I get it not all of us have enough time in the morning to carefully grind whole coffee beans and painstakingly prepare a Hario V60 or any other pour-over coffee brewer. This is why instant coffee is so popular, for those of us that need to grab a cup and run the door.
In fact, the statistics speak for themselves with almost 50% of the world’s population preferring instant coffee instead of freshly brewed coffee, according to a 2014 Euromonitor report.
As much as it pains me to say it instant coffee is as popular as ever. But, is instant coffee better? Which type of coffee should you be drinking?
These are just some of the answers you will discover after reading through this instant versus freshly ground coffee showdown; I mean, brewdown!
Is Instant Coffee Real Coffee?
If you’re wondering if instant is real coffee, the short and sweet answer is yes. Instant coffee actually starts its life as regular brewed coffee. Fresh whole coffee beans are roasted, ground, and then brewed before they start their journey to becoming instant.
In this article, I won’t go into the full ins-and-outs of how instant coffee is made as I have already covered that in detail over on this instant coffee article.
Is Regular Brewed Coffee Better?
Well that is subjective. I prefer brewed coffee made from freshly ground coffee beans whereas you might prefer a quick cup of instant coffee.
However, for argument sake, I wouldn’t say that one type of coffee is better than the other. But when it comes down to taste, caffeine content, and flavorsome oils, regular ground coffee is the clear winner.
Because instant coffee is processed using freeze-drying methods a lot of the freshness and flavor are lost. In essence, the coffee has already been brewed before you brew it; you could say it’s “double brewed coffee.”
There’s also the possibility that instant coffee retains fewer antioxidants when compared to freshly ground.
Brewing Differences Between Instant Coffee and Freshly Ground
Apart from stating the obvious, that instant coffee is .. well, instant and regular brewed coffee has to be .. brewed.
There is a little more to it than that.
Instant coffee is a lot easier than ground coffee. Simply add some instant coffee granules to your cup, add hot water, giver a quick stir, and you’re all set.
Going down the route of brewing coffee from a whole roasted bean is a little bit more tasking, but all of the extra effort does make for a great-tasting cup.
First, you obviously need to grind the coffee, and then brew it using one of many popular pour-over coffee makers or automated machines, and then once done, dispose of the leftover coffee grounds.
One of the advantages of grinding your coffee is that you have a lot of room for experimentation. You can play around with various grind sizes, water:coffee ratios, varying water temperatures, and you can have fun using any coffee brewing device available to you to create their perfect cup of coffee.
Do you enjoy a full-bodied coffee that packs your mouth with flavor? – go grab an AeroPress or try using a French Press.
Are your coffee beans overly bitter and you want to accentuate sweetness or acidity instead? Try shortening the extraction and use a coarser coffee grind setting, a slighty quicker brew time, or slightly more lukewarm water. You have so much control over how your ground coffee is brewed.
Instant coffee is generally the same across the board when it comes to taste. Sure there are some awesome new generation instant coffee companies that are definitely pushing the envelope with their coffee products – such as Sudden coffee.
But typically you’re not going to be thrilled with a cup of instant versus a cup of freshly brewed ground coffee.
So Who Wins?
I’m sure you can already see where I am going with this, it’s obvious I’m already leaning towards fresh ground coffee as the clear winner, but all is not yet lost for instant coffee.
Let’s take a closer look at some critical elements of each type of coffee; you never now Instant coffee might pull ahead and take the lead in this showdown.
Convenience and Cost
Okay, there’s no denying that instant coffee is typically cheaper per cup and I would say it’s more convenient; after all, you simply have to boil a kettle!
Even though instant coffee is cheaper, does that mean it’s going to be better value for your money? Well, only you can answer that – do you value convenience, flavor, and aroma over price?
The Flavor and Coffee Quality
Fresh ground whole coffee beans are the winner here.
When we talk about the quality, the coffee beans are going to be the deciding factor over anything else. Instant coffee is cheap, and to keep the costs down manufacturers of instant tend to use low-quality Robusta coffee which is a more bitter and harsher-tasting species.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that coffee does deteriorate and lose flavor over time. Coffee traders refer to this a “past crop coffee” which basically means beans harvested the year before that have faded flavors and aromas.
As you can imagine, these stale beans are not highly sort-after and are sold at significantly cheaper rates. With the tempting low cut price, these older coffee beans often find their way into instant coffee.
Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to make instant coffee from top quality fresh coffee beans, but in reality, many popular brands produce their instant coffee as cheaply as possible.
Aroma and Flavor Compounds
Part of the ritual of enjoying a cup of coffee is the aroma, and nothing beats the smell of fresh ground coffee slowly dripping through a Chemex.
Unfortunately, a lot of these beautiful aroma compounds are lost in instant coffee. The most potent aromas are always produced when the hot water hits and reacts with the fresh ground coffee.
Because instant coffee is freeze-dried at that specific instance a lot of flavor compounds and aromas are lost in that moment – poof, gone! And, that “moment” could be months or even years before it even reaches your cup.
Seeing as aroma is responsible for a major portion of the flavor of your coffee, any loss, however small, is going to have an impact on your final cup of coffee.
Health Implications and the Environment
Despite the rumors that make the rounds every so often saying that instant coffee will give you cancer, there is no solid proof that these claims are justified. There is no solid evidence that instant coffee is any better or worse for you than regular ground coffee.
Obviously, if you load up your cup with artificial sweeteners or other lab-created creamers or additives that some instant coffee brands love to add to their sachets, you are definitely taking the unhealthy route.
When it comes to the environment with is better – instant coffee or ground coffee? You may be surprised to discover that instant coffee is the better option if the overall environmental impact is your only goal.
We all tend to think that if something is processed, it is more harmful to the environment. However, with instant coffee having a much lower ratio of packaging to the actual amount of coffees brewed, and the processed coffee grounds disposed of by correctly by large-scale factories, instant coffee is actually greener in comparison to regular ground coffee.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do your bit for the environment if you prefer freshly ground coffee. Proper waste disposal, recycling and reusing coffee grounds, and using real coffee cups instead of disposables, are just a few areas that all of us could improve on.
So which is better instant coffee of ground coffee? Simply put, if you want the best experience with more flavors and aromas in your coffee, you should buy whole beans and grind your coffee. Instant is okay, it has its place, but if you really love coffee you deserve the best – you’re not going to get that with instant.