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Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee: 8 Differences You Need To Know

There are so many different ways to make coffee it can sometimes get a little confusing when comparing all the different types of coffee.

One area of confusion amongst coffee drinkers is when comparing instant coffee vs ground coffee.

To clear up the confusion, here we outline the key points of difference between ground coffee and instant coffee.

So if you have ever asked the question “is ground coffee instant coffee” or “what is the difference between instant coffee and ground coffee” you have come to the right place.

By the end of this article you will know all the coffee differences between these two popular types of coffee.

Scoop of instant coffee and ground coffee resting on top of whole coffee beans

What Is The Difference Between Instant Coffee vs Ground Coffee?

If you’re in a rush and you don’t have time to read all the points of difference between ground coffee and instant coffee, allow us to briefly explain the main point of difference. 

  • Ground coffee is a natural raw ingredient made of 100% ground coffee beans that have not been brewed.
  • Instant coffee is a manufactured product made from coffee that has been brewed, dehydrated and packaged.

This is what makes instant coffee granules so easy to use – you’re essentially just adding water to coffee that has already been made!

So that is the simple explanation. But we naturally wanted to delve a little deeper into the question to better understand the difference between instant and ground coffee.

So in the sections below we share 8 differences between ground coffee powder vs instant coffee powder.

1. Ground Coffee Is Raw Coffee Beans

As we explained above, the primary difference between ground coffee and instant coffee is what they are actually made up of.

Up until now, you might have thought both types of coffee were coffee beans, and it’s more than reasonable to have assumed this.

However, you might be surprised by what you’re about to find out!

Let’s start by taking a look at ground coffee.

What is ground coffee?

Ground roasted coffee is fresh whole coffee beans that have been roasted and ground using a coffee grinder for brewing coffee in different types of coffee makers, such as a drip brewer, French press, or espresso machine.

French press coffee maker with ground coffee beans and white cup

The process for creating ground coffee is as follows:

  • Pick coffee cherries from trees on coffee farms
  • Dry the cherries and extract the coffee beans (seeds)
  • Dry and roast the coffee beans
  • Grind the coffee beans for brewing.

The type of beans that are ground can differ, depending on the variety and the origin of the coffee beans. 

The type of roast and grind size also differs and are suitable for different type of coffee drinks.

The ground coffee is then packaged and shipped out to grocery stores and coffee shops ready for brewing.

Now, let’s look at how instant coffee is made.

What is instant coffee?

Instant coffee is made from freshly ground coffee that has been brewed then dehydrated to form dried coffee crystals to create a long lasting shelf-stable product.

Is instant coffee real coffee? Well, yes, it is, just made differently to ground coffee.

So how do they make instant coffee? There are two main methods for making instant coffee – freeze drying and spray drying.

  • Spray dry coffee – concentrated brewed coffee is sprayed in a fine mist into a vat of hot, dry air. The liquid evaporates and the remaining dried coffee powder forms coffee crystals.
  • Freeze dried coffee – made by freezing concentrated coffee in large slabs which are then broken down into particles and dried.

2. Instant Coffee Is Easier To Make Than Ground Coffee

Think about the last time you made a cup of instant coffee. You put a spoonful of granules in your mug, add hot water, and stir.

Almost magically, the coffee granules disappear as they dissolve in the hot water. This is because it’s made from soluble coffee, that has already been brewed. 

This, along with the fact it’s generally cheaper, is one of the reasons why many people use instant coffee. It’s super convenient and there’s no messy clean up.

Pouring hot water into cup of instant coffee granules.

Some instant coffees, especially those in sachets, even come with dried milk, sweeteners, and flavors added. These are especially popular with busy people who need a hit of caffeine in record time!

Ground coffee, on the other hand, takes a lot more work to use. First of all, it doesn’t dissolve in water, so it can’t be added straight to a mug.

Instead, ground coffee beans need to have hot water passed through them, extracting the coffee with it as it does.

Even when it’s made in a French press, ground coffee will settle at the bottom. It simply never dissolves.

The main reason for this is because it isn’t made from coffee that has already been brewed.

Instead, it is made up of fresh whole bean coffee with a large number of non-dissolvable fibers that coffee can be extracted from, but will never disappear. 

The freshness of the ground coffee results in a more aromatic and superior flavor in your cup.

However, ground coffee is harder to clean up after than instant coffee.

You need to dispose of the used grounds and thoroughly rinse your coffee brewer afterward, otherwise, you’ll find your next batch of coffee might have an overly bitter taste.

3. Ground Coffee Contains More Caffeine Than Instant Coffee

If you’re entirely dependent on a caffeine hit first thing in the morning, you’re better off with ground coffee.

