difference between instant and brewed coffee

Instant Coffee Vs Brewed

Before the age of the coffee shop, the barista, and the espresso machine in the United States, it seemed most coffee drinkers were happy enough to drink instant coffee.

While some of us still enjoy instant as our guilty pleasure, there are loads of other ways to brew coffee that are readily available, so is it time for a change?

Instant coffee is the simplest method for making coffee and it suits people in a rush, but how does it stack up against the others? If you’ve been drinking instant coffee for most of your life you might be reluctant to make a change, so we’re going to show you all the ways brewed coffee differs from it.

What are the main differences between instant coffee and brewing coffee? Instant coffee is cheaper to make but some would argue it doesn’t taste as good as its brewed counterpart, and it has less caffeine per cup. However, when it comes to the health benefits that coffee has to offer, both varieties are considered fairly equal.

We’re going to dive deeper into the differences between the types of coffee so you can decide once and for all what your favorite is. No matter the result, everyone can agree that there’s no better way to start the day than with a fresh cup of coffee, no matter how you make it.

How is Instant Coffee Made?

served instant coffee

Although instant coffee is seen as a quick and easy way to have a morning coffee, the process behind creating it is quite involved.

Instant coffee is made by the process of dehydration, so the beans are roasted, ground down, brewed, and then spray- or freeze-dried out in coffee crystals (i.e. granules), ready for you to make your coffee.

As mentioned, when you purchase a tin of instant coffee, the drying process will either be hot air spray-drying or freeze-drying. There’s little difference in the end result with these options but during the process, some of the compounds of caffeine and aroma can be lost. For this reason, people often view instant coffee as the lesser option when compared to other brewing methods.

What Is Brewed Coffee?

It is a term that can be used to describe many different ways of turning a roasted coffee bean into a caffeinated drink.

As each style has its pros and cons, it’s best to look at what each of the popular methods entails and why people might choose them over the others.

Espresso

This traditionally Italian method of making coffee is the preferred choice of coffee houses. Espresso (and its derivatives of macchiato and cappuccino) are made with a machine that pressurizes hot water and sends it through tightly packed and finely ground beans (coffee powder), resulting in a small but strong amount of liquid coffee.

Capsules

Capsules and pods are a popular way for people to make espresso-style coffee at home without a large machine. A single portion of ground coffee is packed into each one. This then gets pierced and has hot water flow through to create a cup of coffee.

French Press

This method sees ground coffee beans sit in a special carafe for a set amount of time to let it brew and steep. Once done, a plunger is pushed down which filters the coffee grounds out and leaves only an aromatic drink behind.

There’s also some ingenuity into the ratio of high-quality Robusta beans and Arabica beans one puts inside the carafe to the final taste. 

Drip

A drip method of coffee is a gradual extraction method that uses a filter and ground coffee beans to get the caffeine out. Warm or cold water flows over the beans and through the filter, stealing all that bitter goodness for you. This takes a little longer but is meant to deliver a stronger brew compared to other methods.

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee is made with ground beans and room temperature water. They are left to brew for between 12 to 18 hours so that the end result is smooth and not bitter. When done, it’s filtered out, and enjoyed with ice or as a cold drink.

The Differences Between Instant Coffee vs Brewed

difference between instant and brewed coffee

Most people are loyal to the way they drink their coffee, but if you want to know what the other side has to offer, there are some categories you’ll want to consider.

Here’s how instant coffee stacks up against brewed in the most important areas.

Price

Instant coffee is the cheapest option when compared to all other types of brewed coffee but not by as much as you think. A standard cup of instant costs around $0.50 to make for a quality brand, whereas a K-cup or using whole beans and grinding them down costs around $0.70 a cup. This doesn’t include the machinery and tools you’ll need to make it, which is where instant coffee can save you a fortune.

