Ground Coffee vs. Instant Coffee
When it comes to ground coffee vs. instant coffee, there’s really no in between. If someone loves ground coffee, they’re probably going to hate instant. This appears particularly true in the United States, with instant coffee ranking far behind ground coffee.
Instant coffee is coffee, contrary to the belief of some. It’s a processed, concentrated, and dehydrated powder form of coffee, while ground coffee is created directly from roasted beans. The similarities between these two types are few, and their differences are many.
Ground coffee has been around for several centuries, but the instant version is much younger, comparatively speaking. Most java drinkers do prefer ground coffee, but instant coffee may have its place.
Topics in the instant coffee vs. regular coffee debate we’re covering include:
A Brief History of Instant Coffee
According to Encyclopedia.com, instant coffee first appeared in 1771. In the US, a type of instant coffee was used during the Civil War but it still was not made commercially available. A Japanese man successfully created his own stable version in 1901 after applying the same process used to make instant tea, but it wasn’t until 1906 that a chemist came up with the first commercial process for developing instant coffee.
Red E Coffee was the major instant coffee product in the US for about 30 years before Nestlé debuted Nescafé in the late 1930s, a product most people worldwide are familiar with. While US bean lovers have not really embraced instant coffee, the rest of the world has and instant coffee accounts for more than a third of all coffee consumed globally.
In particular, those new to java are driving those sales, at least outside the US. Is instant coffee good, according to Americans? Maybe not.
What Is Instant Coffee?
So what is instant coffee powder exactly and should it even be called coffee?
Despite the opinion of some bean lovers that instant doesn’t qualify as coffee, it is. The quick explanation is that instant is brewed coffee that has been dehydrated, concentrated, and powderized.
Robusta beans are most commonly used in instant coffee as they’re less expensive than other bean types, which is a key reason why instant costs less than ground coffee.
When combined with water, those crystals or powder rehydrate into the hot beverage you recognize. However, because of how dehydration happens during the instant coffee manufacturing process, it’s near impossible to retain all of the coffee’s original flavor. For that reason, even the best instant won’t taste like coffee made from ground beans.
How Is Instant Coffee Made?
There are two main types of instant coffee and these can be differentiated by the production method used. But before that, flavors are extracted and concentrated. Coffee is brewed in specialized equipment to extract the most flavorful parts of the liquid. The coffee is then filtered and concentrated by removing water, either through evaporation, freezing, or centrifuge. Then, it’s time to dehydrate that liquid into a dry product, either through spray-drying or freeze-drying.
With spray-dried instant coffee, high temperatures evaporate any remaining water. Inside a tall drying tower, the coffee liquid is sprayed down through hot air, which has a temperature around 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Any remaining water evaporates as the liquid drops fall down, leaving only dry crystals or powder at the bottom of the tower.
If this powder is too fine, it may be slightly reconstituted with steam to force individual crystals together into larger particles and instant coffee granules. The high temperatures mean that the powder that forms may be too fine to dissolve properly and affects the oils in coffee, and those oils are what give coffee its unique flavor profile.
With freeze-dried instant coffee, coffee is frozen in a series of steps. First, the coffee must be pre-chilled to reach a slushy consistency at around 20 degrees. It’s then rapidly frozen until its temperature reaches -40 degrees. The faster the freezing process, the smaller and lighter the granules will be. Freezing slowly results in darker. larger particles.
Once the coffee is frozen, it’s broken into pieces and then ground into tiny, evenly-sized particles. Those particles then go to a drying chamber where heat and a vacuum are used to skip the melting process, instead vaporizing the ice through a process called sublimation. Once the ice has been vaporized and removed, all that remains is powdered coffee.
Freeze-drying keeps more of the flavor in those crystals, but it’s more expensive than spray-drying, so expensive instant coffee is typically freeze-dried.
Advantages of Instant Coffee
While some people automatically dismiss instant coffee, it has certain advantages over regular java that can’t be ignored.
- Your cup of joe is ready almost instantly.
- There’s no complicated process, just follow the directions.
- No waste is left behind afterwards, no instant coffee grounds to dispose of. Just clean your cup and spoon you used to stir.
- Instant coffee has a much longer shelf life than ground coffee.
- It’s less expensive.
- There’s usually less caffeine in instant coffee than in ground coffee.
Disadvantages of Instant Coffee
The convenience factor is definitely a big perk with instant coffee, but it also has some drawbacks.
- Its aroma dissipates very quickly, more so than with ground coffee or whole beans.
- There aren’t as many blends and roasts as with ground coffee, although instant coffee is trying to catch up.
- Instant coffee often has less caffeine. Yes, we know it can be an advantage, but not if you need a caffeine fix!
- Some people are concerned by the chemicals used to process instant coffee.
Check out some of the top rated instant coffee!
History of Ground Coffee
Ground coffee has a much longer history than instant, with its first appearance believed to be around the 7th century in Ethiopia. Historical records show that coffee started being exported to other parts of the world by the 15th century. For more on the origins of coffee, you can read our post about the invention of coffee.
It’s likely that stones were first used for grinding coffee or perhaps a mortar and pestle. Spice grinders were introduced in the 15th century, and people discovered that coffee beans could also be ground with them, according to Walls With Stories. In 1665, Nicholas Book, an Englishman invented the first burr mill intended to be used with coffee beans, which obviously made grinding your own coffee beans much easier.
