What’s the difference between instant and ground coffee?

Who doesn’t like things done quickly? Especially in the morning when you are just getting ready for the entire day that lays ahead.

There’s no doubt that freshly ground coffee wins the flavor competition, but what is instant coffee exactly? Is it different from normal coffee? How is instant coffee made? Let’s dive deeper on this topic and the reason for it never being enough.

The history of instant coffee

According to some data, the first version of instant coffee was invented in Great Britain in 1771. In the United States this product was developed in 1853. The product was officially created as instant coffee as we know today by a man named David Strang, from New Zealand, in around 1890. He is the founder of the company Strange Coffee and patented the invention. As well as the invention, he patented the process used to create this revolutionary coffee.

The process is called “Dry Hot-Air” process and was originally designed by a Japanese scientist named Satori Kato. After this, other coffee companies developed their own instant coffee because of the immense popularity that increases with the passing of each day. Instant coffee reached millions of daily consumers rapidly. One of the most popular brands of instant coffee around the world is Nescafe, we’ve all heard about the 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 instant coffee.

How is instant coffee made?

The thing that makes the coffee instant is when all the water in the product is eliminated, leaving behind dehydrated coffee crystals.

Essentially it is coffee prepared from coffee extracts. The preparation is as simple as adding hot water to instant coffee powder and you’ll have a cup of coffee to drink.

  • Spray drying
  • Freeze drying

Spray Drying

Liquid coffee is atomized with hot air, which makes the droplets turn into grains of coffee. Spray drying uses heat to extract the coffee in powder form.

Freeze Drying

The liquid in frozen coffee is vaporized leaving behind coffee in powder that can return to having its characteristics submerged in water. Freeze drying tends to leave more aromatic properties, that could leave more of a sensation of a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

This preferred method of drying varies by the different manufactures, nonetheless, the freeze drying is the most common technique.

The difference between instant and ground coffee

Instant coffee

  • More caffeine
  • more antioxidants
  • easy to prepare
  • larger environmental impact
  • less expensive

Ground coffee

  • more potassium
  • longer preparation
  • better taste
  • higher quality
  • more expensive

Besides the freshness and overall taste, instant coffee tends to have less caffeine than ground coffee. Some studies have shown that instant coffee may contain higher levels of certain antioxidants. Ground coffee however contains twice as much potassium in comparison to instant coffee.

Another big difference is the speed and ease in preparation of instant coffee versus ground coffee. It’s as easy as adding hot water to coffee powder and it’s ready.

With traditionally ground coffee, the whole beans must be ground first in order to brew the coffee, without getting into the purchase of coffee filters or single dose cups.

An important aspect is the difference in quality and taste of the coffees. While ground coffee tends to be the option to maintain the characteristics of the coffee because of its standardization and specifications, instant coffee usually loses some of its properties because of the time required to roast.

This leads us to another difference and that is the price. Instant coffee has a lower price due to the type of bean that is used for the process. This is usually from the Robusta strain, a type of bean that is usually less expensive due to its production process.

Meanwhile ground coffee usually uses specialty coffee from the Arabica strain. These have different harvest techniques and a more complex preparation allowing the coffee to have more characteristics in its flavor. This creates a more expensive coffee with a much higher quality.

On the environmental side, instant coffee because of its roasting process has a higher environmental impact. This process has a longer duration which requires more energy.

Does instant coffee expire?

Freshly brewed coffee is the best coffee hands down. If the recipient that contains your instant coffee has been left open for some time, the mold and other fungus can start to accumulate and ruin your instant coffee. For the best taste with your instant coffee, consume as close to roast date as possible.

Is instant coffee good or bad?

If it is drunk in high amounts every day it may be harmful, just like any other food or beverage. It is not wise to consume instant coffee in high amounts every day.

The good

  1. It is very quick and easy to prepare. Just add hot water to the coffee, stir a bit and it is ready.
  2. There’s no waste in the preparation because there are no coffee grounds to throw out after the brewing process.
  3. There are many recipes that include instant coffee. For example, besides making a regular instant cup of coffee, you can create instant iced coffee (just add ice, milk or creamer, and cocoa or vanilla), instant mixed coffee (same ingredients as instant iced coffee but with a hint of chocolate syrup), instant latte (add hot milk).

The bad

  1. For some consumers the taste is not close in comparison to the taste of freshly brewed ground coffee.
  2. In the process, which is very fast, there is not connection. You know that sensation created when preparing a meal or a drink that takes precious time to prepare it. That time and energy put into it pays off at the end when you take a bite or sip.

Which is better?

Instant coffee and ground coffee have a variety of characteristics that separate them, like taste, quality, preparation time, and environmental impact.

If you’re in a hurry, then perhaps instant coffee is the right one for you. You want to enjoy a cup of high-quality coffee, then ground coffee is the best option for you.

So, at the end of the day, the better option depends entirely on how you like your coffee.