Health benefits

Experts can agree that drinking coffee in any format without any additives is the healthiest approach, so it doesn’t matter if it’s instant or otherwise. Provided you aren’t having more than four cups of coffee a day or experiencing any negative side effects, there are lots of ways that regular coffee intake can benefit your health and wellbeing.

Taste

Taste is a personal thing when it comes to coffee, but most would agree that the tastiest option is brewed. Although instant coffee has come a long way in terms of flavor, it’s hard to beat the taste of a fresh shot of espresso served with some frothy, hot milk, or even on its own. The most attractive form of coffee in terms of taste is cold brew. The slow brewing process makes it even smoother to enjoy, and there’s no shortage of options for how you can drink it.

Caffeine content

The caffeine content of instant coffee is slightly less than other brewing methods, which explains why people can drink more of it without adverse side effects. The caffeine content of one rounded teaspoon of instant coffee is around 57 mg of caffeine. Brewed coffee techniques like French press and the common double-shot espresso contain double that amount, but it also depends on the beans used and their roasting method.

Ease to make

There’s no doubt that instant coffee wins in this category as the easiest cup to make. All that’s needed is boiling water to make one, and you can add sugar, milk, or creamer if you wish. Methods like cold brew take over 12 hours to create, a coffee maker like an espresso machine requires some technical skills and experience to get right, and French pressing your cup must be steeped to an exact amount of time otherwise it will become bitter and over-brewed. If you want to think less and spend only seconds making your morning cup of coffee, instant is the way to go.

Which Coffee Style Is the Best?

which coffee is the best

Alright, so here’s the grand showdown where the score is finally settled. Which type of coffee is better, or the best? The answer is: neither. There’s no ‘the best’ here.

Coffee is such a personal choice for coffee lovers that it’s hard to say whether one style is better than the other—although many would swear that their style is actually what ‘real coffee’ is.

Most people are fiercely loyal to their favorite way of drinking coffee, and even if one way has benefits over another, they’re unlikely to change it up too often.

When it comes to the caffeine content and taste the clear winner is brewed. However, the exact method you use to brew it will alter this again. If you’re after simplicity and affordability, a cup of instant coffee will be your preferred way to get your dose of caffeine.

Regarding shelf life, it seems that they are more or less equals here as well. Keep them both well sealed in the original packaging and you’re looking at months of fresh coffee ready to be put in your cup.

Regardless of the type you choose, you’ll still get all of the benefits that caffeine and coffee have to offer. A quick boost of energy, a dose of antioxidants, and health benefits like reduced risk of cancer and longer life are all possible, whether it’s an instant coffee or a long brewed one that you love. Just make sure you consume fresh coffee, not one left to its own devices over a night—or God forbid—over the weekend.

Frequently Asked Questions

Coffee can be brewed in any style you please and there’s a never-ending array of options for how you can enjoy yours.

If you’re new to drinking coffee or want to branch out and try some new brewing methods, check out these FAQs about everyone’s favorite caffeinated beverage.

Is Espresso Stronger Than Drip Coffee?

Although most people assume that an espresso maker creates the strongest caffeine content coffee, drip coffee is usually higher in caffeine.

A standard 12 oz cup of drip coffee has around 120 milligrams of caffeine whereas a single shot of espresso shot only has 40 to 60 milligrams of caffeine. OK, true, espresso is typically consumed as a double shot, so that makes them close—but drip coffee will still have a bit more caffeine on average.

A general piece of advice is to avoid drinking more than four coffee drinks per day.

How Long Does French Press Brewing Take?

The average time it takes to brew coffee in a French press is four to five minutes. 

However, there are huge differences in each device and the type of bean you use will also alter this amount. You’ll need to experiment when you get a new press to see what the best time is for producing coffee and find a bean that has a flavor you like.

Should Coffee Be Made With Distilled Water?

Some people prefer to use distilled water when making their cup, but for the best results and bitter-free taste, you should stick to plain tap water.

Depending on your water supply, this might need to be filtered, but any soft water supply that’s not distilled will yield the smoothest tasting coffee.