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What Is Instant Coffee?

Amanda Norcross Amanda Norcross • June 23, 2021

What is instant coffee and how do you make it? Consider this your guide to all things instant coffee, an increasingly popular way to drink our favorite caffeinated beverage. 

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What Is Instant Coffee? 

Instant coffee is coffee that's brewed and then freeze-dried. Typically when we think of instant coffees, brands like Folgers, Maxwell House, and Chock Full o' Nuts come to mind. But there's a new generation of instant coffees making its debut. 

The Best Instant Coffee

Next-generation instant coffees that we've tried and recommend include: 

Swift Cup Coffee

Swift Cup Coffee specializes in high-quality, ethically sourced instant coffee, partnering with a bevy of roasters throughout the U.S. (including some of our own partners, such as Bluebeard and Olympia). Out of all the instant coffees we've tried, Swift Cup Coffee tastes the best and is comparable to a freshly roasted cup of coffee. We also like Coava Coffee Roasters' instant coffees, available as an add-on with any Bean Box purchase. Our 'Brew Your Own Adventure' pack includes two Coava SO Blends, two Coava Ethiopia Meaza Blends, and a Summer S'more espresso bark from Joe Chocolate Co. 

Steeped Coffees 

Some roasters offer steeped coffee, a form of instant coffee. While steeped coffee is good, you won't get the same flavor profile as traditional instant coffee.

How to Make Instant Coffee

Making instant coffee is simple and requires just two steps: 

  • Boil 10 ounces of hot water in a pot or kettle. The hotter the water, the better, as the heat allows the coffee particles to dissolve.  
  • Mix the water with the contents of your instant coffee packet (or, if using a larger bag, the recommended amount of coffee) and enjoy. 

Instant Coffee vs. Ground Coffee

The easiest way to explain the difference between instant coffee and ground coffee is this: instant coffee, combined with hot water, will dissolve in your cup; ground coffee will not. Ground coffee needs to be extracted via a traditional brew method, such as a drip coffee machine. If you try to pour ground coffee into a cup with hot water, the grounds will not dissolve.

Pros & Cons of Instant Coffee 

Pros of Instant Coffee

  • It's quick and easy to make.
  • Instant coffee has a long shelf life. 
  • It's perfect for travel, especially camping

Cons of Instant Coffee 

  • It can be made with low-quality coffee, but that's not the case with Swift Cup Coffee and Coava Coffee Roasters. 
  • As a result of low-quality coffee, it may have a flavor profile that's flat or bitter (though this isn't true for quality instant coffee).

Does Instant Coffee Have Caffeine?

You'll get roughly the same amount of caffeine in both instant and freshly roasted coffee, though instant coffee may have slightly less caffeine in it. 

Is Instant Coffee Bad for You? 

Some instant coffees may contain trace amounts of acrylamide, a proven carcinogen. This is because acrylamide is a natural byproduct of the roasting process. It occurs when sugars and an amino acid are heated during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, grilling, and baking.

"Whether or not a chemical is harmful in a consumption context involves the dose ingested," explains Andrea Paul, medical advisor at Illuminate Labs. "The dose makes the poison, and in this case, the dose is very low." 

If you're concerned, Paul advises drinking freshly roasted coffee, which is lower in the chemical. "But the amounts in either form of coffee are relatively negligible," she says.
"As with most things in life, the bad should always be weighed with the good," adds Dr. Mubashar Rehman, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Quaid-i-Azam University. "While acrylamide is present in instant coffee, there are also a number of health benefits associated with instant and regular coffee."

We want to help you make better coffee at home. Our recommendations are our own, and never sponsored. If you see something you love and buy it through our links, we may receive an affiliate commission (thanks for that!).