4 Key Differences Between Instant and Ground Coffee


There are a lot of different types of coffee. It can be tricky when two types of coffee look nearly identical. Instant coffee and ground coffee both look like ground-up coffee beans, so how are you supposed to tell the difference between them?

Ground coffee is simply coffee beans that have been ground into a fine enough texture to brew. On the other hand, instant coffee is coffee that has been brewed, concentrated, freeze-dried, and ground into a usable powder. Instead of brewing it again, you add it to hot water to rehydrate it.

So what are the benefits of instant coffee? How is it made? Does it taste as good as freshly-brewed coffee? These topics and more are covered in the rest of this article.

What Is Instant Coffee?

Instant coffee is a powdered substance that you can add to a hot cup of water. You’ll then almost instantly be rewarded by coffee, which is where its name comes from. 

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It’s a great way to make coffee no matter where you are, even with limited tools at your disposal.

Instant coffee is also called soluble coffee or coffee crystals. Sometimes, it’s even just called coffee powder. All of these are names for the same type of product. 

It was invented centuries ago, but the shelf-stable version we’re more familiar with now was invented in Japan in 1901. 

It is thought that it was created by Sartori Kato using the expertise gained by making instant tea.

Nescafé was one of the first brands to really popularize instant coffee, and it’s still available today. 

Instant coffee has been around for so long because of its convenience and portability. In fact, instant coffee is even available in space. 

Brands like Tim Horton’s have provided instant coffee to astronauts for consumption, and Death Wish Coffee provided instant coffee directly to the International Space Station for research and education.

How Is Instant Coffee Made?

Just like other types of coffee, instant coffee starts with coffee beans. The beans are roasted, then ground, then brewed, all just like other coffees. 

The only difference up to this point is that the coffee has already been brewed before it reaches you or your local coffee shop.

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Next, the coffee is concentrated. This is accomplished either by steeping for a long time or by letting much of the water evaporate or boil off. Finally, it’s dried using one of two methods.

Freeze Dried

For this method, coffee is concentrated even further, then cooled. Then, the coffee concentrate goes through a specially designed freezer that turns the liquid into frozen coffee sheets. 

These sheets are then broken into much smaller pieces and essentially vacuumed free of any remaining water.

Spray Dried

The opposite of freeze-drying, spray drying takes the coffee concentrate and sprays it into very, very hot air. 

This makes the water content evaporate, and the solid particles of dried coffee collect at the bottom of the heating gadget.

Both these methods turn the coffee into ground or powdered concentrate, ready to package and ship. 

Once it reaches you, it’s really easy to make this instant coffee into a cup of hot coffee! You’ll simply follow the directions on the packaging. 

This usually amounts to putting the instant coffee in a mug, adding hot water, stirring, and waiting about thirty seconds.

Is Instant Coffee Better Than Ground Coffee?

Whether instant coffee is better than ground coffee really depends on who you ask. It’s absolutely more convenient. 

As brewing methods allow for more portability in single-serve devices, this becomes less of a sticking point. 

However, instant coffee is cheaper and more attainable than acquiring and carrying around everything you need to brew fresh coffee.

So if instant coffee is so much more convenient, why doesn’t everyone drink it?

There are a few reasons discussed in further detail below, but in short, instant coffee rarely tastes as good as ground coffee, and instant coffee has a fair bit less caffeine.

One cup of instant coffee contains sixty to eighty milligrams of caffeine, where a ground or brewed coffee contains 60 to 120 milligrams of caffeine per cup

Ground Coffee Flavor VS Instant Coffee Flavor

The flavor is usually the biggest point of debate when it comes to instant coffee versus ground coffee. 

As much as instant coffee is concentrated before dehydration, the end result can still taste quite watered down compared to fresh coffee. 

This is partly because of the beans used since Robusta beans tend to have a less-desirable flavor. 

It’s also because rehydrated products, in general, often have that slightly watery taste.

For many, the convenience makes up for the difference in flavor. Some people can’t taste much difference at all. 

There are also ways to prepare instant coffee, such as in iced coffee, where the taste difference isn’t really noticeable.