What Is Ground Coffee?
So what’s ground coffee? Very simple, ground coffee beans. You can buy coffee that is already ground and packaged, or you can opt to grind your own beans. Many java lovers prefer grinding their own beans for fresher flavor, but ground coffee is certainly more convenient if you don’t have a grinder, plus it can still produce a tasty cup of joe.
This coffee doesn’t undergo the additional chemical processing that’s necessary with instant coffee. Coffee beans are grown, picked, processed, and then roasted. Some are packaged as whole beans, while others are ground and then packaged.
Types of Ground Coffee
There are many grind levels for ground coffee, depending on what type of java you’re making. The most common grind levels range from very fine to very coarse, with other levels somewhere in between. Very fine is intended for Turkish coffee or espresso, while coarse is typically used with French presses.
- Very Coarse — the largest, almost chunky grind, suitable for cold brew.
- Coarse — about the consistency of sea salt and is used in French press brewing.
- Medium-Coarse — should resemble grains of sand, best suited for Chemex coffee makers.
- Medium — grind level of most pre-ground coffee used with drip coffee makers.
- Medium-Fine — good for experimenting, best suited to pour-over java.
- Fine — best starting point for brewing espresso.
- Extra-fine — may be too fine for good espresso, most often used with Turkish coffee.
In addition to the grind levels, ground coffee is available in seemingly endless combinations of roasts and blends. You’ll never be lacking for new flavors with ground coffee! There are four main types of coffee beans — Arabica, Robusta, Liberica , and Excelsa — which can be blended to provide even more flavors.
Advantages of Ground Coffee
There are some distinct advantages to choosing ground coffee over instant coffee, as evidenced by the large number of people who prefer ground coffee.
- You’ll get better flavors with ground coffee, since there’s no processing beyond roasting and grinding coffee beans.
- It brews a stronger beverage with a slightly higher caffeine content.
- It’s available in multiple grind levels, according to which kind of java you’re brewing.
- Some people prefer the ritual of brewing coffee, such as grinding beans and operating their coffee maker.
Disadvantages of Ground Coffee
Ground coffee is pretty great, but it may not always be the ideal product. It does have one or two disadvantages.
- Certain brewing methods can get complicated quickly.
- You have to dispose of coffee grounds and clean the coffee maker.
Is Ground Coffee Better than Instant?
While instant coffee can do the trick if you’re really pressed for time and desperately need a caffeine boost, it simply won’t taste like coffee made from ground beans. The processing required to produce the instant version results in some loss of flavor and aroma. Even if instant and ground coffee are made from the same beans and roast, they’ll taste very different.
Is instant coffee healthy, as we know ground coffee can be? Healthwise, instant coffee’s benefits aren’t much different from ground coffee’s benefits as both contain antioxidants that can provide some health benefits.
Instant coffee generally has less caffeine, but some people are wary of the chemicals used in processing. One particular chemical, acrylamide, forms when all coffee beans are roasted but is present at a greater level in instant coffee. Instant coffee is faster and simpler than brewing coffee, plus there’s really no way you can mess it up.
Yes, instant coffee has been upping its game with more flavors, but it still can’t compare with the many blends and roasts available with ground coffee. Instant coffee also can’t give you that ritual of actually brewing java that so many appreciate in the morning. For me, it’s a no-brainer. Ground coffee almost always wins.
Ground coffee and instant coffee both start off the same way, right from the coffee plant. Coffee beans are picked, steamed or processed, and then roasted. Coffee beans that will become ground coffee go one way, while beans destined to become instant coffee undergo further processing.
Instant coffee is most often made with Robusta beans, which are less expensive but also taste more bitter than other beans. This is one of the reasons why a beverage made from instant coffee won’t taste the same as ground coffee.
Instant coffee does have a longer shelf life than ground coffee, so if you only rarely indulge or don’t want to go through the process of brewing, instant could work for you.
But given a choice, I’m always going to recommend ground coffee over instant.
Is instant coffee bad? No, but for most people, it’s a subpar version of the real deal.
Ground Coffee vs. Instant Coffee FAQs
Is Ground Coffee Cheaper Than Instant?
No, typically, ground coffee is more expensive than instant. This is partly due to the fact that it’s heavier than instant, so it costs more to ship.
Should You Refrigerate Instant Coffee?
You should store instant coffee in a container that’s airtight and place it in a cool and dry area.
Is Ground Coffee Healthier than Instant Coffee?
They’re about equal. Both forms contain antioxidants that help reduce your risk for certain diseases. Instant coffee can contain higher amounts of the chemical acrylamide, though.
Can I Use Ground Coffee as Instant Coffee?
Technically, you can, but it won’t dissolve like instant coffee. You’ll have grounds at the bottom of your cup, and the flavors may be off.
Is Instant Coffee Real Coffee?
It sure is! Even though some people may claim it’s not real coffee, instant coffee originates from coffee beans, just like ground coffee. It undergoes further processing to concentrate and then dehydrate it until it’s in powder form.
Is Ground Coffee Instant, What’s the Difference Between Ground and Instant Coffee?
No, ground coffee is not instant coffee. Ground coffee is the direct result of grinding coffee beans. Instant coffee must be processed further, with concentrated coffee being brewed and then converted into powder or crystals.