Coffee is a timeless morning pick-me-up. It was widespread by the mid 1600s and still widely enjoyed today. Everyone has their own coffee preferences, often according to generation, like Gen Z’s obsession with cold brew and millennials with their k-cups. Many do still enjoy the traditional types, such as instant and ground coffee. You’ve probably seen huge tins of both on your aunt’s counter. But what’s the difference between instant coffee and regular coffee?
What is Instant Coffee?
The first big difference is what the types of coffee are. Ground coffee is just good ol’ fashion coffee beans that are brewed to create fresh, hot cups of coffee. This is the most traditional type of coffee, the original. Instant coffee is derived from ground coffee. However, it is beans that have already been brewed and dehydrated, then cut up into smaller portions. There are a lot of strong opinions on both sides about which is better.
There’s a huge argument about whether ground coffee or instant coffee have a better taste. Most coffee finatics in the US argue on the side of ground coffee. Ground coffee is often brewed from Arabica beans, which are a high-quality coffee bean rich in natural sugars and good fats. They are also known for having balanced acidity levels. These things all make ground coffee a little less bitter in taste.
Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the UK, and most of Africa prefer instant coffee to regular coffee. Instant coffee is typically made from Robusta beans, which are cheaper and don’t have all the same nutritional perks as Arabica. Robusta is much more bitter, causing instant coffee to typically have a more bitter taste to it when plain. However, instant coffee is usually mixed with powdered milk, sweeteners, and other added flavors. This can help to eliminate the bitterness.
There is a noticeable difference in taste, not just because of the beans used or the other elements added. When fresh coffee is turned into instant coffee mix, it loses a lot of essential oils. This can make the taste less strong, and again, more bitter. Instant coffee also dissolves in liquids, whereas ground coffee does not. This means you need to be very careful with how much water you add to your instant coffee. If you add too much, the flavor could be ruined entirely and the coffee will serve almost no purpose. It’s recommended to put a little bit less water in the coffee than the mix recommends. Ground coffee, no matter how small it is cut, will not dissolve to the water, and will instead sink to the bottom in time. This means that no matter how much water is added, the coffee beans will not be ruined. It’s also important to remember the brand of coffee will impact how good or bad it tastes for both ground and instant coffee.
Caffeine levels often differentiate between the two as well. While Robusta beans typically have double the caffeine levels of Arabica, a lot of that is lost in the first brew, before it becomes the instant coffee. The longer coffee beans sit in the water, the more caffeine is extracted. Since instant coffee has already gone through this step and is no longer coffee beans, the caffeine levels rely entirely on the manufacturer and how they make their instant coffee.
Ground coffee can have varying caffeine levels based on the maker’s methods. If they let the beans sit longer, there will be more caffeine in the coffee since the beans give more to the water. The ability to control this aspect of coffee makes a lot of people more attracted to ground coffee than instant coffee. However, there are some perks to having a consistent caffeine level provided by instant coffee. You know exactly what you’ll get each time you drink the coffee.
Lastly, there is a difference in the convenience of the two. To shorten this, instant coffee easily wins this category. Instant coffee has a much shorter brew time, is way cheaper, and is easy to use when baking. Ground coffee takes at least double the time of instant coffee to make. While regular coffee can also be used in baking, the shorter time that instant coffee takes to make makes it the bakers go-to. Some may argue the price is higher because the taste is better, but some people really don’t mind sacrificing a bit of taste to save a bit of money and time. Coffee is a compensatory product, people may sacrifice on quality if it means it is cheaper or more convenient.
So, what’s the difference between instant coffee and regular coffee?
There are so many differences between ground coffee and instant coffee. From taste to caffeine levels to how convenient they are, the two aren’t very similar. No one can definitively say which is better as it’s really up to personal preference. All that matters is that they both give us the extra energy we need to get us through the day.
Written by Alissa Buckley