Instant Coffee Technology and History

By pjain      Published Oct. 21, 2019, 10:07 a.m. in blog Foodies   

Part of Series Beverages - Teas and Coffees - Series Overview

Instant Coffee Technology

Bean selection, curation, sorting and the Roasting process Type

The quality of the beans used in the production of instant coffee, as well as the roasting process, plays an important role in its final quality.

Most of the time, an Arabica whole bean will produce a superior instant coffee. Additionally, a coffee bean that has been medium or dark roasted will have a smoother taste because most of its caffeine has been removed during the roasting process.

In recent times certain companies have started using high-quality products and processes for the original brew before the freeze drying. This makes a marked impact on the taste when the dry flakes are rehydrated. It might surprise you to learn that the best stuff can rival and often beat some freshly brewed coffees.

Instant Coffee vs. Espresso Powder - how beans matter

Espresso powder—or instant espresso—is similar to instant coffee, but it's stronger per gm. It is often made from a better quality coffee. It's usually made from darker roasted beans with a higher percentage of Arabica beans in the blend, resulting in a darker, smoother taste. It's usually dried with the freeze-drying method to preserve flavor.

Espresso is often marketed as premium coffee, and used in eg capachinos, mocha icecream and recipes. You can substitute instant coffee for instant espresso in recipes by using 50% more than the recipe calls for. Be warned, instant coffee may yield a harsher taste than it would if you use espresso powder. Often chefs save money by using instant and just add a little extra sugar can help counteract unwanted bitterness from instant coffee powder.

Processes of Making Instant Coffees

The same technology that produces penicillin and blood plasma, which was developed during the war for military use, is what makes instant coffee cheap and readily accessible.

The same beans you'll find in traditionally brewed coffee, roasted using the same method -- plus two additional steps.

Not all brands use the exact same method, but most manufacturers A) dissolve the roasted beans in water to concentrate the coffee solution, and then B) dry that product out by either freeze-drying or spray-drying. That final step is what creates either crystals or a powdery substance.

Essentially, adding hot water to instant coffee just rehydrates the granules. And voila, you've got a cup of coffee.

Instant coffee is basically made by two methods. Spray-Dried or the Freeze-Dried method.

Prior to drying, the brewed coffee may—or may not—be concentrated with one of these methods:

Vacuum evaporation | A process in which the coffee can boil at a lower temperature. It's also used to make ketchup, powdered milk, and other commercial foods. Freeze concentration | A more flavor-friendly process in which water-based ice is removed, leaving a more concentrated liquid behind. It's also used to make concentrated fruit juices, applejack, and concentrated vinegars.

Freeze-dried

This method produces the highest quality instant coffee that you can buy. The freeze-drying method preserves the most 'coffee flavor,' but it's an involved procedure. It's likely that you will pay more for freeze-dried instant coffee, but the flavor difference is worth it.

The low-temperature, as well as the drying process in a vacuum, allows the freeze-dried method to conserve most of its aromas and taste.

  1. Quality Control of Coffee Beans High-quality Arabica coffee beans are used in this method

  2. Coffee beans are roasted

  3. Coffee beans are ground The roasted beans are ground

  4. Coffee extract is made The ground up coffee beans are mixed with water a process brewing but producing a thicker consistency so as to produce a coffee extract.

  5. Flash frozen This coffee extract is then frozen at -40°C so that it becomes a solid.

    • The coffee or a coffee concentrate (made by freeze concentration) is rapidly frozen to around -40 F (also, -40 Celsius).
    • It's placed into a drying chamber, a vacuum is created in the chamber and then the chamber is heated.
    • As the frozen coffee warms up, the frozen water rapidly expands into gas in a process called sublimation. What's left is dry grains of coffee.
  6. Powdering and drying It is then crumbled into smaller granular structures and dried in a vacuum at very low temperature. It is important to grind it into small granules so it has a larger surface area so when making it mixes well with warm water and rehydrates well.

  7. Additives

  8. Packaging As shelf life can be months or even years, the wrong kind of packaging can ruin the consumer experience. So, you must ensure that the packaging is airtight to prevent the coffee from oxidizing and becoming stale.

Tips for selecting and making Instant Coffee

If you go with an instant coffee that comes in a paper bag, then you will definitely have two use a secondary container for storage.

Spray-Dried - cheap not so good

The spray dried method is the cheapest method to make instant coffee. The quality is also not as good as the freeze-dried method. The basic problem is that a lot of flavors and aromas are lost in the high temperature process using the spray dried method, only low-quality coffee beans are used.

  1. Coffee beans are roasted

  2. Coffee paste is made - todo

  3. Dried

  4. The coffee paste is placed in a metal tube under very high pressure, and hot steam is allowed to circulate inside the tube which dehydrates the coffee paste quickly.
  5. Coffee or concentrated coffee is sprayed from a high tower in a large hot-air chamber.
  6. As the droplets fall, the remaining water evaporates.
  7. Dry crystals of coffee fall to the bottom of the chamber.
  8. The spray-drying method of making instant coffee is almost as instantaneous as brewing the coffee. The transition from liquid coffee to instant coffee takes only 5 to 30 seconds.

