The coffee industry generated over £8 billion in 2015 which conitues to grow annually. Coffee is the most imported commodity in the world. The UK market specifically is saturated with a huge range of coffee variations. UK supermarkets retail thousands of different types of coffee from hundreds of different brands.
Have you ever wondered why instant coffee looks, tastes, smells and feels so different to to the coffee you get in cafes? This post will look at the difference between instant coffee and fresh, cafe coffee.
The difference between Instant Coffee & Fresh Coffee:
I N S T AN T CO F F E E
How Instant Coffee Is Created:
Instant coffee is created by commercial processes such as freeze drying and spray drying. When the coffee is freeze dried the water is removed from the bean by sublimation (Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.)
- Fresh coffee beans arrive at the factory.
- Raw beans are filtered down into large ovens then the roasting process begins. This causes that dark brown colour of the coffee( beans are a green grey colour before roasting).
- The beans are turned constantly to ensure and even roast.
- Once roasting process is complete they then fall down into an industrial mill where they are ground down into a corse powder.
- The ground coffee is then passed through a hot steam and extreme pressure in a cylindrical container where they are dried instantly.
- The coffee is then heated until it is turned into an extract (liquid).
- The coffee then gets frozen in temperatures as low as -50 .
- The coffee extract must be frozen solid and then broken up into granules.
- All water needs to be extracted from the coffee without changing the state (turning it back into liquid).
- Pretty scientific process!
- Granules are then heated at around 60 degrees C.
- The water vaporises and turns straight into steam(sublimation).
- The granules are then freeze dried with all the aromas locked in.
The alternative to freeze drying is spray drying. To put it in basic terms, liquid coffee is sprayed in a mist like formula at extremely high velocity into very dry, very hot air which atomises the liquid coffee. This takes place in a cylindrical container so by the time the droplets land in the bottom of the container they have dried into a powder like substance.
Instant coffee is STILL real coffee but the means in which to achieve it are commercially met.
There are two types of coffee bean.
- The arabica bean (Coffea Arabica)
- Robusta bean ( Coffea Canephora).
The arabica bean accounts for three quarters of the worldwide coffee consumption.
The bean grows in temperatures between 15-24 degrees Celsius.
Robusta bean accounts for one quarter of the world coffee consumption. It grows in temperatures of 24-30 degrees Celsius.
Robusta beans tend to be stronger and richer in flavour which is due to the higher temperatures that it is matured in.
Coffee is grown on the coffee tree. Yes, I’m not lying this is actually a thing. The trees produce little cherries and inside those cherries lay the coffee beans.
Coffee is mostly grown in mountainous areas of the world. Due to the nature of the landscape most of the coffee cherries are picked by hand. However, the worlds largest producer of coffee is Brazil. Due to the flat landscape , Brazilian farmers cultivate most of their beans by mechanical means making it much easier to mass produce.
To be able to understand the difference between instant coffee and ground coffee we need to know how the coffee beans are harvested.
- The seeds are removed from the cherries(pods) and dried.
- Usually they are left out to dry in the sun with constant turning to ensure even drying.
- It can take up to 4 weeks to dry them out.
- The farmers need to ensure any moisture from the bean is eliminated.
- There are times when drying needs to be completed sooner and so mechanical means are used.
- Once dried, the beans are graded and sorted ready for sale.
It doesn’t end there! Coffee needs to be roasted!
R O A S T I N G
Interestingly, it is the roasting that gives coffee their rich brown colour.
Beans are roasted in drums. Heightened temperatures mean more intense flavours and richer aromas. The average roasting temperature starts from 180- 240 degrees Celsius. Anything over that creates the darker roast coffee often paired with that bitter, gritty taste. Once the beans are roasted they are ground using a coffee grinder. We have all seen domestic coffee grinders and know how they work – pretty basic right. That’s what an industrial grinder does but on a much bigger level.
So there are the basics about how instant is made and how coffee beans are produced. That tells us the difference in production but doesn’t really explain the difference in taste.
C O F F E E & I T S C O M P O S I T I O N
The process of roasting and of further brewing methods affect the taste. Coffee, both instant and fresh contain various natural compounds such as magnesium, niacin and potassium.
Caffeine is probably the most popular of those compounds in that it keeps us alert and stimulated( most of us drink coffee for that very reason). One cup of fresh black coffee contains about 80-100mg of caffeine. Instant coffee contains much less.
Antioxidants such as Chlorogenic acids and melanoids are also present. Diterpenes(which have anti-carcinogenic affects) such as Cafestol and Kahweol are produced from the natural oil within the coffee beans, robusta beans contain half as much Cafestol and hardly any Kahweol ( both compounds are linked to an increase in Cholesterol). Instant coffee has much less antioxidants and Diterpenes.c
It is the oil from the coffee that produces the most flavour.
