Not Your Grandma’s Instant Coffee

The can of instant coffee is practically ubiquitous in a household as a cup of sugar, planting roots in the cupboard as its most reliable tenant. The crystallized grinds have come to be emblematic of a culture of convenience, but has also been, surprisingly, reclaimed in recent years as a delicious coffee option all its own.

Get some pointers on some tasty instant coffee recipes and the 411 on what is instant coffee and how to make instant coffee.

What is Instant Coffee?

Instant coffee is coffee, only it’s handled differently prior to taking up temporary residence on a store shelf. It also dissolves in water.

Instant coffee is usually made from Robusta-variety coffee beans. The Robusta is a less expensive coffee bean grown in Vietnam, Indonesia, West Africa, and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. It has a nutty, earthy flavor that holds up well in the process of making instant coffee while packing a heavy caffeine punch. This is also why many instant coffees can be exceptionally bitter.

Credit for the invention of instant coffee oscillates between Japanese scientist Satori Kato, in 1901, and the French scientist Alphonse Allais, in 1881. Though, instant coffee didn’t truly take off until after World War II, in addition to other concentrated products like orange juice. For much of the 20th century, Nescafe and instant coffee were virtually synonymous thanks to the company’s near perfection of the technique to make the coffee and ability to mass produce.

How is instant coffee made?

The beans are roasted as any coffee would be before being pummeled into a powder that’s finer than the typical coffee grind. These beans are then dehydrated and sprayed with a coffee concentrate in a heated environment, leaving behind crystals treated for optimal shelf life. There’s also an alternative method that involves freeze-drying, creating a powder that is extraordinarily shelf-stable. Some have flavor added to make up for the caffeine content and natural flavors lost in the processing.

The general idea is that the coffee is stabilized to be able to be “rehydrated”; or, in other words, re-brewed with water in your kitchen.

How Much Caffeine in Instant Coffee?

Does instant coffee have caffeine? The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

But with a catch.

Instant coffee contains about 66 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup, which is about one-third fewer milligrams of caffeine than a standard cup of brewed coffee. This is largely because of the decaffeination process that takes place before an instant coffee is roasted. Still, caffeine content can also depend on what the grinds are treated with after freeze-drying or being sprayed.

Brew method and water temperature may also influence the precise caffeine concentration.

Gourmet Instant Coffee

Instant coffees are subject to great innovation in recent years, thanks to new technology and a commitment to craft coffee.

Craft shops have developed their own take on the freeze-drying and extraction method and have begun to sell instant versions of their roasts that dissolve in as little as five seconds—whether the water is hot or cold. These are usually small batches.

Among the modern innovations: a coffee bag that brews just like tea; crystallized coffee packaged in convenient tubes, rather than a jar; instant-coffee “lids” that hang over a coffee mug while water pours over the top — like an actual pour over but faster. These gourmet instant coffee options are largely made possible by a focus on a higher-quality extraction process that better retains the coffee’s natural flavors.

It certainly beats the old tin of coffee Grandma had lingering on her pantry shelf—or even impromptu cowboy coffee. But, of course, if that’s all a bit much to be bothered with, there are plenty of simple instant coffee recipes that spruce up any cup.

No-Fuss Instant Coffee Recipes

  • Cocoa Coffee. Take advantage of the best of the instant world by combining a serving of instant coffee with an ounce of hot cocoa mix, a cup of milk, and half a teaspoon of cinnamon.
  • Nutella Coffee. Because Nutella goes great with anything, combine a cup of low-fat milk with a serving of instant coffee, two tablespoons of Nutella, and a combination of sugar and vanilla extract to taste. Blend well and chill over ice.
  • Instant Coffee Latte. Combine a heaping serving of instant coffee, half a cup of milk, half a cup of water, sugar and cinnamon to taste. Start by adding droplets of water to turn the coffee and sugar into a concentrated paste; boil the milk and water together and then pour over top, adding cinnamon and added sugar as necessary.

Instant coffee has come a long way. There’s no shame in embracing a cup of instant if you want your caffeine fix on the go. In fact, there are tons of ways to make that once-lowly cup of instant a gourmet treat. Your friends at Victor Allen’s Coffee are always happy to give you some ideas on how to amp up the flavor of your favorite beverage.