What Is Instant Coffee? (The Truth)
We all know our good old friend, instant coffee. But, what is instant coffee? He’s at every home, at any time of the year, and honestly, we might take this stuff for granted. But what is this stuff, really?
Instant coffee comes from the dried coffee extract. The process starts with brewed coffee from coffee beans, freeze-dried or spray-dried, and then shipped out to local stores near you.
With that in mind, what is instant coffee, and how is it made?
The Origins of Instant Coffee
People first made instant coffee in Britain in the year 1771. Originally called “coffee compound,” it was patented as granted by the British government and was first made in America in 1851.
The military used it during the civil war as an experimental ration for soldiers. They tested with lots of experimentation and methods of making instant coffee. Soon after, an inventor from New Zealand named David Strang of Invercargill patented the instant or soluble coffee in 1890.
In Chicago in 1901 when a Japanese American chemist, Satori Kato, successfully created the first method of creating a stable soluble coffee powder. The first commercial instant coffee brand emerged in 1910, spearheaded by George Constant Louis Washington, an American of Belgian descent.
When the first world war occurred, instant coffee became widespread due to the US military buying all the available supplies as part of the soldiers’ rations. This free marketing allowed instant coffee to increase even today.
Nestle entered the market when the Brazilian Coffee Institute asked Nestle to come up with the coffee surplus problem Brazil was having at the time.
Coffee would rot after a specific time, which meant that Nestle had to develop a solution that preserved coffee but didn’t have the same problems as other instant coffee brands with inferior flavors and didn’t dissolve very well.
In 1937, Nestle scientist Max Morgenthaler invented a new instant coffee-making method that created the product now known as Nescafe. It was available for purchase on the market in 1938.
Coffee continued to improve throughout the years. In 1960, Nestle invented a better-looking coffee, and finally, in 1986, Nestle introduced decaffeinated instant coffee.
The Production Of Instant Coffee
Today, coffee manufacturers use the most efficient and the best methods in creating aromatic, cheap, and practical instant coffee. The process slightly varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most follow these methods:
There are different types of coffee farming, most within these three categories:
- Organic Coffee Farms
- High Production Farms
- Small Family-Owned Farms
Most of them vary on some methods and machinery, but coffee starts as a seed buried on the ground, planted chiefly on high elevation sites. Two of the highest quality varieties of coffee, Toraja and Sumatra, are grown on specific islands of Indonesia. The plantations itself placed on elevations as high as 6000 feet above sea level.
It takes three to four years for coffee to bear its first fruit from its planting time. The fruits themselves, which are referred to as “cherries,” take one year to mature. Therefore, coffee needs harvesting at the right time as picking coffee before maturation results in sour-tasting coffee.
Despite the amount of physical labor and economic investments poured on the plantation of coffee, only a pound of roasted coffee per year comes from a single plant. The weight from plucked cherries will decrease by up to 30% when roasted into the coffee. It is because brewing coffee takes out the weight from the liquids inside the cherries.
This method is pretty straightforward. It involves the extraction of coffee by brewing ground coffee beans. This method is similar to how regular coffee is brewed but varies on the concentration as instant coffee is more concentrated.
During the brewing, hot water is blasted onto the ground coffee to produce brewed coffee. Afterward, producers remove water to make dry fragments or powder. It will allow us to do a Segway on the next step, which is:
In this stage, producers must remove water from the brewed coffee for coffee to stay light and for coffee to be in its crushed, fragmented, or powdered form. For you to do this, two main ways are employed. These are:
Freeze drying is done by freezing the coffee extract (brewed coffee) and is cut into small fragments. In this method, the tiny fragments dry at extremely low temperatures under vacuum conditions.
This method occurs by spraying hot air into the coffee extract, wherein the water droplets evaporate, turning them into fine powder.
4. Packaging and Transportation
It is the production stage wherein the coffee fragments or powder are crushed more and packaged, mostly into bottles, plastic, or glass.
Instant Coffee and Health
Instant coffee—or coffee for that matter, wasn’t always known as the healthiest drink around. Sure, it gave you a slight punch on groggy mornings, but really, is it worth the health risk?
