We all know what they say about simplicity and sophistication. I have been pondering about how to out this post in the simplest way possible, but found myself completely eroding my cerebellum trying to come up with a simplified way of explaining how a solid mass can turn directly into gas without involving terms from The MIGHTY and most abhorred, one and only Chemistry! This is the point where I will call for my people to remain calm as we work out a formula to dissect this chemicalized part of coffee –. I promise you zero migraines by the time you are done reading this. The education system can be understandably unfair. For an accountant trying to balance books, it is ridiculous to think that they had to memorize names such as Sclerenchyma, Xylem, Phloem, metatarsals, Surds, Avogadros constant, Van Der Waals forces, Dichotomous key and the Loop of Henle. It is even worse for those who had to bear with the creative memorization ways teachers came up with such as, ‘My Very Educated Mother blah blah blah—Planets’ ‘Richard Of York blah blah—rainbow, and go through the torturous Binomial Nomenclature practicals; only to end up being Youtubers or Public-Likes brokers!
My favorite part in all this education saga has to be in the Chemistry class where we were told that an atom cannot be seen even under the strongest microscope; yet we spend the entire 4 years drawing those annoying dotted circles in our books! We need a refund. But again, it is all good since we have guys who mastered these things so much that they could even insult you in an Anglo-Chemistry language and you wouldn’t even notice it’s an insult. Something like, ‘Blarri-hydrochloroflourocarbon.’ They would of course get away with it because it was illegal to hit someone on the head with a round-bottomed flask or shove a Bunsen burner down their duodenum.
Drip Coffee vs. Instant Coffee
For those who have no idea where we are coming from, you would want to revisit Part one of this journey where we focused on the Drip or Brewed coffee that you are likely to come across in the Kenyan malls. This time round we shall dwell on the instant coffee also known as soluble coffee, and a little mention of some special coffee that you are likely to find in the Kenyan supermarket shelves. One question that will arise is, what is the difference between instant coffee and normal drip coffee? The answer lies in the a.k.a names that I have provided. Instant coffee is soluble while drip coffee is extracted by brewing roasted ground coffee. The inspiration behind instant coffee was finding a convenient way of enjoying coffee, which went on to became a popular drink during and after World War II. Let’s look at the types of instant coffee in our shelves.
Fine/Powder Instant Coffee
If you go back to our earlier Coffee Myths and Facts Post, I mentioned that instant coffee is majorly Robusta coffee. This is due to the fact that it is easier and cheaper to extract soluble contents from Robusta than Arabica. The production process involves the normal roasting and grinding of coffee beans. The ground coffee is then dissolved in water and the volatile soluble contents extracted by heating the solution under high temperature and pressure. This is coffee that you would take normally. What makes it instant is the further process that goes to turn this solution into solid powder. The process is called Spray Drying. This is where water in the soluble coffee solution is evaporated by spraying it in a heated vacuum chamber leaving behind the solid powder. This is what you will find in tins or sachets in the local stores. It is in form of fine powder that you only need to put in your cup of hot water or milk and enjoy your coffee drink.
Granulated or Agglomerated Instant Coffee
This is a sort of an improvement of the powdered instant coffee. It was meant to address the issues of solubility of the powdered coffee due to its tendency to form lumps when put in water or milk. At the production level, the fine coffee also posed logistical and operational challenges when being shipped due to its dusty nature. Agglomeration of the powdered coffee was the solution to these problems, by turning the fine powder into granules. This increases their solubility and flowability, making it even more convenient both to consumers and processors.
The Agglomeration process is basically re-wetting the fine coffee powder by passing it through water sprays to make the fine particles stick together and form larger granules. In the shelves, you will mostly find it in glass jars and also sachets labeled ‘Classic granulated/agglomerated coffee.’ Warning! Instant coffee is extremely hygroscopic (attracts water from surrounding), and should always be stored in an air tight container in a cool dry place or else… you already know.
Freeze Dried Coffee
This was also developed to solve another problem that the agglomerated instant did not address. We all want our instant coffee to have the exact coffee aroma and characteristics as the brewed coffee. To achieve this, the freeze drying method was invented to address the heating process that resulted to loss of some volatile components which contribute to coffee aroma. In this process, the coffee extract is instead frozen systematically into large ice slabs. The slabs are then heated under a vacuum resulting in sublimation; (the process I mentioned above where solid ice changes state directly to gas without passing through the liquid phase). This leaves behind high quality solid coffee extracts which are subsequently broken into small pieces. In the shelves, you will find them in jars labeled Gold, Freeze Dried Instant Coffee. This is the premium or gourmet of all the instant coffee types we have.
Instant Coffee Mix
The most common in this category is the 3-in-1 coffee mix. Coffee mix constitute of instant coffee that is proportionally mixed with other ingredients. It was a much more simplified way of having your coffee and all the usual accompaniments in one sachet. You only need hot water. The naming is done in accordance with the number of ingredients in the mix. In Kenya, you will find 2-in-1 (coffee and non-dairy creamer) 3-in-1 (coffee, creamer, and sweetener), 4-in-1 (coffee, creamer, sweetener and chocolate). This can go on and on with additional ingredients.
And finally these won’t go Unmentioned
Also known as Decaf. This one made it to this post because, well, it is coffee and I wouldn’t let it pass. Decaf is for those who are not keen on the energy kick that regular coffee provides due to the caffeine content, but still want to enjoy a good cup. It is made by washing regular green coffee beans in organic solvents before roasting the beans. This process eliminates almost 98% of the caffeine in the coffee beans. In Kenya, there are few Decafs on the shelves from some local coffee roasters. Just check them out.
I saw this in the supermarket shelves and thought I should include it here. Simply put, this is coffee that goes through the whole value chain without the use of artificial chemical substances such as fertilizers, additives or artificial pesticides. It is just coffee, but with intense environmental and health consideration applied in its production process.
And that is it! If you ever came across anything outside this list, share in the comments. It should be coffee or a cousin of coffee at the least and I will dissect it for you.