Soluble coffee, also commonly called instant coffee or in powder, is a mixture of roasted coffee and hot water or milk. Mixing creates the final drink
Unlike other methods, in which raw coffee is roasted, ground and then extracted, soluble coffee is obtained following more complex industrial processes, including freeze-drying and atomization.
In this article we will discover how soluble coffee is produced, if it can be of quality or not and finally if it is bad or good.
A bit of history
The ancestor of instant coffee was created for the army during the American Civil War and consisted of a concentrated mixture of coffee, milk and sugar, mixed with hot water. The consistency of the tile was reminiscent of board grease… from here you can guess that perhaps it was not very popular among the troops.
The first real instant coffee was instead patented in 1881, by the Frenchman Alphonse Allais, which was followed by other patents, respectively in 1890 and 1901, to then arrive at the definitive one by Constant Louis Washington in 1909.
He then opened his first production plant the following year, but success was reached with the launch of the Nescafè brand in 1938, a leading in soluble coffee to this day.
How is soluble coffee produced?
The green coffee beans are first roasted to create the aromatic profile, enhancing the natural characteristics of the beans and above all eliminating almost all the water contained in them.
Roasted beans are thereafter ground very very finely.
Up to now the process is very similar to any other method of preparing the coffee drink.
At this point the drink is extracted: the water under pressure and at a temperature of 175° C extracts the soluble and volatile content from the ground coffee, creating a very concentrated final cup, also given by the evaporation of the water at very high temperatures and by the addition of additives.
At this point the water is removed from the drink, through sublimation, that is the process allowing water to pass from ice to steam, without passing through the liquid state.
Hence the name Lyophilization or also freeze drying.
- The coffee extract is frozen very quickly, in order not to risk creating ice crystals or alterations in the coffee, and then broken up into small granules;
- The granules are sieved and divided by size;
- Now they are placed in the drying chamber, in which a vacuum is created, the strength of which contributes to speeding up the drying process and improving the quality of the product;
- The chamber is then heated to create condensation: the frozen water in the granules expands up to ten times, overheating and creating condensation by sublimation. It is now possible to remove the water vapor from the chamber;
- The freeze-dried coffee grains are packaged.
As an alternative to freeze-drying there is also spray drying.
It is a less expensive and faster production process, which however always requires starting from the extracted and concentrated beverage.
In this method, atomization nozzles: wheels, turning at a speed of about 20,000 rpm, spray the nebulized drink inside huge cylinders crossed by hot air flows, around 250 ° C. In this way the nebulized drops are deposited on the ground without the aqueous part, thus obtaining a powder.
On the other hand, however, this method makes the coffee particles very fine and therefore more difficult to consume. To produce a particulate of adequate size, it must first be steam melted, creating agglomerations.
In short, many complicated words to say that producing instant coffee requires time, adequate machinery and sophisticated methods, all to carry out further processing of the coffee before being consumed by the end customer.
The coffee format was created to speed up the preparation phase of the drink within the home and thus adapt to modern and hectic lifestyles.
How is soluble coffee prepared?
As we all know, preparing instant coffee is really very simple: just dissolve a certain amount of granules in hot water or milk and mix.
Just a little tip: use bottled water or filtered water.
Water, as you can guess, is a fundamental component of the final drink, and, as with all coffees, if you use treated water or too rich in mineral salts, the taste of the extracted coffee will be more bitter and less pleasant.
Is instant coffee bad for you?
The most discussed topic when it comes to instant coffee is: is it bad or not?
These fears are partly grounded on the presence of a substance called Acrylamide, which can cause damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, as well as being responsible for some cancers.
However, it is present in many foods that we ingest, as it is formed when the starch contained is exposed to temperatures above 120 ° C.
“Normal” roasted coffee must in fact be subjected to analysis to check that the Acrylamide is lower than the limits imposed by the European Regulation, under penalty of non-saleability of the lot.
It is usually present for about 13 pbb (parts per billion), while in instant coffee the content is between 170-500 pbb. Although in the second case the Acrylamide is much higher, it is still a very small amount, consequently easily assimilated by our body.
While if we talk about caffeine, it is contained in lower quantities in soluble coffee than in roasted and ground coffee. In fact, in espresso coffee it is between 50-80 mg, in mocha between 100-120 mg, while in soluble coffee it does not exceed 30 mg.
It is therefore not suitable if you are looking for a nice energizing charge for the morning awakening.
Is instant coffee “really” coffee?
This is a question that I have often asked myself: to understand the real and concrete quality of soluble coffee in correlation with a coffee selected, roasted and ground ad hoc for a specific extraction.
The answer is one: no, soluble coffee will never reach the quality of a “normal” coffee.
This is due to a series of factors that we now list:
It undergoes an extra manufacturing process, so it is a more refined product.
Furthermore, additives are added during production, both to improve the taste, color and aroma, but also to preserve the fragrance for a longer time.
It is quite clear that a good and prepared in a workmanlike manner coffee does not need any additives and it is much better respected by a less complicated process. If you need to add additives, it means that quality is lost during its processing, which must be simulated by adding other substances.
If a coffee is Specialty, or in any case of high quality, no farmer, importer or roaster would use it for these processes.
It would be a sacrilege and above all a waste to use beans so perfect and exciting in taste, rich in aromatic nuances, precious, perfect in shape, size, color and density, and then ruining them to make them instant coffee.
It is in fact made up of waste coffee from large industrial plantations, and sold at a very economical price, to allow costs to be kept low.
Raw coffees from € 10.00 / € 30.00 per kg are certainly not selected.
You have no control over the extraction phase.
As we have seen before, the only control you have is on the choice of water and the amount of instant coffee to use. Two fundamental variables but not sufficient to obtain a quality cup.
The coffees to choose from are in fact limited and of lower quality. Single origins or blends cannot be selected. It is not possible to control the extraction time, the grinding and pressure used, the water flow and so on.