This is because the amount of caffeine in ground coffee is greater than instant coffee caffeine. To explain why this is, we need to journey back to the brewing process. 

As we’ve explained above, instant coffee is made from coffee that has already been brewed. During this process, some of the caffeine is lost as the coffee solids are separated and dried.

Different strengths of instant coffee are available but they all have one thing in common – they’ll never have the same intense caffeine content as ground coffee. 

When hot water is passed through ground coffee, it extracts much more of the caffeine contained within the bean.

With this in mind, you’re also able to control the caffeine hit much better with ground coffee.

The longer the water stays in contact with the water, the stronger it will be.

This is why coffee made in a drip coffee machine, French press or cold brew coffee maker tends to have a higher caffeine level than an espresso machine or instant coffee.

Of course, you can always increase the caffeine content and strength of instant coffee by adding more to your cup. But, this tends to negatively impact the flavor of the coffee as it becomes more bitter..

4. Instant Coffee Is Cheaper Than Ground Coffee

The inexpensiveness of instant coffee is one of the things that makes it so appealing to coffee drinkers.

After all, why would you pay upwards of $7 for a cup of coffee from a coffee shop when you can get a whole jar of instant coffee for half the price?

The combination of instant coffee’s long shelf life, cheap manufacturing method and type of coffee beans used to make instant coffee make it much more affordable than ground coffee.

Unfortunately, the reduced price also reflects the lower quality of instant coffee compared to freshly ground coffee.

Robusta beans have a fairly high caffeine content and are cheaper to source than the other main bean type, Arabica, making it the perfect choice for making instant coffee. 

We’ll talk a little more about Robusta in the next section. But, the main thing you need to know is that, while it still contains a good amount of caffeine, it’s certainly not the best quality coffee bean available.  

Good ground coffee, on the other hand, is usually made from Arabica beans. Occasionally it is blended with Robusta to give it a higher caffeine content, but it’s rarely made solely from Robusta beans. 

But why is this? To put it simply, Arabica beans have a much better taste and most of the best coffee beans are 100% Arabica.

The downside is that ground Arabica coffee tends to be much more expensive than instant coffee as they are more expensive to source.

5. Instant Coffee Is Made From Robusta Coffee Beans

We’ve spoken a little about Robusta above and we know that it’s the type of coffee bean that most instant coffee is made from.

But, aside from being inexpensive for coffee companies to source, there are some other reasons it’s used almost exclusively to make instant coffee.

First of all, Robusta beans contain a large amount of caffeine, almost twice the amount you’d find in Arabica coffee.

While this may not necessarily seem like a bad thing, you need to remember that a lot of the caffeine content is lost in the brewing and drying process it takes to make instant coffee. 

So in fact instant coffee needs Robusta to ensure it still has a decent amount of caffeine in it once it’s been produced.

Another reason why Robusta is used to make instant coffee is that it has a very strong, bitter flavor. As is the case with its caffeine content, some of this is lost in the brewing and drying process.

However, it’s strong enough to still have some of that coffee flavor once it’s been processed. 

This strong taste also means that it isn’t too heavily muted by milk, sweeteners, and flavorings.

This is why there has been a recent rise in the manufacture and popularity of flavored instant coffees. 

Finally, Robusta plants and their cherries are highly disease-resistant and pest-resistant, so they are cheap and easy to grow.

As a result Robusta coffee bean plants yield almost double the number of cherries than Arabica, so it’s easier to source large quantities of coffee beans for a cheaper price.

Close up of coffee beans roast

6. Instant Coffee Is More Convenient Than Ground Coffee

We’ve touched on this above when looking at the amount of time it takes to make instant coffee compared to ground coffee.

You can have a cup of coffee in as little as 60 seconds when using soluble dissolvable coffee, while ground coffee needs to be brewed for several minutes. 

However, there are a few other reasons why instant coffee is considered more convenient than ground coffee. 

Let’s take a camping trip as our first example. Whilst there are plenty of portable coffee makers suitable for camping, nothing beats the convenience of a few spoonfuls of instant coffee to brew your morning cup of java. 

The same principle applies to office environments. Taking the time to brew a cup of fresh coffee in a French press using coffee grounds is going to eat into your work schedule.

It’s also much more convenient when you travel or commute to carry a jar of instant coffee around with you than a bag of coffee grounds! Wherever you’re going, all you’ll need is a cup and a kettle.

With coffee grounds, you’ll have to hope you’ve got access to several pieces of equipment in order to make your coffee!

