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Ground Coffee vs Instant Coffee: Which 1 Tastes Better?

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Ground coffee vs instant coffee. Perhaps you’ve never pondered the difference before.

It’s not a subject that comes to mind unless maybe you find yourself preparing a recipe that calls for one, and you only have the other on hand. So, you think, is ground coffee the same as instant coffee?

Or perhaps you’re looking for a fast brew but aren’t exactly sure what instant coffee actually is and whether or not you should be drinking it. It’s cool. Instant coffee gets a pretty bad rap, but is it really as bad as it seems?

Here, we’ll look at the differences between instant coffee and ground coffee, how to prepare each, and a better alternative to instant coffee for those who need coffee on demand.

So let’s get brewing (or, err… dissolving).

Ground Coffee vs Instant Coffee

Is ground coffee the same as instant coffee? In short, no.

Ground coffee and instant coffee have similar appearances, but looks can be deceiving. While the end product may appear similar, these two forms of coffee could not be more different.

When comparing instant coffee vs ground, it’s essential to recognize that both types of coffee originated in the same way. That is both start as unroasted green coffee beans. Green coffee beans are roasted and then ground using a coffee grinder to make ground coffee. Voila.

For instant coffee, the green coffee beans are roasted, ground, and then brewed in large vats to produce a large quantity of coffee. This coffee is then reduced into a thick, concentrated liquid.

The concentrated coffee is then dried via spray-drying or freeze-drying (as complicated and involved as they sound). There is significantly more processing involved in making instant coffee.

The resulting product from both drying methods is a coffee powder that once resembled actual coffee and could one day again.

small pile of instant coffee granules on a white surface, Recipe for instant coffee
Caffeine in instant coffee

Ingredients In Instant Coffee

The ingredients are much simpler in ground coffee vs instant coffee, as instant coffee is actually brewed coffee that’s been dried into a powder. But what most people don’t know is that many instant coffees are made with Robusta beans instead of the Arabica coffee beans that most of us enjoy regularly.

The robusta bean has an inferior flavor profile to the Arabica bean; however, they contain more caffeine than Arabica beans, so they are often found in espresso blends. This is important when making instant coffee.

Making instant coffee (i.e., brewing with hot water in large vats) removes more caffeine from the coffee than traditional coffee brewing.

To avoid having less caffeine in instant coffee, many manufacturers turn to Robusta coffee beans to offset the loss of caffeine during processing.

instant coffee dissolving into hot water in a mug shot from above, Shelf life of instant coffee
Is instant coffee really coffee

Caffeine In Instant Coffee vs Ground 

So, how much caffeine is in instant coffee vs ground? Many people will tell you that there is less caffeine in instant coffee vs ground.

But this isn’t necessarily true.

While it is true that a typical serving size of instant coffee (1 teaspoon + 1 cup hot water) has less caffeine than a cup of brewed coffee, instant coffee is a matter of taste. One might add more or less instant coffee powder to achieve the desired flavor.

But, assuming a standard serving size for each, there is less caffeine in instant coffee vs ground. Instant coffee has about 30-90 mg of caffeine per serving, while an 8oz cup of brewed coffee has 70-140 mg of caffeine.

So, if you want an extra kick, always opt for ground coffee vs instant coffee.

ground coffee in pour over dripper taken from above, Uses for ground coffee
What to do with ground coffee

What To Do With Ground Coffee

It goes without saying that there are several different ways to brew coffee from ground coffee. Most of you probably already know what to do with ground coffee.

However, it should be noted that pre-ground coffee is ground to a medium grind. This grind size is unsuitable for all brewing methods, so pre-ground coffee is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We always recommend buying whole-bean coffee and grinding it just before brewing.

Brewing ground coffee involves a brewing apparatus, and there is a bevy of options for you to choose from. But no matter which brewing method you select, they all have one thing in common. To prepare a cup of coffee, you will need ground coffee, hot water, and some brewing equipment.

If you need a quick rundown on your options, some of the most popular ways to brew ground coffee are with a French press, a drip coffee machine, using the pour over method, a stovetop Moka pot, or using an espresso machine.

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While all these brewing styles require ground coffee and hot water, they differ significantly in the brewing method, grind size, and coffee to water ratio. 

For example, a French press is an immersion brewer, meaning the coffee grounds are immersed in hot water. Meanwhile, the pour over method involves pouring hot water over the coffee grounds and allowing it to drip through and extract.

On the other hand, espresso requires the use of pressure to force the hot water through the finely ground coffee and can only be produced with a machine capable of producing the appropriate bars of pressure for espresso.

So, we’ll let you determine how to use ground coffee, as there are far too many options to be covered here. And we didn’t even mention cold brew

Recipe For Instant Coffee

The process of brewing instant coffee vs ground is far less involved. If you’re searching for a recipe for instant coffee, you must look no further than the label on the package.

