No, instant coffee most definitely isn’t better than properly brewed coffee from a French press, filter, vacuum siphon or super-expensive hipster barista joint on the corner. Whatever your preferred method of making coffee, it can be spoiled due to a time intensive and expensive exercise, that often just isn’t practical, especially if you wake up late or you’re at work.
Which is why we resort to instant coffee, despite the overwhelming opinion that it simply isn’t very good. It’s just cheap and convenient. But there are several secrets available that’ll significantly improve an instant coffee while saving you money, time and effort.
We’ll take a broader look at why coffee is so good in a moment, but first let’s make your first ever decent cup of instant coffee so you can drink it while you read on.
Follow these easy steps to make a cup of instant coffee that’s better than you ever imagined was possible.
How to Make Great Instant Coffee
- Put fresh water in the kettle: You might hear people say that boiled water depletes the oxygen content. Which is true, but remove the oxygen from water and it becomes steam, so that’s not really the problem. It’s the other impurities and chemicals in our water that cause the issue, as they don’t all evaporate with the steam. So reboiling the kettle reduces the amount of water through escaping steam, and thereby increases the concentration of impurities in the remaining water. So put some fresh in the kettle (and only enough to fill your cup, of course).
- Add a bit of cold water to the cup first: Boiling water isn’t good for the coffee. The ideal is around 90 degrees centigrade, but your kettle’s only going to knock off at 100 degrees. And if we can’t hit 90, it’s better to go cooler than hotter. So add between 5-10mm of fresh, cold water to the bottom of your cup.
- Mix the coffee with the cold water: There’s a lot going on when hot water hits coffee and even when we’re talking about soluble instant coffee, we want to extract the flavours as efficiently as possible. So add your instant coffee to the cold water and give it a quick stir while the kettle boils. How much coffee is up to you; you’re going to have to do your own experiments to make sure it’s not too weak or too strong (and it’s going to be different for each brand, remember).
- Have your milk ready: If you take milk in your coffee, have it standing by for immediately after you’ve poured the hot water. We’re going to use it to trap the aroma. Choose your milk carefully, too. Watery UHT isn’t going to add to your coffee’s richness, after all. In our experiments around the office, we’re finding soy milk offers an appealing creaminess without the problems of full fat dairy.
- Fill the cup quickly: The aroma of coffee is more important to the drink’s enjoyment than you probably realise. So we want to activate it in the steam, but without losing too much. The speed at which coffee is immersed in water also affects the absorption of the organic acids and sugars that give coffee it’s flavour. When we’re talking about instant coffee, pouring slowly means the coffee saturates the solution and can’t release the flavour compounds quickly enough, so get the cup filled up in one quick, smooth pour.
- Get the milk in: The milk further cools the temperature, and catches the aromatic flavours before they all disappear in the steam. Add a drop as soon as the water is poured and stir it in. So you’ll get the essential scent that makes coffee taste great, but it also stays in the cup so you can enjoy the whole drink.
- If you want sugar, go brown, and have less: Take two in your coffee? Go with brown sugar instead as it has a more flavour and it’s less processed. You’re interfering a lot with the acids and flavours that are released when coffee meets water, so try just half a teaspoon to cut the bitterness without excessively impairing the reaction.
Give it a try, and let us know what you think on Facebook and Instagram. Maybe not quite a filter coffee, but I’m willing to bet it’s a huge improvement on your usual cup of bitter and lingering instant coffee.
If you want to stick around for a few more minutes while you finish your coffee break, let’s take a look at what’s going on inside the cup so you can further improve your instant coffee process.
That First Scent of Coffee
The rich, lingering aroma of coffee is what really draws us in. It smells like a happy morning, and invokes a dizzying array of sensations that make us feel relaxed and alert all at once. It’s the promise of invigoration wrapped up in the velvet comfort of nostalgia and decadence.
Coffee - even instant coffee - smells great.
What’s interesting is that the aroma is a major aspect of coffee’s flavour. Without it, coffee’s actually kind of sour and unpleasant. Just try holding your nose next time you take a sip and it’ll spoil itself on the tip of your tongue.
So maintaining the great smell of coffee is an essential part of its enjoyment, and the good news is that instant coffee has aroma in abundance. Follow the activation steps above, breathe deep when you drink, and the taste will magically improve.
The flavour of coffee is a combination of over 1,000 organic acids, compounds and sugars released from the roasted bean (just FYI, unroasted coffee tastes like grass). So coffee is an acidic drink, but it’s a good type of acidic.
If you live in a hard water area, it means that there are more bicarbonates and calcium ions suspended in your water. These increase the alkaline measure of the water, which neutralises the acidic nature of coffee particulates and hampers the release of flavoursome compounds.
Sadly, there’s not much you can do. You can filter the water to neutralise it a little, but that kind of defeats the purpose we’re going for here; improving instant coffee. Nor will bottled water help you, as that has just as much magnesium, potassium, calcium and other alkalies. They do like to call it “mineral water”, after all, so definitely don’t be tempted to try making instant coffee with Evian. It’ll actually taste worse than your tap water.
Since hard water is neutralising the coffee’s essential acidity, your best option is to experiment with making it a little stronger; taking into account the losses your particulates will experience when they hit the coffee-water interface.
Soft water, fresh from the tap, is your best option for a great tasting instant coffee (or filter coffee, for that matter).
Milk and Sugar, Vicar?
I’m personally not opposed to a drop of milk in my coffee (soy milk is currently improving the creaminess without the grim aftertaste of cheap milk), but there are good reasons for learning to enjoy your coffee without additives.
Primarily these are health benefits. We all know about the supposed evils of caffeine, but coffee’s actually surprisingly good for you. Its many and various compounds have been linked to lowering blood sugar and the risk of cardiovascular disease while offering anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to boot.
Mixing in full fat milk and thrice-processed sugar is where coffee takes a turn for the worse, in terms of health. Any caloric component to your Starbucks or Costa coffee is entirely down to the milk, flavourings, sweeteners and other additives, and not the fault of the coffee itself. So you can worry a lot less about your coffee habit if you start taking it unadulterated.
Head on over to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to tell us about your experiments with instant coffee so we can all compare notes, brands, costs and flavours, and together we can refine the process and find the perfect cup of instant coffee.