Starting in 1965, Nestlé introduced ‘freeze-dried’ coffee, or better known as instant coffee. This evolved into Starbucks eventually bringing its own version with having micro doses ready to brew per cup. If you read last week’s post on buzzwords, this would follow the first and second wave.
Instant coffee is huge, especially with the rise of the Keurig and Nespresso, where coffee is maybe altered to be made…tastier? However, I don’t personally think it will ever beat a fresh cup of specialty coffee, and how can it? Typically the starting product is quite a bit cheaper for production sake and lower in quality to contain that ‘instant-ness’ and when at a hotel, airport, even camping, something anything that resembles anything close to coffee can get the job done.
Now, does that mean it has to be bad? Around 2016, specialty coffee roasters started to tackle this inquiry and now a few companies and roasters who are actually working quite hard to continue innovating this process.
First off, what is instant coffee? Fresh Cup defines this simply as “instant coffee is brewed coffee that is dehydrated into crystals. When you’re ready to be caffeinated, just add water, hot or cold, and it is instantly ready to drink.” Side note; I think the phrase “when you’re ready to be caffeinated” stems from the original purpose of instant coffee, now though I would like to think it falls within “when you’re ready to enjoy a cup of coffee”
Freeze-drying would seem to be the most effective approach, while more expensive it does do more to hold onto the origin of the coffee and preserving a fresh cup to the best of its ability. Though, this doesn’t side step the huge impact that the quality of the coffee and the tech used in this process.
Instant Specialty Coffee
Specialty coffee can sometimes flirt with the line of elitism. There’s so much that goes into understanding and making a wonderful experience, but it’s important to focus that this experience can be made for everyone at their own leisure in whatever method. I had a conversation the other day on this when it came to spending a hefty amount on a cup of a feature Geisha at a café, and I quite like the comparison that was used: that unless you are truly invested in wine tasting, you probably will ‘settle’ with what that above par and quite tasty bottle rather than the $150 luxury bottle (or however much that would look like, there’s a reason I’m in coffee, haha). Basically, you can enjoy coffee in this area where it’s not the bare minimum, but also in a way that doesn’t break that idea of this affordable luxury we’ve come to know.
Specialty roasters have taken this approach in creating something of quality that can be used instantly. Kent Sheridan, found of Voila Coffee in Oregon states “I think it deserves to be frowned upon, because of what companies do to cut costs and make the cheapest product possible… They use really low-quality coffee to begin with, then use technology and a process that doesn’t really represent that coffee at all. In fact, it’s supposed to cover up the defects”.
Whether you’re unwavering from a traditional cup of coffee or no, this idea of specialty instant coffee reaches a whole new community of people who can discover specialty coffee through a different outlet. This is an intended experience that makes it all the way to the cup of a home brewer rather than just to the shelf pre-purchase. There’s little control (not that there needs to be) once coffee hits the shelf and is purchased by a consumer and the prepared at home. There’s a little more room for trial and error, which I really encourage to get comfortable with your process, but in times of busy, and hotels, airports, outdoors, and convenience, there is still an option to enjoy something traceable, sustainable, and of high-quality without the sacrifice.
My personal experience with specialty instant coffee was through Lüna, and their Voilá et Lüna. Luna roasts very light and showcases high acidity within their light & fruity coffees. To be expected, the one thing that lacks from instant coffee is the aroma. James Hoffman also touches on this in his specialty instant coffee review. Aroma is very delicate, and no matter what, once a coffee is ground the scent thrives and then dissipates. The taste though! Not only did it replicate a fresh cup of filtered coffee very well, but it held a lot of its brighter tasting notes which was super impressive. My latest reminder of typical instant coffee was during a camping trip and someone had packed it along. I can’t say I’m above it at all, especially before a long day of running around the mountains, but it truly is at that point a cup of warm brown. It’s not horrible, but it is flat if that were to make sense. So, I’m really excited to see the progression of instant coffee and while it won’t be replacing my routine, I am overall really impressed and happy to have the option.