We all know that instant coffee is at the bottom of the coffee food chain. The reason for its inferior quality is most often cited to be the quality of the beans. Generally, instant coffee uses the beans that are left over after the big coffee producers, and artisan coffee roasters have bought up the majority of the beans. What is left is an uneven mix of beans, often unripe. Alternatively, even worse, instant coffee contains ‘robusta’ beans. Whilst most drinkable coffee is made from ‘arabica’, the variety known as robusta is rarely sold as beans because it would be largely undrinkable. The price involved in buying higher quality coffee is generally the reason for using the dregs, so firstly if we were to hypothetically to produce an instant coffee from quality beans it would be far more expensive than the common brands.
But let’s say we did. If we bought the best beans, and freeze-dried them into a water-soluble coffee, would it be possible to make them taste as good as bean coffee?
The first problem is that beans, when ground, lose their flavour. This happens gradually, but in order for the beans to be freeze-dried, they would be ground months before they made their way into your kitchen. The freeze-drying process would be able to halt the decline of the coffee, but the real damage is done in the production.
It’s worth bearing in mind that whatever process of drying is used you are eliminating up to 96% of the coffee. In the process of freeze-drying, for instance, the coffee powder is frozen, and the water contained originally in the bean is removed. There is simply no way of keeping what is lost when this water is removed. This is how instant coffee makers can justify using the worst beans: when it comes to drinking the coffee, most of the (bad) flavour has been lost anyway. For a similar reason, instant coffee contains roughly 2/3 the caffeine of whole bean coffee.
The reason this article came about was because an eightpointnine follower was tired of the ‘sludge’ produced from his french press. In researching it, I was struck by the lack of reliable research produced by coffee companies/roasters/shops to justify their unified hatred of instant coffee. The coffee industry shouldn’t expect people to blindly follow the lifestyle they are selling. I hope this article has helped clarify why water-soluble coffees could never have the same flavour as a good bean-to-cup coffee. On a side note, if you are tired of the sludge, I recommend investing in an Aeropress or V60 as these alternative brew methods produce no notable residue.