Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee: Is There a Difference?
Depending on where you live, this debate might never have crossed your mind. In the USA, regular coffee is the predominant brew, whereas, in Eastern Europe, the UK, and parts of Asia, instant coffee reigns supreme.
We outline the differences between these types of coffee and where to use them best.
Instant coffee vs regular coffee: the basics
The key to the difference here is in the name. Regular ground coffee is simply roasted beans that you grind in a grinder. Instant coffee is a soluble form of pre-brewed coffee. Instant coffee was invented to provide an “instant” alternative to the regular coffee brewing process.
Making a brew from ground coffee involves two things. First, getting the coffee out of the beans and into your cup (you do this in several different ways). This usually means adding hot water and either steeping, percolating, or adding pressure. There’s no heat involved in the case of cold brew, but there is an extended extraction time.
At the end of the process, you’ll have your liquid coffee and used grounds.
By contrast, instant coffee only requires the addition of water, with no extraction time. This is because it has already gone through the brewing process in the factory. Unlike ground coffee, instant coffee granules will dissolve completely once the water is added, with no waste product disposed of.
How is instant coffee made?
Instant coffee and ground coffee start with the same raw materials: green coffee beans. At the factory, they roast the beans in large batches, then ground them. This is where you would stop in the process of creating regular ground coffee. (If you want to know how coffee is made, we’ve written a complete guide).
The grounds are steeped to create giant vats of ground coffee. They then reduce this coffee to form a thick coffee concentrate. The moisture needs to be entirely removed from this concentrate to create a shelf-stable product.
The final drying process includes one of two ways: spray drying or freeze-drying. Freeze-drying retains more of the coffee’s natural taste and aroma, but it’s a more expensive and time-consuming process. For a full rundown on the science, check out our article on how instant coffee is made.
Comparing the taste
When it comes to instant coffee vs brewed coffee, there isn’t any comparison in terms of taste – regular coffee is undeniably better. Some people would even consider them to be different drinks.
It’s like orange squash and orange juice, they’re both called orange but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
One reason that instant coffee tastes bad is that it’s often made with Robusta beans. A considerable amount of caffeine is lost during the production process, and the naturally higher caffeine content of Robusta coffee helps to balance this out (1). Sadly, it’s to the detriment of the flavour.
In recent years, however, there has been a move towards improving the taste and quality of instant coffee, with gourmet, organic and fair-trade options.
When to use instant coffee vs coffee grounds
We want to say that without exception, you should be drinking regular ground coffee. But if you’re going camping or traveling, there’s nothing quite like the convenience of the freeze-dried stuff. Not to mention that it won’t go stale.
Beyond your daily brew, instant coffee comes into its own when you’re cooking. The soluble form means that you can add an instant coffee flavour boost to smoothies, cakes, or marinades without the extra liquid you’d get from adding brewed coffee.
Related: What is Coffee Powder?
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, we’re going to recommend the ground stuff every time. But if you opt for an instant, you’ll need to choose carefully (and maybe spend a little more) to get something worth waking up to.
Instant coffee can last up to 20 years, even after opening. However, any exposure to moisture might change the texture or even allow mold to grow (2).
- Marsh, S. (2020, December 02). Instant coffee vs ground coffee: Which is healthier? Retrieved from https://coach.nine.com.au/diet/instant-vs-ground-coffee-health-benefits/7fd0c0ca-f50d-4b4f-93c5-1d58c054a34a
- Does instant coffee Expire: Shelf life & STORAGE EXPLORED. (2020, November 17). Retrieved from https://wokelark.com/does-instant-coffee-expire-shelf-life/
- Dalgona coffee explained: The science behind why instant COFFEE FOAMS. (2020, November 23). Retrieved from https://blog.scienceborealis.ca/dalgona-coffee-explained-the-science-behind-why-instant-coffee-foams/
- Bjarnadottir, A. (2019, October 8). Instant Coffee: Good or Bad? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/instant-coffee-good-or-bad