We’ve all had to settle for a gross cup of instant muddy water at a hotel, gas station, or relative’s house…because anything is better than nothing, right? Okay, okay…the jury’s still out on that one. But some would argue the convenience and low cost of instant coffee make it a necessary evil.
And it’s that thought that leads us to the question: is there a way to improve instant coffee by making it from quality coffee beans at home? Let’s find out.
Is there a substitute for instant coffee powder?
Short answer: No. Honestly, the fine technical and mechanical process involved in making instant coffee — manufacturers brew large batches of fresh coffee then use a freeze or spray-drying process to evaporate the water — makes it impossible to recreate at home in the true sense.
But let’s say you’re a highbrow coffee drinker going camping, but you don’t have space (or the electricity) for all your coffee paraphernalia; there has to be a way for us to have something better than the instant stuff.
The closest we can get is to take inspiration from Turkish coffee, a brewed coffee drink with the fine ground beans left in the cup.
Making Instant Coffee Powder With Coffee Beans
A true Turkish coffee requires special equipment, including a cezve and hand mill. But as it’s likely you won’t have them lying around your kitchen (or on the metaphorical camping trip we mentioned earlier), here’s a simpler approach that is popular in Slovakia and the Czech Republic — who knew?
Tools You’ll Need:
- A fine-mesh sieve or strainer
- Coffee mill/coffee grinder/food processor
- Coffee beans
- Airtight bag or container
- Measure out one scoop of regular coffee beans and pour them into your grinder (multiply the quantity depending on strength and number of servings you’ll need). Grind until the beans start to clump together in the lower corners of the grinder. Aim for super fine, powder-like coffee granules.
- Shake your ground coffee beans into the fine-mesh strainer over your mug until all you have left is the larger particles in the sieve and fine powder in your cup.
- Discard the large dry coffee particles, and pour any leftover coffee grounds you’re not planning on using immediately into an airtight container. (If we were doing this on our hypothetical camping trip, we’d place all the ground coffee in the container, as this is our instant powder.)
- Boil fresh, clean water, and let the hot water sit for a minute; you want its temperature to drop below the boiling point so you don’t burn your delicious coffee beans. Pour the hot water over the grounds in your coffee cup (and sugar, if your idea of the perfect cup of coffee has to be a bit sweet) and give it a stir. If you plan to add milk or cream, wait 10 or so seconds before doing so. Then, enjoy!
Tips for Good Turkish Coffee
If you want to end up with tasty coffee — Turkish style — use these expert tips to produce a good cup.
- First off…grind is everything. Top-notch Turkish coffee makers firmly believe that a manual mill produces the finest and silkiest dry coffee powder. A regular coffee grinder will do the job, too, but you’ll have to play around with its settings to find the perfect grind. Grinding the coffee too much will create heat and destroy the java’s taste, but grind it too little and your powder won’t be fine enough, resulting in a hot cup of gritty coffee…and that’s not exactly the best part of waking up.
- If you store your powdered product in an airtight container, use it within two days — three maximum — so it doesn’t oxidize and lose flavor.
- Before you ask…yes, you will have small coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup because there’s no filtration involved. Because no one wants to chew a cup of coffee, wait a minute before drinking to give the grounds time to settle to the bottom. For this reason, we also suggest being careful you don’t slurp down the last mouthful of your java in a hurry!
How To Improve the Taste of Instant Coffee
The difference between fresh ground coffee and instant is night and day. And though there are a few kinds of instant style coffee on the market that can get you a decent cup of coffee, regular coffee always destroys instant coffee granules in a contest.
So, if making Turkish coffee doesn’t float your boat, and you’re starring down the barrel of an instant packet, there is a trick to elevate the taste. Mix a splash of cold water or cold milk into the powder first. Doing this before adding the hot water gently introduces the heat and lessens any harsh bitter flavors. You’ll get a much smoother cup this way.
You can also spice up the instant coffee particles by adding ground cinnamon, cocoa powder, nutmeg, vanilla…anything yummy works, really.
How To Choose the Best Instant Coffee
Have you ever walked down the grocery store coffee aisle? It’s scary how many options there are! And Googling “what’s the best instant coffee” won’t help either! You’ll just come face to face with endless opinions and, ultimately, your taste isn’t the same as others; the only way to pick the best coffee for you is to rely on your own unique palate.
Each manufacturer uses a different mix of beans and roasting processes to create its product. The taste is mostly determined by the bean with the most common two being arabica and robusta.
- Arabica: The most frequently used bean has a sweet and delicate flavor. Some say they pick up caramel, cocoa, and fruity flavor notes, which you’ll love if you drink your coffee black.
- Robusta: These beans have a strong coffee flavor that’s earthier, smokier, and more bitter. Milk and cream both work well in cutting its rubbery taste.
When picking a jar of instant coffee crystals, we recommend choosing a jar of 100 percent arabica beans that have been freeze-dried for the best flavor. Most think arabica simply tastes better, and freeze-drying preserves more of the coffee’s flavor than spray-drying.
And if you can’t find anything that tastes good, at least aim for a coffee brand that does good; pick an ethical brand with Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance certifications.
It’s Okay to Enjoy Instant Coffee
Instant coffee powder has developed quite a poor reputation and is doomed to be the last kid picked every time among coffee snobs. That’s because, in the past, many brands have done it a disservice by rolling it out as a cheap product rather than a quality, flavorful one.
The tides are changing, though, as independent roasters enter the game and give us more options than we had before. So, perhaps it’s time we evolve our opinion of the stuff, too. While we won’t ever be sacrificing our burr grinders and pour-overs, we can appreciate the convenience of instant powder coffee, and we’ll certainly be enjoying a cup of it when we go camping, too.