Don’t tell the trendy hipsters and espresso snobs, but granulated coffee is surging in popularity as new technologies make it better tasting than ever. BIBO decided to sniff out the best brands and find out how to make a cup so perfect your friends would swear you’d brewed it freshly.
Ordering drinks in a café used to be so much simpler. When the waiter appeared at your table, the first question would be ‘Tea or coffee, madam?’ The only other enquiry might be whether or not you wanted it with milk.
Then it all changed. You had to decide if you preferred Costa Rican or Kenyan beans, whether you fancied a flat white, latte, cappuccino, Americano, macchiato or mocha. Not even the milk was simple as almond, soy and rice varieties sprung up, making plain old dairy seem very old hat.
People were splashing out $5,000 on coffee machines the size of dishwashers and thinking nothing of paying $8 for a caffeine hit on their way to the office, served in a disposable cup that would still exist when their grandchildren's grandchildren had grandchildren.
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But now, the humble instant coffee is making an unexpected comeback. By the end of 2019, it accounted for an amazing 41 per cent of the market while ground and whole beans had sunk to a lukewarm 25 per cent.
And then, during COVID, they shot up by another 40 per cent. The bitter, harsh flavours they'd been infamous for have been replaced by depth and a deliciously smooth intensity. In taste tests, most can’t tell the difference between granulated and freshly ground.
why instant can be best
- They cost around 27c a cup, so, if you’re spending $5 a day for barista-made, you’ll save $1000 a year.
- You’re helping the planet. Australians throw away over a BILLION plastic coffee cups a year, very few of which are recycled.
- It’s called ‘instant coffee’ for a reason. The average time spent waiting for a ‘proper’ coffee is nine minutes so you could be wasting an hour a week. And if you have a BIBO water bar, you don’t even have to wait for the kettle to boil!
Professional coffee taster John Ruddell Storey was amazed at the quality of the eight varieties he rated for Good Food recently.
“Ten years ago they’d have been harsh, sour, with chemical notes,” he said. “Consumer expectations and technical advances have got rid of these negative flavours.”
He rated Republica Organic South American Medium Roast as the best, just ahead of Starbucks Premium and Bushell’s Classic Gourmet.
Meanwhile, in a major Canstar Blue survey of 1100 coffee drinkers across Australia this year, the seven favourites were:
- Nescafe Blend 43
- International Roast
- Robert Timms
- ALDI AlCafé
- Nescafe Gold
5 tips for the perfect cup
If the water's been boiled multiple times in a kettle, oxygen levels dip and it can taste stale. You'll be amazed how much smoother both coffee and tea taste if they're made with filtered and purified water.
The ideal water temperature is between 80 and 85 degrees Celsius (lower than ground coffee). If you have a BIBO water bar, you can set it to the exact temperature you need.
Most manufacturers recommend a teaspoon of coffee granules per cup, but this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Is it a heaped teaspoon or level one? Should you put more in if it’s a mug? And does your particular teaspoon hold exactly one teaspoon?!
There are so many variables, that you need to experiment with different amounts until you have the perfect cup.
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Some instant coffees can still taste great after 20 years (even though best before dates are usually around two-three years), but only if you store them correctly in an opaque, sealed container away from direct sunlight. Some swear by freezing the jars, but there’s no evidence it improves the flavour.
spray or freeze?
There are two ways to make instant coffee. Spray drying is the most common, where the processed beans are sprayed into a stream of hot air to remove moisture.
Freeze drying involves roasting and grinding the beans, dissolving them in a small amount of water before freezing the mixture at -50 degrees Celsius. Most experts say the latter technique retains more of the favour.