Is Instant Coffee Really Coffee?

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

About half the world drinks instant coffee instead of coffee made from whole beans, with heavy caffeine sluggers in Finland largely responsible for most global fresh coffee consumption (via World Population Review). That means rest of universe is apparently fine pouring boiling hot water over rough brown crystals every morning, and calling that "coffee." 

But are instant coffee drinkers actually drinking coffee? The answer is...sort of. Instant coffee is dried-out coffee extract, and it has less caffeine (via Healthline). That makes it kind of like a photograph of a photograph. Which is still, technically, a photograph, too, right?

Instant coffee can be produced in two ways, both of which accomplish dehydration of the whole bean. Spray-drying is a process that mists liquid coffee concentrate into the air, causing it to evaporate into fine crystals, and freeze-drying is essentially vaporizing it. Both methods have an adverse effect on the flavor of your cup of joe, insists The Kitchn. So, you're drinking what is technically coffee when you drink instant, but it won't taste quite the same, or pack the same punch. It will also lack that aroma that coffee lovers enjoy waking up to (via Perfect Daily Grind). 

There are good things about instant coffee

Coffee aficionados might turn up their noses at instant, but there's lots of good things about the dark brown grains. The reduction in caffeine makes it a win for people who are prone to jitters, and some studies suggest instant coffee retains a higher concentration of certain antioxidants (via Healthline). Instant coffee's much quicker to make, while whole beans need to be ground or brewed; with instant, you just need hot water.

Typically, instant coffee is also going to be cheaper per serving. You'll could spend as much as 72 cents a cup if you go for conveniently-packaged Starbucks VIA Ready Brew packets, but if you're making it using a supermarket standby like Taster's Choice (via Amazon), it'll cost less than 7 cents per serving. 

And, instant coffee can be a wonderful toss-in to baked goods — recipe blogger Chef Savvy credits the dehydrated beans for helping to bring out the rich chocolate flavor in her brownie recipe.