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Espresso Powder and Instant Coffee, Are They the Same? Which Is Better?

Is espresso powder the same as instant coffee? The two can be confusing even to die-hard coffee enthusiasts.

The short version of it is espresso powder is NOT the same as instant coffee. Although the two ingredients come from the same raw material, i.e., coffee beans, they differ in a lot of ways.

To know the differences between espresso powder and instant coffee, let’s first find out: what is espresso powder and what is instant coffee?

What Is Espresso Powder?

coffee grounds in a portafilter for espresso

Espresso powder is extracted from high-quality Arabica beans through a process that’s fairly similar to making instant coffee. The name ‘espresso’ came about due to the invention of the espresso machine.

Even with this ‘confusing’ label, espresso powder is a finished product of coffee beans.

Espresso powder is prepared by brewing finely ground coffee beans as an espresso. Then, the already brewed coffee grounds are completely dried out to regain their original state. The grounds are then dehydrated at this state to form crystal granules, which are your favorite espresso powder.

What Is Instant Coffee?

texture of instant coffee granules

Instant coffee is prepared by brewing ordinary coffee beans (either Arabica or Robusta). The extracted coffee substance (in liquid form) is then dried up into instant coffee powder or granules.

Drying is done using two methods: spray-drying and freeze-drying.

Spray drying involves spraying a mist of brewed coffee liquid through extremely hot air. This causes the water to evaporate, leaving dehydrated coffee flakes or crystals.

Freeze-drying, on the other hand, involves subjecting the liquid coffee extracts to extremely cold temperatures until it solidifies. It’s then dehydrated to form coffee flakes or crystals, and then voila, you have your favorite instant coffee powder.

So, what’s the difference between espresso powder and instant coffee? Let’s cover that next.

Differences Between Espresso Powder and Instant Coffee

Espresso powder and instant coffee are different in terms of preparation, bean variety, amount of caffeine, taste, and usage.

Preparation Process

The process of making espresso powder and instant coffee is relatively similar. However, differences happen during grinding, roasting, and drying.

When making espresso powder, brewed coffee gets a second grinding process until it forms a finely grained powder. Here, the brewed substance is ground again to produce the desired granules: the espresso powder.

This is different from making instant coffee, which involves brewing, drying, and dehydration, respectively. This is a much more straightforward approach compared to making espresso powder since all you have to do is follow the traditional and straightforward process.

Also, espresso beans are roasted to form darker coffee grounds. This intense roasting results in a more concentrated and stronger end product.

By contrast, instant coffee beans are moderately roasted. Hence, they are relatively light, and the taste is less intense.

Bean Variety

Espresso powder is always extracted from the Arabica beans type, the highest quality variety among the two. This differs from the Robusta beans, which are mostly what’s used in making instant coffee.

Nonetheless, high-end coffee makers usually use Arabica beans to make instant coffee powder. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that instant coffee lovers are restricted to the “substandard” quality Robusta beans.

Even so, Robusta beans just don’t work well in extracting espresso powder. The harsh tones of Robusta will distort the smooth taste, which is the mark of quality in espresso.

This doesn’t suggest that Robusta beans are low-quality. In fact, Robusta beans are the most consumed variety around the world. It is convenient for middle and low-class coffee lovers who wouldn’t want to spend a lot for a mere jolt of caffeine.

Caffeine Content

One cup of instant coffee, which is around 8 oz, contains 80mg to 120mg caffeine. This is higher than the caffeine content in an espresso shot, whose concentration doesn’t go beyond 60mg.

So, if you feel like taking more caffeine, you should opt for instant coffee instead of the low-caffeine espresso.

Espresso is suitable for those caffeine-sensitive consumers wanting to reverse the associated side effects. Basically, espresso is keto-compliant. It allows you to experience the sensational feeling of caffeine while restricting its intake.

Instant coffee, on the other hand, is suitable for people not overly concerned about caffeine content. Often, the caffeine content in instant coffee is dictated by the manufacturers. So, end-users don’t have much say in the amount of caffeine they’ll consume. This differs from the espresso situation, which allows more control of caffeine intake.

Taste

Espresso powder tastes a lot better than instant coffee. This difference is due to different factors, including processing, bean varieties, and intended usage.

Espresso taste is the most preferred among coffee lovers around the world. This doesn’t mean that instant coffee tastes as bad. In fact, a majority of coffee lovers would prefer the strong taste associated with instant coffee. For them, the smooth taste of espresso doesn’t feel like it can quench their thirst.

The high-end consumers, on the other hand, seem to prefer the smooth, carefully crafted taste of espresso. That is why they are willing to pay premium prices to get that espresso shot.

Also, the varying taste is due to the type of coffee beans used to make the end product. Arabica beans used to make espresso powder are light. This differs from the intense feeling of Robusta beans in instant coffee.

How They Are Used

Espresso powder is mostly used by bakers to enrich chocolate-based dessert recipes. Espresso gives an extra and more complex flavor to baked products. This sophistication provides a much-sought variety for bakers.

Without espresso, bakers wouldn’t have the option to differentiate their products. This doesn’t mean that espresso is restricted to baking. In fact, a large proportion of produced espresso powder around the world is consumed as a beverage. Baking using espresso is a relatively recent invention. 

Instant coffee is used to make the regular coffee drink in nearly all situations. It is almost unheard of for instant coffee to be consumed in ways other than drinking. Instant coffee provides an immediate remedy for persons seeking to have that caffeine stimulation at any given time.

Do note that the two can be used interchangeably to meet the pressing caffeine needs of the moment. However, the instant coffee mix may not be used for baking purposes. Baking processes require a smooth, carefully crafted substance that can only be provided in espresso powder.

Also, learn the differences between espresso vs coffee.

Final Thoughts

So, is espresso powder the same as instant coffee? The answer is NO. Espresso powder provides a more high-quality sensation than instant coffee. Although it contains less caffeine concentration, espresso offers a stronger, enriched flavor desired by coffee lovers around the world.

This differs from instant coffee, which is the regularly brewed coffee substance used to satisfy that daily urge for caffeine. It is mostly made from relatively low-quality Robusta beans. So, instant coffee is convenient for regular coffee users as it is both effective and affordable.

Avatar for Krista Haws

Known among her friends as 'the caffeine fiend', Krista loves all things coffee. From an extremely short, strong espresso to a 3 day cold brew, Krista loves them all.

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