Ground Coffee VS Instant Coffee: Overall Differences

Let’s look a little closer at some of the differences between ground coffee and instant coffee. Knowing the differences is a great way to choose the right coffee for you and your family.

Instant Coffee Dissolves In Liquids

The biggest difference is in function; instant coffee dissolves in hot water. Coffee grounds don’t dissolve like instant coffee. 

If you try to mix ground coffee into hot water, you might get coffee, but it will have all the grounds in it and won’t really be a good drink.

Ground Coffee Has More Caffeine

Ground coffee does have more caffeine than instant coffee. If you need a high caffeine content, then you’ll want ground coffee. 

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If your caffeine intake isn’t something you watch, or if you want to drink less caffeine, but the same amount of coffee, then instant coffee’s caffeine level is probably just fine.

Instant Coffee Is Usually Robusta

There are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica (from _Coffea arabica_) and Robusta (from Coffea robusta). 

Most coffee sold as beans or ground coffee is Arabica. People generally prefer the richer, smoother flavor of Arabica coffee. 

Robusta has some benefits, though, including being cheaper and easier to produce, as well as higher caffeine content.

Because a significant amount of caffeine is lost during the dehydration and rehydration processes of instant coffee, it’s good to use the Robusta beans with their higher starting caffeine content. 

Additionally, people who drink instant coffee aren’t usually as selective about the taste, so it makes sense to choose the cheaper beans to allow for a cheaper product.

What Does “Light Roast” and “Dark Roast” Mean?

Both ground coffee and instant coffee are available at different roasting levels. 

But what does it mean for a coffee to be a dark roast, light roast, or medium roast?

The type of roast describes how long and hot the bean was roasted. This does change the properties of the coffee quite a bit, and it’s helpful to know in what ways so that you can choose the best coffee for your tastes.

Light Roast

Light roast coffee beans are roasted for the least amount of time or to the lowest temperature. 

Light roast coffees have the most caffeine and the highest acidity also referred to as brightness. 

They also have the lightest flavor and tend to be a little more fruity or floral.

Dark Roast

At the other end of the spectrum are dark roasts, in which the coffee beans are roasted to a much higher temperature. 

This brings out the darker, chocolatey, smooth notes in the coffee beans. 

It also cooks out some of the caffeine, leaving dark roast beans with lower caffeine content.

Medium Roast

Medium roasts fall somewhere in the middle for temperature, caffeine content, and taste. They’re a great choice if you like the properties of both light and dark roasts. 

Strangely enough, they’re also a good choice if you _don’t_ like the properties of either dark roast or light roast. 

This is because medium roast coffee can contain both floral and chocolatey notes, is medium-bodied, and has a medium amount of caffeine.

What Instant Coffee Is Best for Dalgona?

Whipped coffee drinks aren’t new, but they were newly popularized and dubbed Dalgona coffee after a South Korean actor referenced Dalgona candy when ordering a whipped coffee. After this, “Dalgona coffee” went viral. 

It can be made using any instant coffee (not ground coffee!), but some instant coffee is better than others.

Dalgona coffee should be made with your favorite instant coffee. If you don’t know what instant coffee you like, Nescafé is a common choice; it’s easy to find, relatively tasty, and works well with the whipping process.

Why Can Instant Coffee Be Whipped?

Ground coffee doesn’t work for whipping, but instant coffee does. This is because of the drying process. 

Specifically, instant coffee is probably able to be whipped like this because it can dissolve fully into the hot water and because of shelf-stabilizing ingredients like soy lecithin.

Why Is Ground Coffee Cheaper Than Whole Roasted Beans?

Ground coffee has more done to it than whole beans, so it doesn’t seem to make sense that ground coffee is cheaper. However, whole beans tend to be of higher quality. 

The grinding process releases aromatics, so it’s more obvious to the consumer if the coffee is of good quality when they grind it at home, releasing the fragrant smells. 

Additionally, ground coffee allows sellers to use additives and fillers, making the coffee more shelf-stable but often negatively affecting the taste.

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