Instant coffee vs ground coffee; how different are they?

19 Mar 2021


Can premium instant coffee really hold its own against freshly brewed coffee?

Ah, coffee. A warm, steaming mug of java acts as a lifeline for many of us early in the morning. Sometimes we need that caffeine boost to put an extra pep in our step! However, the type of coffee we choose to drink can impact both the flavour – and the caffeine content.

For us at Hotel Chocolat, our morning isn’t complete without a mug of our freshly-brewed coffee. Everybody’s coffee ritual is different. Maybe you’re partial to a cafetiere, Aeropress or filter. Perhaps you have your own dedicated coffee machine. Some of you might even grind your own beans fresh each morning. But, if you’re running short on time, instant coffee might be your go-to.

Coffee-connoisseurs may snub a cup of instant, but we value curiosity over judgement. We’re going to dive deeper into the differences between instant and ground coffee to find out more.

How is instant coffee made?

Instant coffee may be a quick solution to when you have a caffeine craving, but the answer to how this type of coffee is made gets a bit more technical. Generally, soluble coffee is derived from the Robusta variety of coffee beans, which is why it is a lot cheaper than ground coffee.

This is because the Robusta variety is easier to produce and more resistant to disease, making it easier to grow than other coffee bean varieties. Although it has a reputation for having a less complex flavour profile than its popular cousin, Arabica coffee, it still boasts full-bodied and tasting notes. Want to know more? We looked at the different varieties of coffee bean in an earlier blog.

Back to our question on how instant coffee is made. It starts with coffee that has been freshly brewed and filtered with roasted, ground coffee. The trick to making it instant is to then remove all of the water content. This leaves behind dehydrated coffee crystals. Pop a spoon of this in your mug, add hot water and give it a stir, and these crystals will dissolve to create a mug of coffee.

Because instant coffee has no moisture in it, this makes it great for storing in your cupboards – perfect for when you need a coffee back up.

How do you make instant coffee?

kettle pouring water into a cup of instant coffee

The best instant coffee really depends on your personal preferences. To make it, you will need a kettle, a mug, the best instant coffee brand you can find, a spoon and any additional ingredients you’d like to add.

First, boil the kettle. Add roughly 2g of instant coffee into your mug. Once the kettle boils, pour around 200ml of hot water into the mug, stirring as you go. If you like to add milk and sugar to your coffee, now is the time to do it. How much milk and sugar depends completely on your preferences, and you may also choose to use alternatives.

Oat, almond, soy and hazelnut milk all work well with coffee. For a healthier alternative to sugar, honey is a great substitute, although you may want to add less considering that honey is naturally sweeter. Agave syrup or a sweetener are good vegan alternatives to honey as well.

What does instant coffee taste like?

Instant coffee has a reputation of being bitter, chalky and even sour. However, this is completely down to personal preference: the best brands tend to taste better than the cheap, own-brand stuff you find in stores.

If you do fancy a quick cup of coffee, or only have instant coffee left, there are ways to improve the overall flavour of your coffee. Whisking a teaspoon of cocoa powder into your coffee granules adds a deep and rich flavour, whilst loading antioxidants into your drink. A cube of butter can also help to subdue the bitterness of your coffee and adds an extra smoothness. Spices such as cinnamon add an aromatic sweetness to your coffee, and a drop of vanilla extract gives the coffee a subtle hint of fragrance.

If you still can’t quite get over the taste of instant coffee but you’re short on time, our Caffé Latte Sachets are a great alternative. Made to pair with The Velvetiser, enjoy a delicious cup of coffee in a matter of minutes. Alternatively, you can mix on the hob with a milk of your choice, just make sure to not boil the mixture. Barista-style coffee, with all the perks of an instant blend.

What’s different about ground coffee?

ground coffee in a filter cone

Ground coffee contains more caffeine

Instant coffee is a quick and easy solution to fighting that groggy feeling in the morning. However, ground coffee is a better option if you’re after the stuff that packs a caffeine punch. This is because there is slightly less caffeine in instant than in ground coffee. One teaspoon of instant coffee can contain between 30-90mg of caffeine, whilst a cup of ground coffee can contain 70-140mg. And it’s not just the caffeine in instant coffee that’s different.

Ground coffee is more expensive

Ground coffee also tends to be made with Arabica coffee beans. This is why it is typically more expensive than instant coffee. Arabica coffee beans are renowned for their multi-layered and complex flavour profile and they are more susceptible to disease in contrast to Robusta beans.

Ground coffee takes longer to make

Ground coffee also takes a longer time to make than instant coffee. With instant coffee, you need only pour hot water over coffee to enjoy your drink – well – instantly. You need to brew ground coffee first to get the most out of its flavour.

Instant powder is quick because the coffee granules dissolve into water, whereas ground coffee will not dissolve. Instead, the coffee needs time to impart its flavour into the water, then you need to separate the liquid from the coffee grounds. What’s your favourite way to make coffee at home?

How long do you brew ground coffee?

According to the National Coffee Association, the amount of time your coffee grounds need to be in contact with water depends on the type of coffee-maker you are using. A drip system requires roughly five minutes, whilst a French press needs between two to four minutes (make sure you wait an extra minute after plunging). If you want to make a cold brew for an iced coffee then you should leave your coffee to steep in the water overnight (around 12 hours).

How long you brew your coffee for ultimately depends on your personal tastes. The stronger you want your coffee, the longer you’ll need to brew it.

Instant vs ground coffee

cup of instant coffee on a black background

The takeaway scoop: instant coffee might have a less developed flavour to ground coffee, but it is a quick and cheap solution to quelling your thirst for coffee. We recommend keeping a jar of both in the cupboard, meaning you have the option to choose depending on the circumstances. Why not take a look at our coffee selection? You can choose from five ethically-sourced coffee blends to find the one that you love. And, our Podster coffee machine makes whipping up a freshly-brewed mug of java as easy as instant – just press a button and let it do the work for you!

If you’re not rushing off somewhere first thing, make sure you take the time to sit down and enjoy your coffee. Having something to nibble on the side can also bring out more nuanced notes in your coffee, and we’re not just talking about biscuits.

Chocolate and coffee go together like a match made in heaven. You may think that we’re being biased, but we promise the developed flavours of cocoa to bring out the nuanced notes of coffee. Keep a square or two of chocolate by the side of your mug to nibble on between sips.