How Is Instant Coffee Made? The Process Explained

How Is Instant Coffee Made? The Process Explained

How is instant coffee made?

Ever wonder how Instant Coffee is made? Well we did, so we dove into the process to get a better understanding of what we're actually drinking, especially when you compare it to a cup of regular brewed coffee. If you're mostly interested in what impacts the flavor (and why most instant coffee doesn't taste great), check out step 7.

1. Bean Delivery

It all starts with the beans. Just like “regular” (non-instant coffee), the coffee beans are harvested from coffee bean plants (note that the type of bean and where it was grown contributes to the quality and flavor profile of the coffee - not all instant coffees are alike!). We prefer to use Colombian Arabica in our regular Feliz Instant Coffee (Decaf is made with Brazilian Robusta). After the coffee beans are harvested, they are washed (to remove any debris sticking to them), and roasted. Which brings us to….

2. Roasting

Roasting gives the beans their flavor and keeps them fresh for longer. To roast beans for instant coffee, beans are dropped into a pre-heated, rotating drum. The intensity of the flavor will depend on the duration of the roasting process - the longer the beans are roasted, the “darker” the coffee (and the less caffeine they contain).

Fun fact: One way to determine roasting duration is by sound, since beans release a cracking sound as they roast in the oven. The first “crack” heard indicates a light roast, a second “crack” indicates medium, and subsequent “cracks” indicate a dark roast. 

Organic Instant coffee

3. Grinding 

Once the beans have reached their desired roast, they move on to grinding. The coffee beans are placed into machines and ground into a fine powder for brewing.

4. Brewing

The coffee grounds are then brewed in boiling water in a giant vat (think: giant French-press). Then liquid brew is then extracted out of the vat - for instant coffee, the liquid is the part that is used. The remaining coffee grounds can be recycled and used as a fuel source (similarly to burning coal, the coffee grounds can be burned!).

5. Evaporation

After the beans are brewed, the next step in making instant coffee is evaporation. This is where the water is reduced in the coffee to strengthen the flavor of the brew. The coffee is passed through heated pipes and the water is siphoned off with each pass.

When only about 50% of the water remains, the brew has a thick, syrupy texture. Keeping it heated throughout the entire evaporation process is essential to keep it from becoming too sticky. After the water is reduced, the instant coffee “syrup” is ready to be cooled.

6. Cooling Process

After evaporation, the instant coffee mixture is then transported through heat exchangers to help prepare the brew for the cooling process. If the brew is cooled too soon, it can cause the water inside to crystalize. Introducing cold temperatures little by little prevents the brew from separating into its different components. This also locks in the flavor of the brew. 

7. Drying

The final step in the journey of creating instant coffee is drying. There are 2 methods for this - Freeze Drying and Spray Drying. The method used makes a significant difference in the final flavor and nutritional value of the coffee, so we’ll break down each here: 

Freeze Dried

This method, although it takes more time, is preferred by the team at Feliz Coffee as it allows the coffee to retain its flavor, aromas (can’t beat that fresh coffee smell!), and nutritional value (did you know that freeze dried coffee carries 7 out of 9 essential amino acids?).

When the syrupy brew exits the heat exchanger, it is frozen. Sublimation (turning a solid directly into a gas) is then used to remove the excess water/vapor from the coffee without diluting the flavor. The now-frozen coffee is then transferred into a vacuum chamber where it gets heated for the last time. The vacuum sucks out any last remaining water from the mix before it can melt the granules, and the granules solidify. The resulting product is the large granules you see when you open a can of Feliz Instant Coffee!

Spray Dried

The spray drying process starts the same way as freeze dried and goes through the same roasting, grinding, and brewing process. But rather than freezing the coffee, it is sprayed into a drying chamber together with hot air. The hot air is around 160 degrees Celsius (around 320 degrees Fahrenheit) and travels around the chamber at around 400 mph. This high-velocity air atomizes the coffee as it is  sprayed into the chamber.

Any water in the coffee gets evaporated and the remaining coffee solution is sucked out of the chamber before it burns. The resulting coffee is a powdered coffee that is then harvested for packaging. This method is faster and less expensive than freeze-drying, but it can result in more of a muted, burnt flavor, reduced/burnt aroma, and destruction of amino acids. 

 You can typically tell whether the coffee is freeze-dried or spray dried by its appearance - freeze-dried coffee appears as large, dry granules, while spray-dried coffee comes as a powder. 

So, when would you drink instant coffee over brewed?

Great question. If you’re drinking a high-quality instant coffee (such as Feliz Ethically Sourced Freeze-Dried Colombian Arabica), the answer is - any time you want a quick cup of tasty, high-quality coffee! Especially when you: 

  • Don’t have time for coffee to steep or brew
  • Want to save money and drink coffee at home
  • Have your coffee get cold by the time you actually remember to pour it (Busy folks? Parents? Can I get an amen?)
  • Want to make dalgona/whipped coffee
  • Create coffee cocktails
  • Bake
  • Need convenient coffee on airplanes, in hotels, or in the office/break room - just add water!

And there you have it! Now you can wow your friends with your newfound instant coffee knowledge the next time you hang out.