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Is Instant Coffee Real Coffee? Ask Paul

And where does it come from? Instant beans?
By Published Nov. 9, 2022

Instant coffee powder looks very much like ground coffee beans, but the two are fundamentally different.

First, How Is Coffee Made?

About 30 percent of the weight of a coffee bean can be dissolved in hot water. That means, when the ground bean infuses with water, that soluble material—including caffeine; fruity acids; nutty carbohydrates; and brown melanoidins—starts to extract out of the bean and into the water.

Variables like time and temperature affect how much and which of the soluble compounds get extracted, which is why coffee making is an art and a science. And brewing coffee from beans leaves you with at least 70 percent insoluble spent grounds to dispose of. 

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Typical brewed coffee, the stuff we drink, is about 99 percent water, with those dissolved compounds making up the remaining 1 percent. If all the water evaporates, the dry remainder is essentially highly concentrated coffee. Just add water, and you’ll have coffee again. Not good coffee, but legitimate coffee.

How Is Instant Coffee Made?

That’s how instant coffee powder is made. It starts by brewing a large quantity of extra-strong coffee under pressure. That liquid is then rapidly dried at low temperature to preserve as much of its flavor as possible. (Often the most delicate flavor compounds are extracted separately first, then reincorporated into the final product.) The result is dry, powdery crystals of 100 percent soluble coffee.

Thats why espresso powder (a type of instant coffee thats often added to baked goods) is great mixed into batters and doughs, while adding gritty coffee grounds would be terrible.

The high-pressure, high-temperature brewing process pulls more carbohydrates out of the bean than classic home brewing does, which has a few consequences. 

  • First, by design, the presence of those extra carbs makes it easier to fully dry out the coffee into crystals, without stickiness; they are like added cornstarch, to help the powder flow freely, but they come from the bean itself. 
  • Second, they give instant coffee a little bit of its odd sweet flavor. 
  • And third, the carbohydrates encourage and stabilize foam, which is why instant coffee can be easily whipped to create dalgona coffee or Greek frappé.

Ask Paul Adams, senior science research editor, about culinary ambiguities, terms of art, and useful distinctions: paul@americastestkitchen.com

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.