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The History About Instant Coffee

Aug 20, 2008
From a 20th century technological wonder, instant coffee has now descended to the pits of Monday morning despair. The popular accessibility of coffee and gourmet coffee makers of all shapes and sizes, not to mention major chains specializing in custom coffee drinks, has given us entirely different expectations about our regular brew.

What has kept instant coffee around ever since its first love affair with the mass market in the 1950s is its relatively cheaper cost, ease of use, long shelf life (though it must be kept dry), and especially its speed of preparation. However, the last three have been made somewhat irrelevant by the modern proliferation of fast-food coffee markets. Even McDonalds now has McCafe customized options, good strong brewed coffees served up at the rate of less than a minute per customer. How can instant coffee compete?

Worse in most peoples eyes is that instant coffees do have a distinctly different taste from anything brewed, along with a metallic aftertaste. In large part this is because the manufacturing process removes most soluble compounds from the raw coffee, and thus also most of the essential oils which both give coffee its flavor and cause it to lose that flavor over time. Additionally, since the best coffee beans are kept for brewing, instant coffee uses only the lowest quality beans. Many instant coffees can also taste watery, no matter how strong you try to make them. I suspect this is because no matter how long you mix, instant coffee rarely dissolves evenly.

One stopgap solution to many taste issues is to use hot milk instead of hot water, scalded to just below boiling temperature. Add a dash of vanilla extract or nutmeg and sugar to taste, and you can have something very close to a latte. More robust custom drinks are probably beyond the standard instant coffee even to imitate.

One possibility commonly overlooked in the instant department is the powdered, flavored instant coffees, available both in single serving size and small tins. I have never yet noticed the metallic aftertaste with any of these. The base taste comes much closer to the real thing than with standard instant coffees, but at a much cheaper price per serving. Again I find most of these taste much, much better when made with milk. The latte mixes already include powdered milk as one of their ingredients.

To my taste, nothing beats a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Still, instant coffees have their place, and will continue to hold that place for some time to come.
About the Author
Before buying a coffee maker,check out the award winning Presso at Presso America. Focusing on the area of coffee makers, and espresso makers, Anthony Sastre writes articles for Presso America
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