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In the United States, about 15% of the coffee drunk annually is instant coffee. In the UK, where instant coffee is known as soluble coffee, Nestle controls over 50 percent of the instant coffee market, and has since the early 1990s. In Germany, widely known for its preference for quality coffee, people drink over 14,000 tons of instant coffee annually. Even in Italy, home of espresso, sales of instant coffee are on the rise. What is the appeal of instant coffee?
If you’re part of the coffee elite, it’s sometimes hard to remember that not too long ago, instant coffee was considered to be state-of-the-art in coffee making. In the 1950s and the 1960s, some 43 percent of all the coffee drunk in the United States was made by stirring instant coffee into a cup of boiled water. Instant coffee has its advantages, though many coffee purists turn their noses up at it.
Instant coffee is easy. You don’t need any equipment other than a cup, a spoon and a source of hot water. While the quality of the finished cup of coffee depends on the starting quality of the coffee, if you start with decent instant coffee, it’s really hard to go wrong with instant coffee. Just add boiling water and stir.
Instant coffee has a longer shelf life than regular ground coffee. Once coffee is roasted and ground, it rapidly loses flavor and grows stale. Soluble coffee has a shelf life of up to two years, as long as you keep it in an airtight jar and avoid exposing it to moisture.
Powdered instant coffee is a more stable flavor additive in recipes that call for coffee as an ingredient. If you’re making powdered coffee drinks, instant coffee is your only choice. You can mix instant coffee granules into milk powder or non-dairy creamer, add flavorings and package it up to reconstitute with hot water later.
New technology has improved the flavor of instant coffee immeasurably. Starbucks VIA coffee and other brands of gourmet soluble coffee are making inroads with some very choosy coffee drinkers who tend to feel that while the flavor doesn’t necessarily equal that of fresh-brewed specialty coffee, instant gourmet coffees compare favorably with supermarket ground coffee.
It takes less time to prepare a cup of instant coffee than it takes to brew a cup of coffee. Once you’ve brought water to a boil, you simply stir in a cup of soluble coffee powder and it’s ready to drink in seconds.
In Japan, close to 50 percent of the coffee sold is instant coffee.
You can keep a packet or jar of instant coffee in your desk drawer at work or the glove compartment in your car. When you need a cup of coffee as a quick pick-me-up, all you need is hot water from the pot, microwave or even the tap.