You may be surprised to know that even though coffee was known to be detrimental to our health, some health benefits are garnered through its consumption and may even be enough to outweigh the risks.
Recent reports show that instant coffee is one of the healthiest drinks around. Additionally, with the rise of its popularity in many areas globally, instant coffee is now responsible for more than 50% of all coffee consumption in some countries.
With its cheap, fast, and easy creation process and health benefits, instant coffee can become an attractive solution for your daily caffeine fill.
Many studies have pointed out the number of antioxidants coffee contributes to our diet. Coffee is now the most significant source of antioxidants in the modern diet. These antioxidants present many health benefits.
Similar to regular coffee, instant coffee contains a plethora of powerful antioxidants. There are even research studies indicating the more aggressive presence of antioxidants within instant coffee when compared to regular coffee due to its creation methods.
Additionally, a cup of your desk counter instant coffee contains only seven calories while also delivering potassium, niacin (vitamin B3), and magnesium.
2. Caffeine Content
Despite the constant need to extract more caffeine within a single cup of coffee, caffeine is not necessarily friendly, especially to insomniacs and caffeine-sensitive people (those who quickly get caffeine chills and palpitations). Studies show that instant coffee delivers lower caffeine levels when compared to your regular coffee.
It is also true that too much caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep cycle disruption, uneasiness, restlessness, acid refluxes, tremors, and a faster heartbeat. A cup of instant coffee delivers only 30-90 mg of caffeine compared to regular coffee’s 70-140 mg per cup. It means that instant coffee (or even decaffeinated instant coffee) is the better option for caffeine sensitives.
Of course, it’s not necessarily rainbows and sunshine for instant caffeine lovers. Studies suggest that instant caffeine contains acrylamide—a potential armful chemical that forms whenever coffee beans roasting occurs. Acrylamide content is up to 200% more for instant coffee compared to fresh, roasted coffee.
Acrylamide overexposure results in the damage of the nervous system. Even though this is the case, acrylamide is not harmful when in low concentration, which means that drinking instant coffee isn’t a life-ending act. It means that acrylamide is no cause of concern for instant coffee lovers.
4. Brain Function
For our big brain friends, observe that caffeine found in coffee, tea, and related beverages can help enhance brain function. It means that not only does instant coffee, or all coffee for that matter, help you stay awake within your all-nighter study sessions, it also helps your brain function a bit better.
Coffee helps the brain function in many ways. Additionally, the active ingredients within coffee help for brain function. For example, caffeine is also a psychoactive substance.
Furthermore, the antioxidants found in coffee called the chlorogenic acids or CGAs help with the function of biological pathways. Do know that CGAs may also increase the risk of age-related mental decline.
However, coffee itself is very beneficial when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases. It means that coffee can help with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease despite the effects of CGA.
Studies suggest that the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease within coffee drinkers decreased by 31%, and up to 80% when it comes to those who consume over 4 cups of coffee per day.
5. Metabolism Boost and Weight Loss
Caffeine promotes peristalsis, which means it boosts the movement of fecal matter within our intestines. It explains the addition of caffeine in most of the commercial fat-burning supplements available in the market today. It is because caffeine is one of the known substances that help mobilize fats from your fat tissues.
Caffeine is also known to block an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. Through this, caffeine encourages your mind to stay awake and energized by increasing the firing of neurons and the release of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
It implies that caffeine can boost the body’s performance of physically demanding tasks by a margin of 11 to 12%.
By increasing the levels of the hormone epinephrine in the bloodstream, caffeine can do something to fat cells. It happens when caffeine sends stimulations to the nervous system, sending direct signals to the fat cells, telling them to break down fat.
However, this does not signify that you are going to lose fat. You will need to burn more calories than the amount you consume per day to burn facts. It is called a calorie deficit or clinically named “negative energy balance.”
Another way to achieve negative energy balance with the help of caffeine is by actually using the exercise stimulating effects of caffeine to have a calorie deficit. Exercise can help one have a negative energy balance when compared to people leading sedentary lifestyles.
