A huge majority of people start out on their coffee journey by experimenting with instant powder. The unassuming, brown granules are a major target for controversy over whether or not they deserve to be classified as ‘real coffee’. Some people physically react if you suggest instant coffee by gasping or retching whereas others remain unsure of the difference between this and fresh coffee.
I’m here to level the playing field and bring a bit of balance to these extremes. Whilst I believe that nothing can beat freshly ground coffee beans, I feel that instant coffee has a place in this world due to its ease and lack of equipment needed to use it.
The real issues arise from improper techniques people use when attempting to brew instant as well as poor quality or stale coffee being used. To make good instant coffee you need to understand how the water affects the flavor as well as using good quality, fresh, instant coffee. The final rule is never, ever, add boiling water to the powder as this will burn it to release bitter, unpleasant flavors.
What Is Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee is a soluble powder that dissolves when it’s added to water. This instant coffee powder makes a speedy and simple way to brew coffee that differs from using fresh coffee grounds.
To make instant coffee, fresh coffee beans are roasted and ground up. The coffee concentrate is extracted by using pressurized, hot water and this liquid is further concentrated by allowing for evaporation or by using a freeze concentration technique.
This concentrated liquid coffee is turned into a powder using freeze-drying or a spray drying method. Freeze drying is the most popular technique used to date and does produce a higher quality product whereas spray drying involves more processing steps but is easier to do on a larger scale.
How NOT to Brew
A LOT of people claim they don’t like coffee when it’s actually just bad instant coffee they’ve tried. If the water used is fresh off the boil this will burn the coffee granules causing a bitter taste. If you go to the other extreme and use cold water then the coffee doesn’t dissolve very well and can clump at the bottom of the mug.
It may come as a surprise that there is a right and a wrong way to make a cup of instant coffee and once you know how to do it correctly you’ll never look back.
Check The Date
Checking the use-by date is the first and most important point when you set out to make coffee. Instant coffee may last for 20+ years but this doesn’t mean it’s still going to taste good after this time has passed. Exposure to oxygen and sunlight depletes the coffee flavors and leaves it tasting bland and stale.
Store your coffee in an airtight container in a cool, dark environment and this will help you avoid a lot of disappointment.
Use Filtered Water
The next thing to consider is the quality of the water you’re using. The bottom line here is that if the water tastes bad then the coffee isn’t going to be much better, it doesn’t matter how good quality the brand of coffee used happens to be.
Use filtered water next time you make your brewed coffee and you’ll be astounded at the difference in flavors.
Boiling water is not a good idea if you’re trying to make a decent cup of coffee and the most common mistake people make when brewing coffee is to add water that is too hot. A decent coffee maker never boils the water and this is for a good reason. Burnt coffee tastes bitter and unpleasant and often requires a teaspoon of sugar to balance it out.
Avoid this issue by using water that is 195-205F (the optimal coffee brewing temperature). You can do this by using a special coffee brewing kettle or a thermometer to check the temperature.
If you don’t have these to hand you can simply boil water and wait a minute as this allows it to cool to around this temperature.
The next question to consider is the amount of coffee needed. The answer is fairly subjective as it does depend on how strong you take your coffee and can vary with different brands used.
The typical serving is 1 heaped teaspoon of instant coffee to a cup of water (around 250ml). This can be easily adjusted to suit taste by adding more or less coffee.
How To Brew Instant Coffee
Grab your favorite mug and let’s get ready to drink coffee!
Add your filtered water to the kettle and spoon the instant coffee into your mug. Switch the kettle on wait for it to boil (or reach the ideal temperature if you’re using a coffee kettle!). Wait for 60 seconds after the water boils to allow it to cool.
Add a small amount of water to the mug and stir well, making sure all the granules dissolve in the water. Adding this step helps create a lovely froth on top of the drink.
Gently top up the mix with the rest of the hot water and there you have it.
The final step with brewing instant coffee is adding extras to suit your tastes. If you’re using powdered creamers, sweeteners, cocoa powder, or any other dry ingredients it’s a good idea to add these to the mug with the dry coffee granules, before you add water.
This allows you to mix them thoroughly with a small volume of water so they dissolve completely and avoids lumps floating about in your coffee.
Liquid additives like milk, syrup, or liquid creamers should be added after the coffee has been topped up with hot water.
Why Choose Instant?
Instant coffee definitely can’t rival fresh ground coffee when it comes to those delicious depths of flavor so why choose instant at all?
The answer is that instant coffee is very easy to work with and it doesn’t require any extra coffee brewing equipment. This makes it a good choice for travel, the workplace, or a camping trip.
There’s a huge variety of kinds of instant coffee from espresso-like options to latte mixes and loads of flavored coffee recipes that can give you a sweet treat instantly. Nescafe gives a prime example of premium instant coffee with their Azera range and they even do a non-dairy latte range. Great news for vegans and those with intolerances!
Making Iced Coffee With Instant Powder
If you’re a fan of cold brew coffee or just love a refreshing cool beverage on a hot summer’s day then you may have been wondering if you can make iced coffee using instant powder or granules.
It is totally possible to do this but it’s best to mix the powder with hot water before you serve it over ice. This allows the coffee to fully dissolve and all the flavors to come alive before you cool it down.
Follow the steps listed above as if you were making hot coffee right up to dissolve the powder in a small volume of water. Once you have this concentrated coffee paste, top it up with cold water to reach the desired concentration. This can be served over ice or with any creamers or sweeteners added to give the desired taste.
Instant coffee sure isn’t a rival for fresh coffee when it comes to flavor intensity. Where it wins out is the ease of use and the lack of equipment needed to brew coffee. It’s easy to make but using filtered water, heated to the correct temperature makes a vast difference to the resulting flavor of the brewed coffee.
Give this method a go and impress your coffee-loving friends (especially those who turn their nose up at the thought of instant) by showing them that instant can brew a decent cup of java if you know how to work with it.