When we are busy, rushing to leave the house early in the morning, a strong cup of coffee is all our body craves to wake up. While many of us use a coffee machine at home, others just need to mix a few spoonfuls of our favorite coffee blend into hot water. Queuing at our local coffee shops is also a routine for some people early in the morning, even when we are pressed for time. In fact, for a lot of people, the first cup of coffee in the morning has to be simply perfect!
Why the difference in coffee preference in people, have you stopped to think? Why are some people perfectly satisfied with drinking instant coffee from a sachet while others need their coffee to be special? What really is the difference between instant coffee we can buy in packs and jars, and coffee that has been freshly ground and prepared, i.e. artisan coffee?
Why are Instant Coffee so Popular?
Instant coffee brands are so widely popular mainly because of two reasons: convenience in preparation and affordability. Both these reasons are important for coffee drinkers who require regular and repeated doses of caffeine every day. Most instant coffee brands only require a few seconds to prepare, which is absolutely perfect for people on the run.
Instant coffees are also “soluble coffee”, because they instantly dissolve in boiling or mildly hot water.
Although the taste from instant coffee isn’t as special or as exotic as specialty coffee, they can be strong enough to give any avid coffee drinker the boost they need.
Surprisingly, instant coffee brands account for over 25% of coffee sold worldwide, and this is mostly because they are available everywhere, affordable and quick. Even coffee drinkers who prepare specialty and artisan coffee lovers are sometimes satisfied with the taste of instant coffee. As they come in convenient small jars, packets and sachets, instant coffee are easy to carry everywhere to prepare, even when you are camping, hiking, travelling or staying somewhere remote.
Compared to only a few years ago, instant coffee blends are now available in a number of flavors, strengths, aromas and added ingredients, making them more and more popular even among uncompromising coffee lovers.
What’s So Special About Artisan Coffee?
Unlike instant coffee, artisan coffees – or specialty coffees – are all about quality. Coffee lovers who prefer artisan coffee aren’t just paying a premium price for the caffeine boost, but also the quality of the roast.
When coffee growers take extra steps to make their beans more flavorful and special, artisan coffee is created. A lot of work goes into creating these special blends of coffee, including a meticulous selection of the beans, drying and milling the coffee beans, as well as roasting them into the finished product.
More than in regular households, artisan coffee beans are used in coffee shops and commercial cafes. Previously roasted coffee beans are ground into a fine powder and then boiled at the right temperature of hot water. These kinds of specialty or artisan coffee are usually much, much stronger than instant coffee and come with their very own taste and aroma, completely different from what instant coffee offers.
Specialty coffee is “special” because it is judged on a number of factors and must pass all of them.
For any coffee blend to be considered “artisan coffee”, the quality of the coffee beans need to be maintained from the farming process to the serving process, and all the steps in between. It is because of all these careful screening procedures that specialty coffee all around the world taste, smell, look and even feel different and better to coffee drinkers and coffee lovers.
How is Artisan Coffee Different from Instant Coffee?
Now, the same coffee beans can be used to make both artisan and instant coffee, so we can safely say that both these coffee types start out the same way. However, every coffee lover knows that there are heaps of difference between how the end result tastes and smells like, because the main difference lies in the processing.
Going back to the absolute beginning: raw and green coffee beans are picked from plants and roasted thoroughly. This is where the roasted coffee beans go through separate channels to become either instant coffee or specialty/artisan coffee.
Instant coffee is already brewed, whereas specialty coffee is still raw when it reaches the user. Coffee beans are roasted in various degrees to give them different tastes and aromas, and the roasted beans are ground into a fine form, almost powdered like in their appearance. To make these roasted and ground coffee powder into instant coffee, they are then dehydrated and stripped of all their water content. The next process is to dry the ground coffee powder by freezing them or by spraying liquid coffee concentrate over them in an extremely hot environment, sealing the flavor and the aroma inside the coffee powder. What’s left behind is actually a kind of coffee extract that’s instantly soluble in water, giving it the name “instant coffee”.
Since the process of converting coffee beans into instant coffee is long, scientific and extensive, instant coffee powder loses some of its original flavor in the production process.
On the other hand, specialty coffee can hardly be considered processed. Coffee beans are picked, cleaned and roasted, but that’s the entire production process for artisan or specialty coffee. Coffee beans are roasted in varying degrees to add variety in taste and aroma, and then instantly sealed in packets to be shipped and delivered, opened directly by a consumer or a barista. In the hands of the consumer or the maker, the roasted coffee beans are then freshly ground in a coffee grinder and then brewed in a commercial-grade coffee machine.
Since the coffee beans are completely fresh when they go into the coffee grinder, the coffee that is brewed is more aromatic and flavorful.
Instant coffee also happens to contain less caffeine than specialty coffee, as much of the caffeine extract is removed throughout the extended manufacturing process of brewing, dehydrating, freezing and spray-drying the coffee beans. In fact, the same amount of instant coffee will contain around half the caffeine of a specialty coffee, and won’t give the instant caffeine boost you might need – despite the name.
Is Artisan Coffee Better Than Instant Coffee?
Although it cannot be actually said that artisan coffee is, generally, better than all kinds of instant coffee, it’s also true that most instant coffee lacks the unique aroma and flavor of specialty coffee.
A true coffee lover might not be completely happy with the quality of instant coffee, even when it means ease of preparation, availability and affordability. Instant coffee is available almost everywhere in the world at a price everyone can afford, and doesn’t require the use of any coffee grinder or coffee machine. Although the aroma, texture, flavor and taste of instant coffee might not be as special as that of artisan coffee, it is still usually strong enough to give the drinker the caffeine boost they need.
However, even when made from extremely high-quality coffee beans, instant coffee will lose most of its flavor along the way, which will definitely be present when the same coffee beans are freshly ground and brewed by baristas and coffee drinkers. Therefore, in a way, it can be said that artisan or specialty coffees are indeed better than instant coffee when you are looking for that unique aroma and flavor, but at the same time, it will be more expensive and harder to find.