So we’ve looked at how coffee is produced, where it comes from, the roasting and grinding processes and the composition.
H O W E V E R, that still doesn’t answer the question – can we tell the difference? Here are some instant coffee products on the market: the differentiation between branding, roasting, price and description vary tremendously.
N E S C A F E
Nescafé is the most famous brand of instant coffee but I bet you didn’t know that Nescafé also owns the famous ‘Italian’ branded coffee Nespresso ( When i lived in Switzerland this is all everyone drank at home!). As well as Dolce Gusto (the very famous penguin looking coffee machines) Nescafé has various different types of instant coffee.
- We have Azera (premium form of instant whole bean coffee which is made up of finely ground coffee beans as well as instant).
- Nescafé gold blend (mix of arabica and robusta).
- Nescafé original and then various latte and mocha substitutes.
The intensity, aroma and taste of each different type of Nescafé is due to the roasting and blending processes. They ONLY use arabica and robusta blends and don’t specify which country they are supplied from!
Instant coffee for Nescafé come in the form of sachets, jars, pods and tins.
Nescafé prides itself on the fact all of their instant coffee comes from 100% coffee beans. Unfortunately, when I was doing my research I found that Nescafé weren’t very transparent regarding the ACTUAL ingredients and origin of their coffee. There were vague descriptions such as ‘mix of arabica and robusta’ or ‘Nescafe’s original blend’. What is that?! I want to know WHERE the coffee is sourced or at least what countries!
S U S T A I N A B I L I T Y
Although I find this frustrating for one of the biggest brands in the world they still assure me the coffee is 100% coffee bean which is good to know. I also discovered that Nescafé give back to the communities that supply them with their beans. They follow international sustainability standards with SAN and RFA.
P R I C E
Nescafé ranges from £2.75 for 100g to over £7 for 500g.
DE originated in the Netherlands, the company then branched out to the UK. DE is the biggest purchaser of UTZ certified coffee( The UTZ Certified program covers good agricultural practices, farm management, social and living conditions, and the environment) with some tea and cocoa produce being 100% sustainable. They call themselves master blenders and have been roasting their own Coffee since 1753. This means they have full control over the flavour.
T Y P E S
- Intense selection – 100% arabica with a long and dark roast
- Extra dark roast – Washed arabica(process where the coffee cherry is pulped by a machine referred to as a pulper. This means that the outer layer of skin is removed. Once this outer layer has been removed, the bean with is mucilage is then fermented in water for at least one to two days and sometimes longer. After the fermentation process, the bean is then washed from its mucilage after it has released its aroma) and robusta creating a sweet and intense flavour.
- Dark continental – mostly arabica, partly robusta. Long roast creating deep flavour.
- Fresh Brew which is made up of washed arabica and unwashed arabica with some robusta.
Douwe Egberts also owns the company Kenco. You’ve heard of kenco right? Well they do a pretty impressive selection too. Although they’re owned by the same company the actual variety they provide is very different from DE.
K E N C O
Kenco Millicano is probably the most famous of the collection. It is a whole bean instant meaning it is made up of instant coffee beans and finely ground fresh coffee beans. This is deemed as a premium and so the whole bean instant coffees are usually more expensive. They incorporate the finely milled beans to incorporate that fresh coffee you get with ground beans.
Kenco also do 100% single origin coffee from Costa Rica and Columbia as well as Tassimo which provide the instant coffee for coffee machines.
S U S T A I N A B I L I T Y
I have to say out of all the companies I have researched I am proud to say Kenco appears to do the most for the coffee farming communities. Rather than just laying out of the great certifications they have, what they have done is actively worked to improve people’s lives. Training, skills and education is given to coffee farmers to ensure they are making the most of their business. This is through the Coffee Made Happy programme. You can check more of the amazing stories on http://www.coffeemadehappy.com and an article showing the same on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/lifestyle/honduras-gangs/11851482/entrepreneurs-of-the-future.html
Kenco also owns RFA certified farms.
P R I C E S
- 100g of the Douwe Egberts Classic Roast starts at £2.49 with 500g of the Pure Gold Medium Roast costing around £15.95.
- 100g Kenco Millicano costs around £4.00 with Kenco Rich Instant 200g costing £5.50.
So there it is, the different brands and variety of instant coffee on the market. I’ve learned that instant coffee is STILL coffee it is just processed differently. I’ve also learned that the drying,roasting and grinding processes affect the taste of the coffee. This is why instant coffee tastes so different from fresh coffee you receive in coffee shops. I’ve discovered that the whole bean instant coffees such as Nescafé Azera and Kenco Millicano taste the most similar to fresh coffee due to the finely ground beans mixed with the instant.
So overall, you are never going to get an instant coffee that tastes like a fresh one but premium coffee brands will enable you to get one step closer to feeling like you do.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. I know exactly what to look out for now when I’m advising people of which instant coffee to buy.
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