Instant coffee – better than you think

5 November, 2012

Okay, here’s where I willingly forfeit all credibility:

There’s nothing wrong with instant coffee. In fact, on average, it’s as good as “real” coffee.

I have had some mediocre-to-bad “real” coffees, including one memorable cup of gritty, oily swill which I refused to finish. Even drinkable “real” coffee is often somehow plasticy in taste to me. Is this what happens when coffee-snobs freeze their coffee to preserve its freshness? (My understanding is it actually ruins the coffee by changing the structure of the oils.)

There are some mediocre instants, of course. The worst I’ve had was Pablo, which was quite thin and sour. The “upmarket” instants are usually not as good as the generics. I think this is partly due to the granulated form which they impose to make the stuff look more authentic. In fact, instant coffee is coffee beans, cooked and ground to a dry powder. To granulate it may require a coagulant, which might alter the flavour.

Another thing to remember is that instant coffee should be made with water that is hot BUT NOT BOILING. Boiling overcooks the oils and changes the flavour. Otherwise, instant coffee is simply a brew made from roasted coffee beans – in other words, it’s coffee.

Perhaps you should take the above with a pinch of salt, though, as what inspired me to write on this topic was this: tonight I tried dry instant coffee powder for the first time. I’ve read about straight instant coffee being used in the military, and by students, and lately I’ve been annoyed by the extra minutes taken in the morning by the need to prepare and then drink my morning mug. So I stuck the teaspoon in the can, took out a medium size helping, and put it in my mouth.

I had wondered about how instant coffee could be swallowed, since it’s a dry powder – woud it stick to my mouth in an unshiftable film? Also, of course, I worried about the taste. Coffee is famously bitter – would pure coffee be “too much”?

Taste: I drink black coffee, with a little sweetener to take the edge off, and actually I found the powder no more bitter than the usual experience. More interestingly, the flavour had a bit more richness and complexity than the diluted form. It was not unpleasant; I didn’t go “Ick!” and instantly reach for the water. OTOH, I admit it’s not something I want stuck in my mouth for the rest of my life.

Dryness: It was not nearly as bad as I expected. The powder absorbed my saliva to become a paste not unpleasant in texture. A couple of swilled sips of water washed it down easily. There is a slightly deadened aftertaste in the centre of my tongue which I imagine would get a bit unpleasant if I did this frequently.

Caffeine: Well, I’m awake, aren’t I?

So, to sum up: The bad image of instant coffee is just that, an image. And taking the powder straight is doable, and indeed not unpleasant!

EDIT: I’m not sure if this is psychosomatic, but it does seem that eating coffee results in less efficient caffeine absorbtion. If I eat the same number of spoonfuls I would ordinarily put into a coffee drink, I do seem to end up with less of a buzz. Something to bear in mind.

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