Instant Coffee, is it that bad?


Hi everyone!

Have you ever tried taste testing instant coffee and proper coffee from beans? I actually think there aren’t too many people who have tried this. For one thing, it was the first time I tried, and it was quite a shock. I expected them to be different, of course, but I did not realize how different they were.

Is it worth the cost and the time to brew my own coffee from beans? I’m satisfied with my instant coffee, but is real coffee all that much better? Whichever of these two questions you are asking right now, this experiment should be interesting.

To be honest, if you are interested in coffee enough to buy beans and brew yourself, you probably wont buy instant coffee. Why would you? You have better coffee at home. I at least did not have any instant coffee in my house since I started brewing coffee myself.

Oppositely, if you don’t care too much about your coffee, instant coffee might be your best friend. A couple years ago, before I started brewing coffee, I used to drink it everyday at the office. I also had some around at home. Back then, coffee was a drink I made to have with something else, like a cake, and not something to enjoy on its own.

In either case, you most likely would not have cups of real coffee and instant coffee side-by-side.

Well I tried, and to get to the conclusion straight away, they are completely different things. And it was an experience which made me re-realize the value of real coffee and how much better it was.

Instant Coffee

So I bought this instant coffee from AFG which is very commonly available in Japan. It directly translates to “a slightly luxurious cafe”. It was one of the instant coffees I used to drink back in the day, and as the name suggest, it’s not the cheapest ones out there, it’s of decent quality. It contains 28 sticks, and 1cup would be about 10cents.

I just opened a stick into a cup and added 140ml of hot water. (The recommended amount was 140-180ml)

How easy is that.

Real coffee from beans

For the real coffee, I used the Blend Classic 1991 from MARUYAMA COFFEE. (I did a review in Japanese, if you just want some pictures)

It has been about 1.5 months from purchasing them, so they are not at their best condition. But I have stored them frozen for most of the time. If you are interested in how I store coffee beans please jump over to this post.

There beans were on sale when I got them but if I consider their original price of about $40 for 500g, if I use a 12g dose each cup will be roughly $1. That is 10 times the cost of instant.

I used the HARIO SWITCH to brew. I have written a brew guide over here

Comparing how they look

I was not expecting it, but this comparison displayed a big difference.

It may be a bit difficult to see in the picture but the instant coffee is opaque and brown-ish. Sort of similar to metal filtered coffee. Where as the real coffee was clear from the paper filter.

If you shine light through the real coffee it has this distinct red-ish color.

The instant coffee of the other hand is like this.

Comparing their smell

The moment I brought the cup of instant coffee close to my nose, I felt a weirdness in the smell. It does have a strong smell, but it’s like burnt sugar and an oddly chemical sweet smell. Very different from what I am used to.

The real coffee, in comparison, has a fresh, complex and relaxing smell. The strength of the smell does go to the instant coffee, but quality-wise it offers no competition.

People would and should have different preferences, but I prefer the aromas of the real coffee 120%.

Comparing their taste

There is absolutely no acidity in instant coffee. It has a pronounced bitterness. It does have some sweetness, but it kind of feels different from the complex sort of sweetness found in real coffee.

The blend I used from MARUYAMA COFFEE is a pretty dark roasted coffee with a ton of body and bitterness. However I noticed this by comparison to the instant coffee, but even a very well developed dark roast has some acidity. This balance of acidity and bitterness create the complex deliciousness of coffee.

This might not even count as a metaphor but, the difference is like tasting real strawberries and artificial strawberry flavoring. They are completely different things.

So I think you get my gist by this point. I believe that real coffee brewed from beans offer a far superior and frankly completely different experience. In my opinion it is well worth the 10 times cost.

But I don’t mean to dismiss instant coffee. It proved to be a very effective tool in realizing the pleasures of real coffee. I feel as though this few dollars spent on instant coffee has made me value my coffee beans even more. (So I guess in that sense I got more back than I paid for)

If you are a person who enjoys and regularly drinks instant coffee, please try taking out a cup of real coffee from a nearby cafe and do a taste comparison. I think you might be surprised. (Although it may have just been my lazy taste buds in the past that did not notice…) And if this experience makes you want to start brewing coffee your self, please take a look at this beginners guide to coffee brewing.

Please leave a comment if you have tried this comparison!

Just as a back story, I did this comparison for a different purpose originally. I thought that using a stable tasting coffee, such as instant coffee, would be a good benchmark for taste testing all kinds of coffee beans. This was the post I was going to write, but after realizing how different instant coffee was from real coffee, I quickly noticed that it was never going to work as a benchmark. I am still thinking about writing the intended post, but I will need to find a better tasting stable coffee for this.