Preparing instant coffee involves little more than stirring a teaspoon of instant coffee into hot water. It was designed to be “instant,” after all, and requires no equipment other than a means to heat your water.

The benefit of instant coffee is that it may be prepared virtually anywhere and is ready in mere seconds. 

Flavor Of Instant Coffee

So now you’ve learned the primary differences between pre-ground coffee vs instant coffee. Great. But what does instant coffee taste like? 

We’ll cut to the chase here. Instant coffee isn’t great. It will never taste anywhere near as good as freshly brewed ground coffee.

But, again, the benefit of instant coffee is that it doesn’t require any equipment and, therefore, may be prepared anywhere.

Why does instant coffee taste so bad? Remember, instant coffee is coffee brewed previously and then dried into a powder. Brewed coffee, in liquid form, has a very short shelf life.

mug of coffee sitting atop a pile of instant coffee granules on a black surface, Are k cups instant coffee
Instant coffee with cold water

Shelf Life Of Instant Coffee

The shelf life of instant coffee, however, is incredibly long. Once it becomes shelf-stable, instant coffee can stay good for decades. 

DECADES.

Are we the only ones who find this concerning? Most instant coffee companies will provide a “best by” date of around two years; however, the shelf life of instant coffee is literally 10-20 years, even if it’s open. Big yikes.

We recommend storing it in an airtight container, away from light. Or, even better, not buying it at all.

We’ll take ground coffee vs instant coffee any day if you ask us. Saving 5 minutes of brewing time is not worth consuming something that can outlive a Twinky.

ground coffee in portafilter close up, great ground coffee
keep ground coffee fresh
how to store coffee

How To Keep Ground Coffee Fresh

Want to know the real secret to how to keep ground coffee fresh? Don’t grind your beans until just before you brew them.

Aka, don’t buy pre-ground coffee. One of the most significant benefits of ground coffee vs instant coffee is that ground coffee beans produce a freshly brewed cup. 

However, this is only the case if the coffee is freshly ground. Ground coffee expires much faster than most people realize. The reason is oxidation (i.e., combining a substance with oxygen). Light and air (read: oxygen) are the main factors affecting coffee’s freshness.

Once a coffee bean is roasted, it begins to oxidize immediately. Coffee roasters will typically package the coffee beans promptly after roasting to prevent exposure to oxygen and light. Most coffee bags have a one-way valve that allows the coffee beans to de-gas (release CO2) but doesn’t allow air to enter the bag.

Airscape vacuum coffee canister in matte black
Airscape Stainless Steel Coffee Canister

This keeps the beans fresh for up to 6 months unopened. Once opened, we recommend using the beans within 3-4 weeks for optimal freshness.

So, in other words, the trick to keeping ground coffee fresh is not to keep ground coffee on hand at all. Ground coffee, by definition, is never fresh.

The oxidation process is accelerated when the coffee is ground by increased exposure to air and light around the coffee grounds. 

Buy whole coffee beans and store them in an airtight container away from light. For best results, grind your coffee beans using a burr grinder moments before brewing. Only grind what you need for each brewing session and leave the remaining beans whole.

up close shot of man's fingers holding a cometeer frozen coffee puck, cometeer coffee
the best instant coffee

A Better Way To Instant Coffee

Instant coffee has a bad rap. And deservedly so. It doesn’t taste great. 

In addition to the bad taste, instant coffee is heavily processed, which we like to avoid. The potential adverse health effects from instant coffee processing are not yet fully understood, so we say better safe than sorry.

So what’s the next best thing? We think the best instant coffee isn’t really instant coffee at all. The best instant coffee is coffee that may be prepared instantly but hasn’t been processed or dried before hitting your cup.

Our favorite brand of “instant” coffee is Cometeer. This is not a sponsored post, and we do not receive any commission for recommending these guys. We like what they’re doing and think they’re the best instant coffee around.

Cometeer doesn’t produce traditional freeze-dried instant coffee granules. Instead, the coffee is brewed at 10x the strength of conventional coffee, then flash-frozen to preserve flavor and aroma. The frozen capsules are shipped to you and may be prepared in several different ways in seconds.

While we will always prefer ground coffee vs instant coffee, we think Cometeer’s frozen capsules are the next best thing to brewing it yourself and are definitely the best instant coffee we’ve tried.

Technivorm Moccamaster coffee maker

Final Thoughts

While there’s no real debate over ground coffee vs instant coffee, we hope this article has cleared up any lingering questions you may have about the latter.

Instant coffee has a time and place, we guess, but we’ve personally never found a need for it in our kitchen. If a recipe calls for instant coffee, we substitute ground coffee.

But hey, we’re not bakers. We’re coffee people. And we think life is too short for crappy coffee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters