You are not the only one who has found himself caught in the instant coffee vs ground coffee dilemma. Both are great for their intended purpose but they certainly don’t taste or smell the same.
Both instant and ground coffee comes from the same ingredient – coffee beans. They have almost similar nutritional value. So the key difference is mainly in the taste and caffeine content. Allow me to elaborate.
Are you ready to learn about the differences between instant and ground coffee?
What Is Instant Coffee?
There have been a lot of conjectures about what instant coffee really is. No, it’s not finely ground coffee beans. If you look closely, instant coffee isn’t exactly a fine powder. It rather looks like small crystallized granules.
The process of making instant coffee involves a lot of steps but I’m going to skip a few to keep it simple.
So, it starts with the usual – plucking the ripe coffee cherry. Each cherry contains a bean. After removing the skin and pulp, we are left with green-colored coffee beans.
These beans have paper-thin skin. After thoroughly drying the green coffee beans, the skin is then removed.
Now comes the second step – roasting.
Dried and skinned green coffee beans are sent to a roastery where the beans are roasted to a certain degree. Roasting is what gives coffee beans that dark brown color and enigmatic aroma.
After roasting, the beans are ground and brewed to create a very highly concentrated coffee liquid. All the flavor and aromatic compounds of coffee are present in this concentration at this stage.
In the next step, the concentrated liquid is dehydrated in a huge vessel, leaving behind soluble crystallized granules. These granules are your instant coffee. Freeze drying and spray drying are other popular methods of producing instant coffee.
What Kind of Beans Are Used in Instant Coffee?
Generally, robusta beans are used for making instant coffee. It’s primarily because the dehydration process takes away a lot of caffeine from the beans.
Robusta beans have higher caffeine content. To mitigate the caffeine loss, instant coffee manufacturers select robusta bens.
Robusta beans are of inferior quality compared to arabica beans. This explains the flat taste and bitter taste coffee purists associate with instant coffee. Those who have been drinking pure arabica coffee all their lives will find it hard to glug a cup of pure robusta coffee.
Is Instant Coffee a Real Coffee?
Technically, yes. It’s a pre-processed, water-soluble form of freshly plucked and roasted coffee beans. Due to the bad rap of robusta beans, many instant coffee brands have been switching to high-quality pure arabica beans.
Although still not nearly as full-bodied and flavorful as freshly ground coffee, arabica instant coffee makes a decent cup of java. It’s an acceptable trade-off for convenience.
What’s Ground Coffee?
Ground coffee is coffee in its purest form. It’s just freshly plucked and roasted coffee ground to different sizes. The only processing part involved before packaging is roasting.
Roasting has an extremely important role to play in determining the quality of ground coffee.
While roasting, the natural sugar and amino acids present in the beans go through a chain of chemical reactions. These reactions help to produce the characteristic flavor profile of coffee.
Ground coffee, unlike instant coffee, is not soluble. The flavor and aromatic compounds of the beans remain fresh in ground coffee. That’s precisely why freshly brewed coffee taste and smell the way they do.
Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee – Main Difference
Some of us need the buzz of caffeine to get us through a long, exhaustive day of work. As stated before, robusta beans are naturally high in caffeine, compared to arabica beans.
But the freeze-drying and dehydration cause moderate caffeine loss during the manufacturing process.
Caffeine in Instant Coffee
One 8 oz. or 236 ml cup of instant coffee contains 62 mg of caffeine.
Caffeine in Ground Coffee
A single arabica coffee bean has about 1.9% or 19 mg caffeine per gram. Robusta means have almost double the amount of caffeine compared to arabica.
One single robusta bean has about 2.9% caffeine or 29 mg per gram. This was just an estimate to give you a rough idea. Accurately measuring caffeine in ground coffee isn’t that straightforward.
Caffeine measurements get a bit tricky when it comes to ground coffee. That’s because the same volume of coffee grounds can have different weights, depending on the density of the grounds.
Density is determined by the degree of roasting.
Simply put, the darker the roast, the lighter the weight.
This means when you measure your coffee dose by weight, you will need a higher amount of dark roasted ground coffee to brew a cup. If you use a lighter roast, you’ll need less.
