What Is Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee is arguably the fastest and most hassle-free way to get your morning fix. But what exactly is it? Sold in the form of little granules, instant coffee is known by many names such as soluble coffee, coffee crystals, or coffee powder. What makes instant coffee so popular is its preparation method. All you need to do is add hot water, and in seconds, they have a cup of delicious coffee ready to go!
Instant coffee has become a staple for many coffee consumers all over the world. With the instant coffee industry bringing in approximately US$116.50bn in 2022, alone, there’s a high chance you’ve at least tried instant coffee in the past. So, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty and find out if it’s actually any good for you.
What is Instant Coffee Made Of?
Before we get into the health-related aspects of instant coffee, it’s important to know exactly what it’s made up of. No, there’s no witch’s cauldron or magic ingredients, the explanation is actually far simpler. Ironically, instant coffee is just regular coffee that’s been dehydrated. Beans are roasted for flavor, ground down into powder, and even brewed, exactly like your standard cup of Joe. The difference is that the coffee is then purposefully dehydrated down into crystals either by spray-drying or freeze-drying. And voila, you’ve got instant coffee!
How does instant coffee size up to Fresh Brewed Coffee
The largest difference between instant and fresh coffee is their respective caffeine content. Fresh ground coffee has 145mg in 8oz, while an 8oz cup of instant coffee carries about 63mg. This means that the benefits many people are looking for from caffeine would come most noticeably from ground coffee.
Brewing is also vastly different from fresh and instant coffee, the latter being so convenient that it is the common reason people go to instant coffee in the first place. Instant coffee merely requires hot water and a spoon. Just add water, and in no time at all, you'll have your coffee ready to go. While brewing and prep times can vary widely with fresh ground coffee (and not to mention the grinding time with whole beans) EspressoWorks makes the process quicker with our all-in-one machines that will have your coffee brewed in 45 seconds with the push of a button.
Storage is another difference factor between instant and fresh coffee. For fresh beans, shelf life is significantly less with the average shelf life being 3-5 months. This can be improved by using an airtight sealed container, which most baristas would recommend. By comparison, instant coffee can last sealed for 2 to 20 years, however, the flavor does degrade over time, and the preservatives for making this possible might dissuade organic drinkers.
Flavor profiles also vary between instant and fresh coffee. The majority of instant coffee is made of Robusta beans. As we have profiled previously, Robusta beans, while being cost-efficient, have significantly fewer sugars and fats present than freshly ground Arabica beans. When you add this less expensive bean to the process of making instant coffee which drastically increases both the heating and cooling of the beans, you get a less flavorful and bitter end result with no distinguishable notes of flavor. Fresh beans definitely take the cake on flavor, with a greater variety of choices which, when brewed correctly, can unleash a medley of flavor notes.
Is Drinking Instant Coffee Healthy?
The Pros of Drinking Instant Coffee:
A Prominent Source of Antioxidants
Coffee is rich in polyphenols, a nutrient which “has been shown to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases”. Indeed, studies show that drinking coffee has a greater effect than other food substances on the level of polyphenols consumed in a test group. Out of all other foods and beverages consumed, coffee contributed 47% of all polyphenols. What this means is that while instant coffee doesn’t equal instant health, it can keep you healthier in the long run!
Caffeine Supercharges Brain Activity
Okay, we have to set one thing straight, we’re not advocating for you to consume an overload of caffeine. However, caffeine, if consumed in the correct dosage for your height and weight, can boost your brain function and even potentially stave off diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s! Consume too much, though, and you’ll just be a jittery mess.
A Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Studies with a total of 193,473 participants have all come to the same conclusion that coffee drinkers are at a serious advantage when it comes to combating Type 2 Diabetes. This is especially so for people who are habitual coffee drinkers, who are at a “ substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Better Metabolism and Weight Loss
To be completely transparent right from the get-go, you won’t turn into Usain Bolt by chugging ten cups of instant coffee a day. However, there are studies that suggest drinking moderate amounts of coffee can actually give you a boost in your metabolism, which can help you burn fat. By stimulating a certain region in your body with a lot of BAT (brown adipose tissue) in it, your body is able to metabolize macronutrients (like glucose and lipids) at a faster rate.
The Cons of Drinking Instant Coffee
Much Higher Quantities of Acrylamide
Acrylamide sounds scary, and if consumed in high doses, it certainly can have terrifying consequences. Acrylamide is a substance that forms by combining sugars and amino acids. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked acrylamide to causing cancer and states that it is carcinogenic. Studies have also shown that the level of acrylamide in instant coffee versus regular coffee is actually double. So before you pick the convenience of instant coffee versus your regular beans, it may be wise to consider whether it’s worth the risk.
While this may be seen as a blessing by some, having a smaller amount of caffeine per cup actually makes tones down a lot of the benefits associated with instant coffee when compared to regular coffee. Things like a boosted metabolism, alertness, and improved brain function – which are all linked directly to the caffeine content in coffee- will still occur if you drink instant coffee, you'll need a larger dose to give you the same benefits as regular coffee. This is probably not ideal considering the higher levels of acrylamide present in instant coffee versus the regular stuff.
What’s the Bottom Line on Instant Coffee?
When it comes to health, regular coffee is still better for you than instant coffee, though drinking instant coffee in moderation is still fine. However, when it comes to taste, regular coffee is just far more versatile.
While instant coffee is essentially pre-prepared and then dried according to the manufacturer’s specifications, regular coffee allows you to be in full control of how the coffee’s flavors are extracted in every step of the preparation journey. You can actually roast your own beans, grind them and even pick your extraction method of choice. This gives you limitless combinations to experiment with as you discover what gives your taste buds the greatest satisfaction.
Drinking coffee is often considered to be one of life’s greatest joys. While there’s no harm in having it in instant form, there’s certainly more fun to be had by experimenting and discovering what flavors make you both happy and healthy!