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Instant Specialty Coffee? Why not?

Instant coffee played a major role in making coffee easily available for coffee drinkers. In fact, instant coffee was one of the major factors for the First Wave.

Instant coffee is consumed in every corner of the world and is an approximately USD 150 billion industry. Therefore, it is not a surprise when some coffee companies have tried to merge the ever-growing Specialty Coffee with instant coffee.

Instant coffee made from Specialty Coffee has been around for more than a few years. The concept is very simple - use Specialty green coffee, roast and extract coffee using Specialty Coffee standards then freeze dry to create instant Specialty Coffee. The fundamentals of this idea is sound as the low quality of the majority of instant coffee that's produced is due to inferior quality from seed to cup. The basic steps of producing instant coffee are the same as any brewed coffee; green coffee is roasted, ground, and extracted using water into a brewed liquid that is drinking. Instant coffee adds another step where the brewed liquid is dehydrated and made into powder form.

Since brewing coffee, even espresso, generally consists of over 90% water, removing the water through some form of evaporation leaves only the soluble solids behind which is in all essence what gives coffee its flavor. Adding this dry powder to water will recreate that brewed coffee. Therefore using the same quality standards for brewed coffee you would find at a Specialty Coffee cafe or at your home can, in theory, produce Instant Specialty Coffee. Combined with freeze drying instead of spray drying the evaporation method will also aid in maintaining the coffee flavors of the Specialty Coffee.

Spray-drying and freeze-drying at the two most commonly used methods for creating instant coffee. In the spray drying method, extremely hot gas is used to evaporate the water out of the coffee liquid as it's sprayed. The temperature of the gas can reach upwards of 250 degrees Celsius. In the freeze-drying method, the brewed liquid is frozen and then put into a low-pressure environment which effectively lowers the evaporation temperature of the water. Using this method water can be evaporated at around 40 degree Celsius. The freeze-drying method is better able to capture the good flavors of coffee.

One of the major reasons that Instant Specialty Coffee is not readily available is the cost. Green coffee sourcing, roasting, and brewing Specialty Coffee for instant coffee does not differ much from brewing large batches of Specialty Coffee for a cafe as is common in the US. But the equipment and process of freeze drying are extremely expensive. Since the volume of Specialty Coffee consumption is low, freeze-drying becomes very costly.

Secondly, even though the majority of the soluble solids in brewed coffee can be preserved through evaporation, a lot of aromatic compounds can be lost. As aroma plays a major role in how we perceive flavor, the overall flavor of the coffee could be greatly impacted.

Lastly, Specialty Coffee is about obtaining the best. Many times, the best will come at the price of convenience. Instant coffee at its core is about convenience and not quality. When the Specialty Coffee community constantly innovates for better ways to create a better cup of coffee, convenience needs to take the backseat. Instant coffee will always play a major role in the consumption of coffee throughout the world, but its place in Specialty Coffee will be no more than a footnote.

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