing with water, resulting in a consistent product.
Benefits of Instant Coffee
Instant brewed coffee offers many benefits. Because it’s pre-ground and pre-brewed, it delivers a more consistent flavour profile than traditional drip-brewed regular coffee powder.
And while it is available in a range of different flavours, some can even be found in specific single-origin beans—something few baristas will prepare on request. These benefits make it easy to see why instant coffee is becoming a go-to option for many.
- You do not need to use as much sugar, milk, or cream when making instant coffee. You can prepare a good cup of instant coffee by just mixing it with water alone so that you can still maintain your healthy diet.
- Instant coffee offers an easy and convenient way to get your caffeine fix, but it contains health benefits, too. Since instant coffee is made from whole beans that have already been roasted and ground, you get all of its essential nutrients (the good stuff like antioxidants) without extra fat or calories. It also has about 25% less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee and provides minerals like manganese and potassium.
Making Instant Coffee
Now you know how instant coffee is made and can enjoy your next cup with a bit more knowledge. We hope that the above article has answered some of your questions when it comes to the instant coffee making process. Keep in mind that it’s typically brewed like normal coffee, then it’s dehydrated using the spray or freeze-drying method.
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Tom is a former chef turned full-time food blogger. He has always been passionate about food, and loves nothing more than experimenting in the kitchen and sharing his recipes with others. Tom’s blog is one of the most popular food blogs on the internet, and he has won numerous awards for his cooking. When he’s not blogging or cooking, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.