Instant vs. Ground Coffee: What’s the Difference?
The big debate, the great controversy, the major dispute. We’re answering what we can only assume is your most burning question: what’s the difference between instant and ground coffee? Let’s break down the distinctions between the two.
Is Ground Coffee the Same as Instant Coffee?
We’re willing to admit that instant coffee isn’t that bad — it’s still coffee, technically — but ground and instant coffee are two very distinct beings. Put simply, ground coffee consists of finely crushed coffee beans whilst instant coffee undergoes a unique process to become soluble granules. There’s a pretty big disparity when it comes to flavour and quality, with ground coffee being the undeniable winner.
What is Ground Coffee?
Ground coffee is the product of carefully-roasted Arabica coffee beans, which are then finely ground to varying levels of coarseness. During roasting, coffee beans undergo a transformation, developing their distinct taste and aroma. The degree of roasting, whether light, medium, or dark, greatly influences the final flavour, from the bright and acidic notes of lightly roasted beans to the bold and smoky undertones of dark roasts.
The beans are then ground depending on the desired brew and method of brewing. Unlike instant coffee, ground coffee will not dissolve in water. Instead, it needs time to diffuse its flavour into the water (as it does in a Cafetière).
What is Instant Coffee?
On the flipside, instant coffee takes, quite literally, an instant route to your cup. It still begins with roasted coffee beans but these tend to be Robusta beans rather than Arabica, which have a more complex flavour profile, but after roasting, the beans are brewed into a concentrated coffee liquid.
This liquid is then carefully dehydrated to form soluble coffee granules. The result is a product that dissolves easily in hot water, offering a quick and convenient way to enjoy coffee without the need for brewing equipment. However, this process impacts the final flavour and aroma, often resulting in a milder, less exciting taste compared to freshly brewed ground coffee.
Can You Use Ground Coffee as Instant?
Sort of, but not really. While the primary purpose of ground coffee is for traditional brewing methods, such as drip brewing, french press, or espresso machines, you can technically use ground coffee as a makeshift instant coffee substitute.
To use ground coffee as an instant coffee alternative, you’d need to follow these steps:
- Measure the grounds: determine the desired strength of your coffee and measure the appropriate amount of ground coffee. Typically, a standard ratio is one to two tablespoons of coffee per 250mls of hot water, but you can adjust it to your taste.
- Boil water: heat water to near-boiling point, ideally between 90°C to 96°C.
- Prepare a cup: place the measured ground coffee into a coffee cup or mug.
- Add hot water: pour the hot water over the ground coffee, ensuring that all the coffee grounds are saturated.
- Stir and steep: give the mixture a quick stir to agitate the grounds, then let it steep for approximately 4 minutes. This allows the coffee to infuse the water.
- Filter or decant: after steeping, you can filter the coffee by pouring it through a fine-mesh sieve. Alternatively, if you don't mind some sediment, you can let the grounds settle and carefully sip your coffee, leaving the grounds at the bottom of the cup.
Using ground coffee as instant coffee may result in a slightly different flavour profile than traditional instant coffee. The texture may also be coarser due to the presence of coffee grounds, and there may be some sediment in your cup. In other words, it’s not how we recommend you drink your coffee.
But there are some super simple ways to use ground coffee, minus the mess, for a delicious, high-quality brew that’s more than just a caffeine hit. Check out our how to brew guides for our quick and easy methods.
Differences Between Instant and Ground Coffee
The brewing process for instant coffee and ground coffee differs significantly in terms of time and method. Instant coffee is, unsurprisingly, the faster option: simply dissolve it in hot water. In contrast, ground coffee requires a little more time and some tools. You can use methods like V60 drip filters, espresso machines, or, our personal favourite, the beloved French Press. If you appreciate a great cup of coffee, it’s worth it.
A key distinction between instant and ground coffee is quality; there’s a reason you wouldn’t get instant coffee served to you in a café. Instant coffee is usually a little more bitter and a lot more bland than ground coffee. Ground coffee offers a more robust and nuanced flavour profile, which is why it’s our preferred choice and why instant coffee so often gets trashed by coffee-connoisseurs. Definitely not us, though.
Instant coffee is usually made from Robusta beans, known for their more bitter and intense taste compared to the milder, more complex Arabica beans used for ground coffee. Additionally, instant coffee typically struggles to retain the essential oils found in freshly ground coffee, which contribute to a smoother and less acidic taste, leaving you with an unexciting, slightly sour cup that could do with a huge helping of milk and sugar. Ground coffee has a more sophisticated, fresher taste.
If caffeine content is a top priority for you, ground coffee generally holds the edge. The brewing process allows for better caffeine extraction from the coffee grounds, resulting in a higher caffeine content compared to instant coffee. So, if you need an extra push to get you through the morning (and if you don’t, please tell us your secrets), ground coffee is the one. Although, it is possible to get great tasting decaf ground coffee.
In short, while instant coffee is the most convenient option, ground coffee shines in terms of quality, flavour, and caffeine content.
Grind’s Ground Coffee
Coffee-from-home, sorted. Explore our ground coffee products, available in five different, expertly-roasted blends, and taster packs.
This article was written by our Head of Coffee, Howey. Howey has been roasting coffee for years and knows the ins and outs of basically anything remotely coffee-related.