Is It Time to Try Instant Coffee?

The new wave of instant is certainly not your grandma's Sanka.

instant coffee
Photo: Courtesy of Partners Coffee

Coffee snobs, beware: Everything you thought you knew about instant coffee is changing. Once demeaned as a lesser type of brew, instant coffee is stepping up in quality, flavor, and even trendy packaging, transforming what was formerly a last resort caffeination option into a go-to beverage. Acclaimed third wave coffee roasters like Partners Coffee, Joe Coffee, Intellegentsia, Waka Roasters, Verve Roasters and more are getting in on the instant coffee game, with each company offering several varietials and styles and you should probably start sipping along.

What Is Instant Coffee?

The concept has been around since the late 19th Century, when coffee was dried and then rehydrated at a later date. Since the 1960s, when freeze-drying became a culinary concept, instant coffee has remained pretty stagnant—dehydrated coffee that can be dissolved in hot water when it's ready to be consumed, like space food or dried formula.

How Are the New Instant Coffees Different?

Freeze drying is used to make today's top notch instant coffees, but the quality of beans and brew to be dehydrated is what distinguishes these coffee flakes.

"Our sustainably sourced Instant Coffee is first roasted and then brewed into a very strong, concentrated coffee utilizing only hot water, no chemicals or additives. Next, the coffee is frozen to sub-zero temperatures, and then placed in a chamber where it is slowly and gently dehydrated over the course of several days," explains Olivia Laskowski, marketing manager at Partners Coffee.

"The goal is ultimately to provide the same experience as when our coffee is brewed via traditional drip methods," Laskowski says. Freeze drying preserves up to 97 percent of the enzymatic activity, meaning flavor is maintained throughout the process. "This means that even though it is an instant coffee, you can still taste the flavor notes our coffees were originally developed to impart," she continues.

The biggest difference in these new instant coffees: Top notch beans. Rather than low grade beans that have a generic coffee flavor (or even flavor additives such as "vanilla" or "mocha"), this decade's instant coffees start with excellent whole beans, which have flavor nuances and tasting notes you may not experience, in say, a utility can of ground coffee beans.

Convenience Comes In Sachets Not Jars

Because instant coffee packets are single use, they also don't require opening a whole bag of beans, and can be tailored to whatever you're craving that day. Instant coffee company Get Supr offers both a hemp-infused and non-hemp-infused instant coffee, made with 100 percent single-origin Arabica beans known for their well-balanced, medium roast with citrus notes. The Good Ritual adds L-Theanine, a supplement found in green tea and mushrooms, to their instant to help cut down jitters and improve focus and energy. Cusa offers cold brew specific instant coffees, plus instant teas that can be whipped up on the run too—no tea bag required.

Naturally, instant coffee is convenient and perfect for travel, camping, or being outdoors, and the reality of modern life has brought coffee roasters and baristas to a new mindset: What if we need instant coffee at home? Similar putting together a meal kit, heating a frozen pizza, or cracking open a canned cocktail, instant coffee is now more of a convenience factor in our daily lives than maybe ever before. These new options aren't cheap but are priced comparably to the quality coffee they're made with, each packet in the $1-2 range. And with the office coffee pot largely a thing of the past, keeping a packet of instant coffee by your desk, on your dashboard, or ready to flick tear open in the morning is fast and practical.

And while instant coffee can merely be stirred into hot water (or shaken in a water bottle for an iced coffee experience), there is of course a barista-recommended way to prepare the brew. Partners Coffee education team recommends starting with 8 ounces of 200°F degree water (that's slightly less than boiling), stirring in the coffee packet and tailoring the beverage to your taste from there. You can add the coffee over a fresh cup of ice for a quick iced coffee, or even brew the instant coffee with less water, and add it to foamed milk to make a latte or cappuccino. Quick espresso martini? Baking a cake recipe that calls for a cup of coffee? The possibilities are endless.

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