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How is Instant Coffee Made?

Here at Driftaway Coffee, instant coffee isn’t our favorite kind of coffee. We aren’t really big fans of it at all, really. It does, however, have a place in the coffee-drinking work, and the science behind making it is beautifully simple. In fact, if you were to not wash your coffee maker for some time, you might produce something like instant coffee. Although instant coffee manufacturers have refined the process of making instant coffee, the manufacturing of it remains remarkably similar to the first instant coffee ever created.

Instant Coffee Started from Coffee Buildup

In 1906, George C. Washington was living in Guatemala, and he noticed that the tip of his silver coffee pot was turning black with coffee buildup. A chemist by trade, Washington took inspiration from the dark mark and began experimenting with small, dried coffee grounds. After several attempts, he produced the first instant coffee.

The brief story of Washington’s instant coffee showcases the products simplicity: Instant coffee is nothing more than very small, coffee grounds that have been brewed and then dried.

If you were to take the residue that built up on an unwashed coffee pot, you would have something like Washington’s instant coffee.

Instant Coffee is Made From Brewed and Dried Grounds

Today, instant coffee makers use techniques that are a little more sophisticated than scraping an old coffee pot. Instant coffee is made by:

  1. roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee
  2. freeze- or spray-drying the brewed coffee
  3. packaging the leftover, soluble coffee grounds

Companies have found ways to accelerate and standardize the process, but the way instant coffee is made is still the same way residue builds up on coffee makers. Small solubles are left behind after the water in brewed coffee evaporates, and those particles are instant coffee.

Instant Coffee is Stale, Low-Quality Coffee

At Driftaway Coffee, we don’t really like instant coffee for three reasons. It tends to be stale, low-quality, and over-extracted.

First, the coffee used in instant coffee is not fresh. Coffee tastes best if it is enjoyed within two weeks of when it is roasted, but instant coffee often has a shelf life of years.

Second, the beans used in instant coffee are usually a lower quality than those used by small roasters. Much of the coffee used to make instant coffee is coffea robustanot coffea arabica. Even though some companies have begun offering gourmet instant coffees that are made with arabica beans, they tend to use low-grade arabica coffees.

Third, instant coffee is frequently over-extracted. Coffee tastes best when it is between 16 and 18 percent extracted, but up to 30 percent of the bean is soluble. Many instant coffee makers try to squeeze the most out of every bean, literally. When brewing coffee (the first step of making instant coffee), they can reach extraction rates of up to 30 percent, which produces a bitter flavor.

We admire the simplicity of making instant coffee, but we’re committed to producing the best-tasting coffee possible. We only use fresh coffee beans of the highest quality, and we obsess over factors like extraction rates. Instant coffee may have a place in the coffee drinking world, but we’ll pass and brew our own, fresh cup. Thanks anyways.

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

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