Simply put, instant coffee is dehydrated coffee crystals that dissolve when mixed with water - providing an easy, convenient solution for those needing a quick caffeine fix. Yes, these coffee crystals are made from actual coffee; coffee beans are roasted, ground and brewed before being dehydrated (using a freeze-drying or spray-drying process) to form long-lasting crystals or granules.
Interestingly, instant coffee contains slightly less caffeine than other types of coffee. While a cup of brewed coffee may contain ~100mg of caffeine, for example, a serving of instant coffee contains around 60mg. This is because instant coffee is made using coffee that has already been brewed (meaning that water has already been added to it in the production phase), and this results in a lower concentration of coffee in the final product, and therefore less caffeine. The dehydration process can also have an impact, as the high temperatures associated with spray-drying eliminate some of the caffeine content. This process also influences the taste of the coffee as it alters the chemicals in the beans, giving them a slightly more bitter or ‘burnt’ taste.
Freeze-drying can help preserve the original coffee flavour and avoid the chemical changes that high temperatures cause, however this is a more expensive dehydration process that many companies opt not to use. There are some ways to smoothe out the bitter taste when making your cup of instant coffee, one of which involves using bit of cold water to dissolve the coffee first, then topping it up with hot water. This reduces the level of acidity in the coffee, making it taste less bitter than if it were made using only hot water. Adding some cinnamon or cocoa powder can also bring in an element of flavour without overpowering the coffee taste, either of which can easily be added to the coffee crystals before adding water.
For anyone on-the-go or who spends a lot of time outdoors, instant coffee provides a quick, convenient way to enjoy the comforts of home in any environment. There is no need for any other equipment besides a reusable cup and some (hot or cold) water. If sealed properly, instant coffee can also last for years without losing its freshness, helping to reduce waste and making it a cost-effective option.