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Instant Coffee

Wednesday, 19 January 2011 | Tags: ,

When it comes to coffee, "instant" is often considered a dirty word to many North Americans. However, instant coffee is still true-brewed coffee, and many countries, including Croatia (where Kristina is from), drink it up daily as a preferred choice.

The Basics

  • Instant coffee is just regularly-brewed coffee with nearly all the water removed. When hot water is added, it rehydrates the crystals to create a fresh cup.

  • To produce instant coffee crystals, brewed coffee is either freeze-dried or spray-dried.

    • The freeze-drying method preserves the most flavour but is more complicated. The coffee sits, allowing the water to evaporate naturally and leaving a concentrated coffee solution. It is then frozen to around -40 C and the remaining water is removed, leaving dry crystals of coffee.

    • Spray-drying also starts with allowing water to evaporate. The concentrated coffee is then sprayed from a high tower in a hot air chamber to evaporates any remaining water, and dried crystals collect at the bottom. The high temperature can affect the oils in the coffee, which can lead to a loss of flavour.

  • Even if you don’t care for instant brew, instant coffee is useful for adding a tasty touch to other drinks, cooking, and baking.

  • Instant coffee is also handy to take camping, or if you’re planning to travel somewhere that drip coffee isn’t readily available. It’s also great if you just want a quick cup, or to make an iced coffee drink.

Shopping Tips

  • There are many brands available, but if you’re used to drip-brew, go with a well-known brand that also makes regular coffee.

  • For the truest coffee flavour, go with freeze-dried coffee, since spray-dried can suffer a loss in taste.

  • There are many choices of flavoured instant coffees available, such as vanilla, hazelnut, Irish cream, and chocolate. Or you can add your own flavour with a dash of cardamom, nutmeg, cocoa, or cinnamon.

  • Try several brands as the taste can vary widely. This may be one case where you get what you pay for, so be prepared to buy higher-priced product for the best flavour.

  • Look for labels such as “100% Arabica Beans”, “Fair Trade”, or “Organically-Grown” for a better tasting coffee.

  • For exceptional flavour, look for “micro grind” on the label. It may be more expensive because it means actual ground coffee has been blended with the freeze-dried crystals in order to preserve its essential oils and flavour.

Other Considerations

  • If you enjoy milk in your coffee, boil it first instead of adding it cold.

  • If kept well-sealed and dry, instant coffee has a long shelf life. Exposed to air, instant coffee can degrade in flavour, so it’s best to use within 4-6 weeks of opening.

TEST CRITERIA

To find out which coffee stirs up the most votes, we went to a taxi stand and asked 100 drivers to taste test our products. We tested:

  • Starbucks Via Ready Brew (medium-roast, microgrind, 100% Arabica): $1.00/cup
  • Nescafé Tasters Choice Colombian (100% Colombian): $0.11/cup
  • Mount Hagen Organic Café (100% Arabica): $0.23/cup
  • No name instant coffee: $0.03/cup

Taste Test

  • A) Starbucks got 50% of the vote, with taste notes including: strong (good), too strong, good flavour.

  • B) Mount Hagen, with 18% of the vote, heard comments like: lighter than A (Starbucks), too light for me, horrible.

  • C) Nescafé, with only 12% of the vote, heard taste comments including: lemony after-taste, dusty.

  • D) No name with 20% of the votes, heard comments like: light, too light, I like the lightest coffee.

OUR TOP PICK

We had a wide range of comments about all of the products we tested, but the majority of our testers chose the stronger tasting Starbucks Via, so that’s what we went with for our Croatian cake recipe. Coffee is a matter of taste, however, so be prepared to conduct your own taste test to find a brew that’s right for your taste buds.

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