Ergo, a cup of dark roasted brew has more caffeine per cup compared to light or medium roast.
#2: Brewing Methods of Instant Coffee and Ground Coffee
For Instant Coffee
One of the biggest differences between ground coffee and instant coffee lies in the way they are brewed.
Instant coffee is made for convenience. To brew yourself a cup, all you have to do is add a spoonful of it in a cup of hot water and stir. You can add sugar and milk if you want. That’s it.
Instant coffee is a staple in places where meticulously brewing fresh coffee isn’t an option, such as International Space Station. You will see coffee vending machines in offices all over the world.
For Ground Coffee
There are several ways to make fresh coffee. The required time and effectiveness of the extraction depend on a lot of factors.
From simple automatic drip coffee machines to complex, high-end espresso machines- the options are aplenty.
Making cold brew from the scratch doesn’t require any special equipment. But we will have to let the ground coffee steep in room temperature water for 8-15 hours.
Brewing ground coffee in a pour-over coffee maker or auto-drip coffee maker is by far the easiest and quickest method of brewing ground coffee.
#3: Cost of Ground Coffee and Instant Coffee
Instant coffee is a very economical way of making coffee. The average cost of one cup of instant coffee is $0.7. On the other hand, the cost per cup of drip coffee is around $2.15.
Gourmet coffee shops can charge as high as $4.24 for a cup of brewed coffee. The expense of running high-end equipment and the skill involved in making a perfect cup heavily influence the price of your coffee.
#4: Flavor and Taste of Instant vs Ground Coffee
High-quality, freshly roasted arabica beans, when brewed to perfection, yield a full-bodied, aromatic, flavorful decoction. Mixing robusta beans with arabica in an 80:20 ratio has been a standard practice for decades.
According to many ace baristas, mixing a small amount of robusta to arabica beans adds more body to the brew.
More often than not, instant coffee tastes a bit flat worsened by a bitter aftertaste. However, some new varieties made from pure arabica retain a lot of the original flavor and aroma of the fresh bean.
#5: What about Health Benefits?
In terms of nutritional value, instant coffee is nearly identical to ground coffee. The latter contains a slightly higher amount of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
However, the level of caffeine and potassium is noticeably higher in ground coffee than in instant coffee.
#6: Waste from Instant Coffee and Ground Coffee
Instant coffee is completely soluble in water. So coffee geeks can sneer at it all they want. It won’t change the fact that instant coffee is the most eco-friendly way to satiate your caffeine cravings.
Ever wondered what happens to coffee grounds after they are dumped in the landfill? The decomposition of ground coffee produces methane gas which is a greenhouse has.
It is notorious for contributing to global warming. Certain flavor compounds and oils present in coffee grounds are highly acidic. These can damage the surrounding soil in the landfill.
Most Popular Instant Coffee in the US
For the times when all you need is a quick caffeine fix, instant coffee is your best bet. There are a couple of decent brands worth checking out if you are tired of drinking flat-tasting coffee.
In my personal opinion, this is the finest instant coffee available today. It’s the closest an instant coffee gets to freshly brewed coffee. It has an intense aroma and you can also taste some of the complex notes when you drink it black.
Great for that extra kick in the morning. A cup gets ready in an instant (obviously) and a little splash of milk beautifully evens out the brew.
On the downside, it’s not the best option for iced coffee as the granules are quite thick. So you will need hot water to fully dissolve them.
Enjoy a no-fuss, steaming hot cup of coffee while camping or during a never-ending board meeting with Starbucks VIA Instant. It’s smooth, has a heady aroma, and no bitter aftertaste.
Most Popular Ground Coffee in the US
When it comes to ground coffee, my top recommendations would be:
Like your coffee strong, without added creamer and sugar? This medium roast coffee could be exactly what you are looking for. This coffee checks off all the boxes and has an attractive price tag on it. I’d call it a sweet deal!
If you are a fan of flavored coffee and don’t want to spend much, New England coffee should be on your grocery list. There are tons of flavors to choose from and it works well for both hot and cold brews.
It’s an arabica chicory blend. The chicory adds more body to the brew and cuts the harshness This results in a pleasantly smooth, deeply flavorful cup of java.