The purpose of instant coffee is an easy one. There’s no waiting around, no fumbling with filters or carafes, just put some granules in a cup, boil some water and you’re done. But what is instant coffee? Why can’t I just put regular coffee in a cup and get the same result?
The difference is that instant coffee is water soluble, which means it dissolves in water. The same is not true of regular ground coffee, even though it may look somewhat like instant coffee. Instant coffee is made from coffee extract that is freeze or spray-dried and then re-hydrated in water, just like any other dried food. Instant coffee is not even new, having first been invented in 1881.
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How Is Instant Coffee Made?
The beginning of instant coffee is a green coffee bean that is then roasted to release its flavors. Once the beans are roasted, the coffee is then ground into a fine powder. The next step is to make an extract, which is done through 347 degree Fahrenheit pressurized liquid water. The concentration of the coffee in the extract is then further increased through evaporation or similar method.
The actual instant coffee powder is generally made through freeze-drying, and of the two methods, this method yields better quality coffee. The coffee extract made through the previous process is flash-frozen and then broken up into small grains. These grains are then put into a drying chamber and subject to a strong vacuum. The vacuum and warmth are used to remove frozen water within the coffee grains.
Another method of making instant coffee is through spray drying, which is a cheaper method, but doesn’t necessarily make as good of a product as freeze drying. A spray dryer is a machine that produces a powdered product from a liquid product through applying even distribution of hot gas.
Once instant coffee makes it to your local store and then to your own cupboards, the hard part is over. Using instant coffee is simple. Just add it to hot water and increase the amount for a stronger cup. Some countries also enjoy adding instant coffee to hot milk, instead of boiling water, for something similar to a cafe au lait.
Popularity of Instant Coffee
Instant coffee is popular around the world, though places where it is notably unpopular include the United States, France and Italy. In these places it accounts for less than 10 percent of the coffee consumed in households. On the other hand, over 75 percent of the coffee drank in British households is instant coffee, according to the BBC. That fact is somewhat ironic considering the Americans are the ones who brought instant coffee to Britain during World War Two.
It’s not terribly surprising that instant coffee isn’t as popular in the three countries mentioned above, as all three have strong gourmet coffee and espresso cultures that tend to look down on instant coffee. The funny thing is that instant coffee is far more popular around the world over other types of coffee. According to the Washington Post, instant coffee tends to be the preferred coffee in places where tea drinkers hold sway. That makes it the go-to coffee in places like Russia, Britain, Australia and most of Asia.
Another interesting thing is that the American view of instant coffee tends to be overwhelmingly negative compared to even places that don’t drink much of it. Americans tend to view it as lowbrow and far below the quality of regular brewed coffee. At the same time, Americans do like quick coffee, as evidenced by their love of coffee drive-thru stands and recently, the coffee pod craze, but they’re still not turning to instant coffee. Even though Starbucks launched a line of instant coffee back in 2009, most of its sales have come from abroad, not in the United States.
Is Instant Coffee Bad For You?
The other question you might have about instant coffee is possibly about how healthy it is compared to regular brewed coffee. Let’s start with the caffeine content. How much caffeine in instant coffee compared to fresh brewed? The answer is that there’s less caffeine in instant coffee than in regular brewed coffee, which could make it an option for those trying to cut back on caffeine.
The caffeine content is somewhere around 66 milligrams per cup for a cup size of about eight ounces. In comparison, regular brewed coffee has almost twice that amount for the same cup size. In terms of antioxidants, instant coffee contains about 320 milligrams of polyphenol in a six ounce cup vs 400 in brewed coffee, so not much difference.
Some health concerns involving instant coffee include malabsorption and carcinogenicity. The former has to do with the coffee working to decrease iron absorption in the intestines. The percentage is decreased about four percent with instant coffee and about three percent with brewed coffee. There are also some studies that show an increased risk for women in forming bladder cancer, according to Wikipedia.
Using Instant Coffee In Recipes
- 1 1/2 quart of chocolate ice cream
- 3 cups of milk
- 2 tablespoons of instant coffee or espresso
Add ice cream, milk and instant coffee to a three quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on the low setting for about three hours or until hot. Ladle into mugs and top with whipped cream if desired.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
- 14 ounce can of sweetened, condensed milk
- 3/4 cup chocolate chips, semisweet or dark
- 2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder, unsweetened
- 1/4 teaspoon instant coffee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup peanut butter chips
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/4 cup chopped, salted, dry-roasted peanuts
Use wax paper to line an eight-inch square baking dish. Combine nine tablespoons of the milk with chocolate chips, cocoa powder and instant coffee in a microwavable bowl. Put on high for one minute, or until chips have melted. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and mix well. Spread into the baking dish.
In a clean microwave-safe bowl, add the rest of the milk, the peanut butter chips and peanut butter. Microwave again until melted, about one minute. Add the remaining vanilla and mix well. Spread over the chocolate layer in the dish and then evenly sprinkle with the peanuts.
Cover and chill for two hours or until set.