“All coffee is the same right?”
“Calling a coffee a ‘speciality coffee’ is just a way of making the price higher, right?”
Unfortunately, these are some common assumptions about coffee. Today I am going to show you the difference between instant coffee and speciality coffee.
What Actually Is Instant Coffee?
Although the process instant coffee goes through is done in a factory; it starts its life off in the same way as speciality coffee.
The first difference, however, is the quality of the beans. Generally, instant coffee is made from Robusta beans rather than the higher quality Arabica beans. This is because cost takes priority over quality.
Robusta coffees are bitter and harsher compared to Arabica coffees. If any Arabica is used in Instant coffee, generally this will be a lower ‘Commodity Grade’ coffee, again, to keep the cost as low as possible.
How Is It Made?
Firstly, the coffee beans are roasted and ground as they would be to make, say, a cafetiere. To get the coffee into its instant, granulated or powder form, all the liquid has to be removed. The technical term for this is ‘dehydrated coffee’. This results in coffee crystals being left behind. There are two methods to dehydrating coffee, spray drying and freeze drying.
To hold the flavours and aromas within the coffee, the drying process needs to happen very quickly.
After the coffee has been brewed, the concentrated liquid is then sent to a spray drying tower where it is turned into a fine powder. The coffee concentrate is pumped through an atomiser which breaks it down into small droplets of liquid. The spray drying tower is filled with jets which omit hot air, drying out the moisture from the coffee. This process often results in the remaining powder being too fine to be used. With this in mind, the coffee particles are brought together by using a re-hydration process.
The finished product is still quite a fine powder, but a useable fine powder.
This process has a few more steps, which makes it more costly. Firstly the coffee concentrate is chilled to about -6 Degrees Celsius. This turns the coffee concentrate into a very strong coffee flavoured slushie.
After this, the coffee slush is poured onto a cooling belt. From here it is slowly cooled to -40 Degrees Celsius. This slow cooling produces larger granules in the end product, which is seen as more desirable. The almost completely frozen coffee concentrate is then ground to a suitable size to be able to start drying.
These grounds are placed in a large vacuum chamber where any remaining ice or water is heated and turned to vapour. This will leave coffee granules, which everyone associates with instant coffee.
Now then, let’s get to the good stuff.
Speciality grade coffee is an incredibly high grade of coffee. There are over 100 different flavour profiles associated with speciality coffee, and it’s likely more will be discovered as time goes on.
Some coffees may have slightly stronger flavours such as dark chocolate, nut or maybe even biscuit, whereas others will hold fruitier and sweeter flavours. The flavours they hold are a result of these coffees being cared for throughout their life, along with the terroir of the farm itself.
Harvesting and Processing Methods
As mentioned above, speciality coffee and commodity grade coffee (which instant coffee comes under) are grown, harvested and processed using various methods. It’s these various methods that can make the difference in quality.
When it comes to harvesting, farmers who produce speciality grade coffees will usually hand pick each cherry. Doing this means only the ripest fruit is picked and leaves any unripe fruit to grow to its full potential.
Commodity grade farmers will often completely strip a tree of all its fruit, meaning unripe and overripe fruit will be mixed with the ripe fruit. Even though the fruit is sent to be sorted, the workers aren’t able to pick out everything that shouldn’t be there. This adds to the coffee becoming very low in quality compared to the hand-picked coffees.
Check out our blog on processing and drying methods for more on this.
However, it isn’t just how a coffee is harvested which makes the difference; there are a number of other things too.
As you know, Arabica and Robusta are the two main types of coffee grown. When you look further into these, you will find different varietals of these coffees too.
These varietals vary in quality, yield and taste. Even though we only choose Arabica varietals as they are of higher quality than Robusta, we still put some thought into which varietal too.
The difference in coffee quality can also come from the quality of the coffee plant. Lower quality plants are more susceptible to diseases such as coffee leaf rust which can cause huge problems for a farm as a whole.
Lower quality coffee plants will also often produce fruit which has many defects, which affect a coffees quality score which we will get onto later.
Finally, the skill of the farmer also has a big impact on the quality of a coffee. If there is good farm management, the quality of its produce will be higher. Farms with good management will have quality controls in place to monitor all aspects of the farm too.
Before a coffee can be determined whether it is a speciality or commodity grade coffee, it is first given a quality score.
Coffee tasting experts will use the coffee cupping method to judge the coffees on a number of factors such as its taste, aroma, mouthfeel. The coffee will then receive a score out of 100. A coffee that receives a score between 65 and 80 will be classed as commodity grade, and anything above 80 will be classed as a speciality coffee.
With instant coffee, you don’t need a particular brewing device; you just need a kettle to boil your water. However, with ‘proper’ coffees, you will need something to extract the flavours of the coffee. This could be a Cafetiere or filter device or a Moka Pot or Aeropress, among others.
Often, instant coffee is a blend of many different coffees. These could be from two or more areas in a country or two or more different countries altogether. There isn’t usually any way of knowing. One of the great things about speciality coffees is they can be traced right back to the farm or estate they came from.
Knowing where our coffee comes from allows us to find out about the farm and the families who own and work the land. In turn, we can then pass this information onto you guys.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you can see that all coffee is not created equally. Next time you go to buy instant coffee, think about the quality of the beans, then think about what you are missing by not buying speciality coffee.
Ready to bin the instant? We have more information about Speciality Coffee available, or if you’d like you can head over to our shop today to grab a bag of speciality coffee!Shop Now