In this day of coffee elitism, the instant choice is not typically heralded. But that doesn’t mean instant coffee doesn’t have its fans ― many of our parents, for example, willingly drinks the stuff every single morning.
While instant coffee is a godsend in baking for its strong flavor, dry texture and ability to dissolve, most of us know that it tastes inferior to freshly ground beans. But how many of us know what it actually is? It’s been around for over a hundred years, so it might be time we all finally found out.
First, the obvious: instant coffee is in fact made from real coffee. Whole beans are roasted, ground and brewed before they start their journey to becoming instant. What makes coffee instant is when all the water is removed from the brewed product, leaving behind dehydrated crystals of coffee. To make it coffee again, you just add water.
There are two ways to make instant coffee: spray drying and freeze drying. Spray drying is achieved by spraying liquid coffee concentrate as a fine mist into very hot, dry air (we’re talking about 480 degrees F). When the coffee hits the ground, the water has been evaporated and it has dried into small, round crystals.
Freeze drying coffee involves a few steps. First, the coffee is cooked down into an extract. The coffee extract is chilled at about 20 degrees F into a coffee slushie. The coffee slushie is then further chilled on a belt, drum or tray to -40 degrees F until it forms slabs of coffee ice. The coffee ice is broken into granules. They’re then sent to a drying vacuum, where the ice vaporizes and leaves behind instant coffee granules.
Watch the video to see the freeze-drying process in action:
Even if you’re a pour-over-coffee kind of person, there’s no denying that this is some awesome technology. And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys a cup of instant now and again ― it does make great iced coffee, by the way ― you should know that not all brands are created equal. HuffPost Taste conducted a taste test to help you find the best instant options out there. Bottoms up!