Instant coffee has had a bad reputation in the coffee world. It’s bitter, way too strong, and made of lower quality beans. For many people, however, instant coffee is simply the most convenient option. When you’re strapped for time and need a quick boost, a cup of instant coffee gets the job done.
Instant coffee is essentially dehydrated brewed coffee grounds that can be rehydrated into a drink by adding water. The dehydration can be done through freeze-drying or spray-drying. Convenience is the biggest advantage of drinking instant coffee. In addition, it’s also easier to ship, has a long shelf life, and has a lower ecological impact since there are no leftover grounds.
The specialty instant coffee market is relatively new. As the demand for high-quality coffee is at an all-time peak, some consumers are looking to pair the convenience of instant coffee with the satisfaction of gourmet taste.
When Did Instant Coffee Get Popular?
The first recorded instant coffee was a patent for “coffee compound” awarded to John Dring by the British government in 1771. This coffee compound consisted of dried coffee pressed into a cake. Almost a century later in 1853, “coffee essence” became widely available during the American Civil War.
This essence was made of concentrated coffee, often with chicory, that would be dipped in hot water to brew. It had a terrible, greasy consistency and was very unpopular. Innovations in food technology and research from 1853 to the First World War saw the rise of instant coffee that was palatable and easy to make.
Instant coffee continued to gain popularity through the entirety of World War I, and when Nestle entered the market in 1938 with Nescafe, instant coffee became a household staple. Nescafe was born from a need to utilize the post-war coffee surplus. It was an ‘instant’ hit, with demand remaining constant through the next World War.
The process of freeze-drying was a direct result of World War II research efforts into the science of it. This was another turning point for instant coffee, as this new method of dehydration produced higher quality flavours.
Then the second wave of coffee emerged, with large coffee chains causing the downfall of instant coffee. Instant coffee has been relegated to the sidelines since. But now, perhaps, things are changing. Instant coffee can now be considered a cheaper, quicker, waste-free alternative to complicated brewing methods.
What Is Specialty Instant Coffee?
50% of the world’s green coffee is used to make instant coffee, so clearly there’s a huge demand for it. This has prompted many coffee producers to explore ways to make specialty coffee more accessible to a wider audience, leading to the emergence of specialty instant coffee.
Accessibility is often a major goal for companies producing specialty instant coffee. Specialty coffee is often seen as high maintenance or elitist. By offering instant variants of specialty coffee, companies can make their offering more accessible to casual coffee consumers. Specialty instant coffee also aims to discourage the idea that instant coffee is always poorly made. Many new specialty instant coffees focus on sustainability, fair trade, and lowering the environmental impact of coffee waste.
Many coffee producers see specialty instant coffee as a way to improve the existing instant coffee offerings. Most store bought instant coffee is over-roasted, bitter, and uses the lowest-quality beans, usually beans from Robusta plants and not Arabica. Specialty instant coffee can change the way many farms operate by encouraging higher quality standards for the cultivation of Robusta beans.
The go-to method of dehydration for specialty instant coffee is freeze-drying. Freeze-drying is a complex process involving freezing and sublimation of coffee beans to produce a fine coffee powder. This method is preferred to the older spray-drying method since it preserves most of the original flavour and aroma of the coffee. It can be more expensive but it’s also highly adaptable and gives you the best results.
Like with any other type of coffee, when choosing a brand of specialty instant coffee, pay attention to where the beans were sourced. The overall quality depends heavily on the quality of the beans so ensure it was sustainably grown and ethically sourced.
Whether you see it as a mere convenience or the next big thing in coffee, specialty instant coffee is an ever-expanding market pulling in billion-dollar profits across the globe. As a quick, waste-free brewing method, there’s nothing quite like it.