  9. Dried paste is powdered too finely

  10. It leaves a brittle and crumbly solid that can easily be broken down into finer particles with the fingers. It is important to grind it into small granules so it has a larger surface area.
  11. However the more common problem is that it often produces too fine of a powder. To make the powder acceptable for consumers, the grains are fused together with additional processing that involves steam.

  12. Additives This is because the natural aroma and taste of the instant coffee have been lost during production, especially if the instant coffee is made using the spray-dried method. To camouflage the lack of coffee flavors, other additive and flavors are added eg vanilla extract, sweeteners, milk or matcha. These substances that are later added to your instant coffee to give it a better taste.

  13. Packaging properly - airtight glass jars are best and far superior to paper As shelf life can be months or even years, the wrong kind of packaging can ruin the consumer experience. So, you must ensure that the packaging is airtight to prevent the coffee from oxidizing and becoming stale.

Instant Coffee Modern Varieties

Modern Varieties and Innovations - beats old burnt coffee pots, not barista fresh

“The instant coffee people have been phenomenally inventive in trying to extract the aromatics in brewing and trying to put it back in the coffee, .. [But] it's never going to be as good as a top-end, micro-lot coffee from a great roaster, brewed carefully [and served fresh]." - Kenneth Davids, editor of Coffee Review

The higher-end brands are more expensive than typical instant coffees — Via costs around $1 a cup and Sudden goes for around $3 a cup — but they could gradually become game-changers.

  • Ironically for 2nd best Starbucks Via beats most of mass market coffees ie hits goal of - beats old burnt coffee pots as in offices or roadside tired diners, however doesn't beat barista fresh premium varieties or niche cappachinos,etc eg made at Starbucks

  • Similarly Sudden Coffee is strictly "pour into cup of water" for on-the-go traveller satchels - it is a niche that it is engineered for.

  • 2000s Nescafé says it’s still evolving its “unique proprietary process which is backed by a significant number of granted and pending patents.” And it must be doing something right | Today, Nescafe (known as Tasters' Choice in the U.S.) is the No. 1 coffee brand in the world, holding a 22 percent share of all the coffee consumed on the planet, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Sudden Coffee

Sudden Coffee is strictly "pour into cup of water" for on-the-go traveller satchels - it is a niche that it is engineered for. With its handy tubes that it comes in means it’s the best instant coffee for travelers or backpacking.

Co-founded by the 2015 Finnish barista champion (yes, that really is a thing) and an engineer, Sudden uses a unique drying process to create a higher-end instant coffee.

It’s priced at $19 per 8 sachets where each sachet equals one cup. Pretty expensive. It used to work only on a subscription model where you pay an amount each month and get a regular delivery.

This makes it suitable for the frequent traveler but less so for someone who wants instant on a ‘just-in-case’ type basis. You might be happy to hear that they have begun offering single buy purchases of a number of sachets/tubes or even a large pouch that contains a larger amount of mixed coffee.

Somewhat similar to Starbucks Via – they have a similar theme of good taste and aroma with a thinner, watery body. If you’re looking for straight up the best instant coffee, this is it.

Starbucks Via

  • Ironically for 2nd best Starbucks Via beats most of mass market coffees ie hits goal of - beats old burnt coffee pots as in offices or roadside tired diners, however doesn't beat barista fresh premium varieties or niche cappachinos,etc eg made at Starbucks

  • 2009, Starbucks introduced an instant coffee called Via, which uses a proprietary spray-drying process

Instant Coffee History

Instant Coffees of the Past - History

  • 1983 Folgers Crystals - cheap but mass produced

    This was original instant coffee and glamorized as "dark, sparkling" crystals with the tagline, "Folgers Crystals | Coffee rich enough to be served in America's finest restaurants,"

  • In 1965 expanded to higher end, as Nestlé developed the first freeze-dried coffee Nescafe Gold in Europe, which it marketed in the U.S. as Nescafé Taster’s Choice. For the first time, instant coffee tasted more like … coffee. To produce it, the makers brewed a coffee concentrate and then locked in the flavor by exposing it immediately to sub-zero temperatures — a process called flash freezing. The frozen concentrate then was sent through a vacuum chamber to remove all moisture, resulting in freeze-dried coffee granules.

  • 1940s Business boomed during World War II as the same technology that produces penicillin and blood plasma, which was developed during the war for military use, is what makes instant coffee cheap and readily accessible.

    “It's difficult in trenches to brew coffee, so having instant coffee was a big improvement,”

  • 1930 Nestlé began refining the instant coffee process and later released and marketed it to a popular success. In 1938, the Switzerland-based company introduced its own instant coffee to the international market. They launched the product under the name "Nescafe", a portmanteau of "Nestle" and "cafe."

  • 1910, English chemist George Constant Louis Washington developed another process for making instant coffee while living in Guatemala. An avid coffee-drinker, he noticed a powdery buildup on the spout of his favorite silver coffee pot. That prompted his curiosity and further experimentation followed. He eventually produced a dried coffee crystal much like we still have today. His brand was called Red E Coffee.

  • 1901 Instant Coffee (another process?) was re-invented by Satori Kato by a Japanese scientist in Chicago who promoted it at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 to make it more well-knwon.

  • 1890 was invented first by New Zealander David Strang who marketed his instant coffee as "Strang's Coffee" and called his patented instant coffee process the "Dry Hot-Air" process.


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