Caffeine, though, can help boost your metabolism by 3-11%, helping you lose weight. It correlates with the fat-burning action earlier, as that fat burning is the primary reason why the metabolic rate increases.
However, there is one thing you need to learn about coffee concerning its weight loss benefits. The human body can soon become tolerant of the effects of caffeine over time. Using caffeine as the main driving force for weight loss efforts is not very efficient in the long run.
6. Diabetes and Liver
Scientists have suggested that coffee can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve liver health. Studies suggest it may also reduce the risk of liver diseases like liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
After tracking over 100 000 people over 20 years, researchers at Harvard University have found that the people who had increased coffee intake over the past four years showed an 11 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
It means that caffeine can potentially reduce your risk of developing diabetes and liver-related diseases. Studies suggest that diabetes heavily affects the liver also.
Instant Coffee VS Ground Coffee
There have been many debates plaguing instant coffee lovers and ground coffee lovers. One side explains that ground coffee is authentic and is “real coffee” with “real flavor.” Meanwhile, the other camp seems to think that the ease of access and the cheapness of instant coffee are killer.
Who Exactly Is In The Right Here?
As explained earlier, instant coffee is made of natural coffee beans, so claiming it as not real coffee is incorrect. However, there are still many differences to be settled here. So let’s get started, shall we?
1. Who’s Greener?
Aside from manufacturing, there are no known by-products to instant coffee. Just a teaspoon and a mug to wash. When compared to ground coffee, instant coffee is a saint. Ground coffee needs to have its equipment cleaned, exceptionally if one orders those fancy coffee dishes like an affogato, Frappuccino, and more.
Ah, instant coffee. Some people call it the reincarnation of simplicity. All you need to do is pour over that coffee pack, add water, some sugar if wanted, and then you’re done.
Instant coffee only takes seconds in comparison to ground coffee. The creation of ground coffee is a more intricate process involving more people and more labor. When compared to instant coffee, ground coffee is a slowpoke.
The make-or-break variable that pieces all together: flavor. However cheap, easy, and greener is instant coffee; as long as it pales in comparison, it’s a hard win.
Most critiques of instant coffee argue that instant coffee is too bitter and too aggressive, with most instant coffee made from Robusta beans compared to ground coffee’s Arabica beans. Robusta is harsher, grainier, and rubberier than Arabica’s sweeter, smoother taste.
However, don’t fret. Instant coffee’s flavor is not horrible. Instant coffee is palatable enough for daily consumption. No need to buy café-grade coffee every day to get that authentic taste of coffee!
Instant coffee is much cheaper when compared to ground coffee. With the amount of personnel involved in keeping a café up and running, it isn’t surprising to know the higher cost associated with your daily cup of ground coffee. However, if the experience is significant to you, cafés offer an environment of productivity and hard work.
I wrote another article on the instant coffee vs brewed coffee debate with a more detailed comparison.
Better-Brewing Frequently Asked Questions
I said earlier that most instant coffee is of Robusta. Does this mean that there are instant coffee brands made of Arabica?
Yes, absolutely. Some premium instant coffee offerings use higher quality Arabica beans in comparison to Robusta. Some of Nestle’s Nescafe offerings come from 100% Arabica instant coffee.
Do note that Arabica has less caffeine content when compared to Robusta. Studies suggest that Arabica inhibits only half of the caffeine content garnered from the consumption of Robusta.
Does coffee come from a plant or a tree?
Good question! Contrary to popular belief, coffee comes in the form of a plant.
All coffee plants are under the genus Coffea, producing fruits called cherries, roasted and brewed to form coffee.
In what conditions do coffee plants grow?
Coffee plants grow in many conditions, as long as the climate is temperate or tropical, meaning no frosts are allowed. It is why much production occurs in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Brazil.
Coffee plants are mostly grown on high altitudes because altitudes can affect coffee flavor. As long as ample sunlight, plenty of water, and a suitable climate are present, growing coffee is possible!