What’s the Deal with Instant Coffee?

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Instant coffee was once one of the most popular brewing methods in the country. In the day before K Cups and a Starbucks on every corner, instant coffee was a quick and economical way to get a jumpstart on the morning. Today, instant coffee has mostly fallen out of favor. Let’s talk about it.

What is instant coffee?

Most instant coffees you can find in the grocery store are some form of coffee crystal. When placed side by side with non-instant coffee, you may notice a key difference. There aren’t any coffee beans in instant coffee! Instant coffee looks like a brown, granulated powder that seems more like coffee dust. This is because coffee crystals are made with coffee that has already been brewed.

Coffee crystals are made by dehydrating brewed coffee. Large factories brew enormous vats of coffee, up to thousands of gallons at a time. Once this coffee is brewed, it is reduced by evaporation until it reaches a syrupy consistency, at which point it is freeze-dried. Following the freeze-drying process, the coffee is reheated in a vacuum to fully evaporate any lingering moisture instantaneously. Once all the moisture has left the coffee crystal, it is shelf-stable and can retain its flavor for months or years. While some flavors and aromas are lost in the manufacturing process, some can be readded with artificial flavoring.

At home, consumers rehydrate the coffee crystals with hot water. The crystals instantly dissolve, and a hot cup of coffee is then ready to enjoy. The quality of the final product is determined by the quality of the coffee beans used by the manufacturer, the strength of their first extraction, and the strength of their reduced coffee. Better ingredients and more careful extraction will result in a better product.

At home, consumers can also affect the perceived quality of their instant coffee by brewing with the right amount of crystals recommended by the manufacturer and by using appropriately heated water. Water that is too hot will damage the flavor compounds that are still in the coffee crystal, leaving you with an even more subpar cup.

Now that we know the basics, what’s the deal with instant coffee? Is it any good? As with any food or drink, if you like it, have it! For our money, there are better types of coffee. We prefer a local shop with fresh drip coffee. While instant coffee is certainly serviceable, it lacks the depth, nuance, and zip that freshly brewed coffee has. While it’s true that instant coffee is inexpensive, this is a case where you get what you pay for.

Why do people drink instant coffee?

We think instant coffee is a great option in certain situations that prevent brewing coffee fresh each day. Backpackers on the Appalachian trail might not be able to carry the Mister Coffee with them on their hike, and astronauts might have trouble getting a French press to work. Instant coffee is a simple, quick, lightweight option in those situations and countless others.

While coffee crystals are the most popular form of instant coffee, we prefer our solution: Single serving brew bags! Rather than rehydrating someone’s old, stale coffee, we can make a fresh cup by simply adding hot water to a teabag-style pouch of our coffee blends. The biodegradable bag acts as its own brewer and filter, making it a perfect way to make fresh coffee on the go. Unlike coffee crystals, which need to be stored in a container, our single serve brew bags are simple to store and can be thrown into a backpack pocket or purse until they’re ready to be enjoyed at work or on the trail.

What makes a brew bag different from crystals?

Our single cup brew bags are similar to coffee crystals in that the only thing you need to enjoy a cup of coffee is hot water. The difference is that these brew bags contain real, freshly ground coffee with all of its goodness intact. Rather than a pre-brewed, freeze-dried, dehydrated concoction, we offer real coffee that you can brew yourself. That means you get the full benefit of the array of delicate flavor compounds that are lost in coffee crystals.

While coffee crystals simply dissolve in water, our brew bags steep in 8-10 ounces of hot water for approximately 1-2 minutes or until your desired strength of brew is achieved. Once your brew is finished, you can toss your brew bag into the garbage or compost pile and enjoy a perfect cup of black coffee.

We offer two of our signature blends in brew bags. Bonafido is a South American coffee with notes of chocolate and dark fruit. Our Roll Over breakfast blend originates from Peru and features notes of nuts, maple, and milk chocolate. It is a perfect cup of coffee to enjoy at the breakfast table.

Embrace instant coffee, but ditch the crystals

The time of bad instant coffee is behind, and the era of good instant coffee is ahead! Now that we have options for freshly brewed coffee that are enjoyable anywhere, we’re not sure there is any reason to keep drinking coffee crystals. They had their place once, but with our single serve brew bags, we think their place is in the past. With brew bags, there is always a time and place for great coffee.