Pouring sugar into cup of brewed black coffee

7. Ground Coffee Has More Depth Of Flavor

A common reason most specialty coffee drinkers shun instant coffee is the complexity of flavors and aromas achieved with ground coffee vs instant coffee.

There is no doubt a cup of instant coffee smells and tastes like coffee.

But in a blind taste test between a cup of instant brewed coffee and freshly brewed espresso or filter coffee, we are willing to bet most people would rate the coffee brewed with ground coffee higher than the instant coffee flavor.

Unfortunately the manufacturing process of instant coffee destroys many of the rich aromas and flavors associated with freshly ground coffee.

Instant coffee taste is often described as flat, bitter and lacking the complexity of aromas found in freshly ground coffee.

So if you are looking for a complex cup of coffee with plenty of aroma and flavor, ground coffee is the best option.

8. Instant Coffee Can Only Be Brewed One Way

One of the biggest downsides when comparing instant coffee vs ground coffee is that instant coffee can only be brewed one way – by pouring hot water on top of the coffee granules in your cup.

Coffee grounds on the other hand can be used to brew dozens of different types of coffee drinks in different types of coffee makers. It is a truly versatile ingredient!

A common question amongst instant coffee drinkers is can you make instant coffee in a coffee maker – and the answer is no.

There is no improvement in the taste of instant coffee if brewed in a coffee maker, and in many cases it may actually result in a worse tasting cup of coffee or possibly ruin your coffee maker.

Pros and Cons of Ground Coffee Vs Instant Coffee

Now you know the main difference between instant coffee vs regular coffee, let’s summarize the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons Of Instant Coffee

Loved by many coffee drinkers the world over, instant coffee has existed for over a hundred years.

Pros

Quick and easy to make

Long shelf life

Affordable price

Cons

Lacks depth of flavor

Lower caffeine level

Can only be used for one brew method

Pros and Cons of Ground Coffee

A highly versatile product, ground coffee is the base for most coffee drinks, unique and common the world over.

Pros

Can be used for many different brewing methods

Huge range of roasts and flavors

Produces a flavorful cup of coffee

Cons

Freshness deteriorates rapidly after grinding

Different grinds needed for different types of brewing

More expensive than instant coffee

Ground Coffee vs Instant Coffee FAQs

How is instant coffee made?

Instant coffee is made from freshly ground coffee that has been brewed then dehydrated to form dried coffee crystals to create a versatile shelf-stable coffee product.

Are coffee pods instant coffee?

No, coffee pods and k-cups are not instant coffee. Coffee pods are filled with freshly ground coffee and vacuum sealed with an inbuilt filter to retain freshness.

Can I use ground coffee as instant coffee?

No, you cannot use ground coffee as instant coffee. Unlike instant coffee, ground coffee is not soluble and will not dissolve in hot water. Ground coffee needs to be brewed using a coffee machine in order to extract the coffee from the grounds into your hot water.

Why is instant coffee cheaper than ground coffee?

The main reason why instant coffee is cheaper than ground coffee is that it’s usually made from Robusta coffee beans. These are cheap to source and grow abundantly on plants that are less susceptible to disease and pests.

This means that coffee manufacturers can source and grow them for a lower price than the Arabica beans that are often used to make ground coffee. 

Is instant coffee or ground coffee better?

This really comes down to personal preference. Both types of coffee are made from coffee beans, they just undergo a different manufacturing process.

If you want ultimate convenience and a good hit of caffeine, instinct coffee is an excellent choice.

However, if you have a little more time in the mornings and want a better-tasting cup of coffee with a similar caffeine content, choose ground coffee.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, everything you need to know about the difference between coffee grounds vs instant coffee. But, which is best? There are a few factors to consider here. 

If you’re looking for a cheap and convenient way of getting your morning coffee fix, instant coffee is the way to go. It may not taste as good as ground coffee, but it’ll still give you a good caffeine hit without any special effort.

If you’re more of a coffee connoisseur or you simply don’t like the idea of drinking coffee that has already been brewed and dried, ground coffee is the way to go.

You’ll get a smoother taste and a caffeine hit that matches instant coffee. You’ll just need some brewing equipment and some extra time to make it. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with switching between both instant coffee and ground coffee when needed. Life isn’t simple and there will always be moments when you need a quick cup of coffee.

Learn more interesting coffee facts in our brew guides or find a new coffee recipe to try here

More coffee brewing articles

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top view of instant coffee and ground coffee in wooden container.

 

About Rachel R

Founder of Creators of Coffee, Rachel is a passionate coffee lover, SCA member and former barista, who also loves to research and share practical tips on everything to do with coffee. Favorite way to make coffee: With an Espresso Machine

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