What is the difference between instant coffee and brewed coffee?

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, especially in the United States. Most people start their day with a cup of coffee. But there are many varieties of coffee, from the speedy instant coffee to several different types of brewed coffee.

There are several differences between instant and brewed coffee. Instant coffee:

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  • Takes less time to make
  • Is a form of concentrated coffee that has been hot-air dried or freeze-dried
  • Is often made with the robusta bean, not the arabica bean.

As a result of these differences, many people believe instant coffee tastes significantly different from, and is, in fact, inferior to brewed coffee. The truth of that claim, we will leave for the individual to decide—as it is largely a matter of taste. However, let’s delve into this discussion a little more and explore some of the nuances surrounding the differences between these coffees.

What Are the Differences Between Instant and Brewed Coffee?

Coffee is a popular drink across the globe and many people start their day with a fresh cup first thing in the morning. For that first cup and every following, a coffee drinker has a choice between instant coffee and brewed coffee.

Instant and brewed coffee are not the same.  The differences include:

  • Instant takes less time to make
  • Instant is made from a different process
  • Instant is often made with the robusta bean, not the arabica bean.

All of these differences influence the opinions people have of each type of coffee.

Time to Make Instant Coffee

Instant coffee can be made in just a few short minutes. All it needs is some boiling water. The coffee crystals dissolve when the water is added to them. From there it can be further flavored with milk, creamer, or whatever a person wishes.

Brewed forms of coffee often take much longer. Cold Brewed coffee, for example, can take as long as 18 hours. That’s a long time to wait, if you are in a hurry.

Be sure to take a look at some of our favorite instant coffee brands!

How Making Instant Coffee Affects Flavor

Instant coffee is made by first brewing a highly concentrated form of coffee. This is done by, first, roasting the beans, grinding them down, and brewing them into a potent dose. From there, the coffee is dehydrated using either a freeze-drying method or a hot air spray-drying method.

What remains from this is a collection of coffee crystals that can be transformed back into a cup of coffee by adding hot water. Whether the hot air-spraying method is used or the freeze-drying method is used, there is usually little difference in the final result.

However, these processes can result in the loss of some of the caffeine and some of the aroma of the coffee. As a result, many people view instant coffee as inferior to brewed coffee.

Robusta Beans and Arabica Beans

There are some exceptions, but most types of instant coffee are made with Robusta beans and many forms of brewed coffee are made with Arabica beans. As a general rule, Arabica beans are considered far superior to Robusta beans.

Of course, when it comes to flavor, other factors such as brewing methods and what-have-you come into play.

What Is Brewed Coffee?

Brewed coffee is simply the term used to describe any one of several different methods of turning a coffee bean into a cup of coffee. The coffee bean is first roasted and then prepared.

The methods of preparation for brewed coffee include the following:

  • French Press-this process involves steeping coffee beans in a carafe of water and then separating them with a plunger leaving only delicious coffee behind.
  • Cold Brew-this process involves brewing the coffee for 12 to 18 hours in water that is room temperature.
  • Drip-This process uses a filter and involves passing water over the beans to concoct a stronger brew.
  • Espresso-this process involves pressurizing hot water and forcing it through finely ground, compacted coffee beans.
  • Capsules - This is similar to Espresso but is meant to be prepared at home. Instead of an Espresso machine, a single packet of ground is used with hot water to prepare each cup.

Instant coffee is, generally, considered distinct from any of these methods because it just involves adding hot water.

What Are the Health Effects of Coffee?

In recent years, a number of positive health benefits have been attributed to coffee and its consumption. One or two negative effects have also been noted. However, none of these—either negative or positive--have been firmly established by scientists. More research is still needed.

However, we will include the following list of health effects for the reader’s edification:

  • Antioxidants: Coffee contains a large number of antioxidants which resist damage that is normally caused by free radicals. Because of the drying processes involved in its preparation, instant coffee has fewer antioxidants than brewed.
  • Chlorogenic Acids: Chlorogenic Acids are a type of antioxidant and they are believed to be responsible for most of coffee’s health benefits. They are believed to lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease. Again, instant coffee has fewer Chlorogenic Acids than brewed.
  • Flavonoids and Phenols: Instant coffee, depending upon how it is manufactured, often has a higher concentration of flavonoids and phenols than brewed coffee. As a result, it is thought to help blood pressure and blood sugar. It is even thought to reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
  • Acrylamide, A Toxic Compound: Instant coffee, generally, has higher levels of Acrylamide, a chemical believed to cause cancer in animals and possibly even nerve damage.
  • Caffeine: Instant coffee has lower levels of caffeine than brewed.

This is not a complete list of the health effects of coffee (either instant or brewed). It is merely some of the more common such effects.

Other Differences Between Instant Coffee and Brewed

The above discussion touches on a few of the more critical differences between brewed coffee and instant. Let’s hit on two more:

  • Price: Instant coffee is, generally, less expensive than brewed. Cup for cup, it won’t save you a lot of money until one considers the savings on tools and machinery that brewing requires and instant does not.
  • Taste: This is a largely subjective category, but most coffee drinkers do recognize a taste difference between instant and brewed coffee. Most such people prefer brewed over instant, although there are exceptions.

Most people prefer their coffee in a particular way. Some like instant for various reasons. Others like brewed for other reasons. Neither form of coffee is superior in an objective fashion. Preference, like many other things, is largely a matter of taste.

Can You Use Ground Coffee as Instant Coffee?

Although some varieties of instant coffee might look similar to brewed coffee grounds, they are not interchangeable. You cannot use instant coffee in lieu of ground coffee or vice versa. You just can’t. It won’t turn out well.

Instant coffee is designed to dissolve in water. Regular coffee grounds are not.

Brewed vs Instant Coffee - The Final Verdict

Although on an individual level the matter is subjective, the general consensus is that instant coffee is inferior to brewed coffee. Even if you agree with that assessment, you might want to disregard instant coffee entirely.

Due to the speed and ease of its preparation, it can make an excellent stand-in for brewed coffee if you are in a rush or somewhere distant from your usual source. It might be a good idea to keep a small tin around the house for just such emergencies.

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