Last Updated on July 7, 2023 by Barry Gray
One of the things I love about coffee is the way you have so many choices. From selecting different beans, grind sizes, brewing methods, and types of coffee, you are never stuck without anything to drink.
But this array of options also leads to another problem. Knowing what to use for any given drink and also being aware of what works best.
At this time, I will focus on a very particular question. Which option is best between espresso powder and instant coffee?
After all, both options are popular choices in their own right, so which one comes out on top, if any?
Instant coffee is inexpensive and is often made by blending both Robusta and Arabica beans. It’s a rough grind compared to espresso powder which is significantly finer and is made from high-quality dark roasted beans.
Out of the two, I personally prefer espresso powder, but that’s because of how I love to enjoy my coffee. In saying that, I always have some instant coffee at home, as there are moments when using instant coffee appears to be the more straightforward solution.
But before I get to a point where I make my suggestion as to which option is best and the reasons why, let’s examine each option individually.
What Exactly is Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee was the thing that introduced me to coffee in the first place, so it does hold a special place for me. It’s also the easiest coffee to get your hands on, as every grocery store has some.
Often, you will see numerous brands of instant coffee coming in various sizes of jars. The jars will tell you what to expect from a taste perspective, even if that’s not exactly what transpires.
How is Instant Coffee Manufactured?
Whenever I look at instant coffee, I see something that tends to have the same size granules of coffee and a uniform color.
Instant coffee is actually made from ground coffee which goes through a dehydration process before it’s then either freeze-dried or sometimes spray-dried.
They primarily use Robusta beans for instant coffee. It tends to come with more of a bitter taste, but this bitter taste is also slightly mellow, as they will often go for a medium roast.
How to Prepare Instant Coffee
There’s no doubt that instant coffee is easy to prepare. It’s convenient, fast, and does deliver a decent cup of coffee.
All that’s required is to get some hot water, add the granules to your cup, add the water, and stir. The heat of the water allows the granules to dissolve, resulting in a coffee that doesn’t have any residue.
From an effort perspective, there’s almost no effort required at all, and that’s a cool thing.
What Exactly is Espresso Powder?
Espresso powder is entirely different from instant coffee in both appearance, smell, and what you can do with it.
What you have here is powdered coffee that is highly concentrated, and it delivers a more robust flavor when you use it to produce your finished coffee.
But I do see espresso powder as having some real advantages, especially when compared to instant coffee.
That’s because espresso powder has the ability to deliver a shot of espresso without you going through the process of tamping the powder or even having to pull an espresso. It does things faster than other ways to make espresso, and yet the quality of the coffee you can pull off is fantastic.
What Does Espresso Powder Taste Like?
Espresso powder is easy to use, but the taste it delivers will depend on the beans. However, it generally uses Arabica beans, so it’s known to have a smoother taste compared to instant coffee.
Also, a manufacturer will use a dark roast when producing espresso powder. That automatically changes how it performs when you add water, and the difference in taste is astonishing.
It’s Different From an Espresso
But I need to make one point very clear, espresso powder does not produce a full-on espresso. It gives you a slightly diminished version, but still with enough of a kick to let you know you have had a more robust coffee.
I feel this is where people make a mistake, and I understand why. It’s all to do with the word espresso, but this is a powder you can add to a mug and then pour hot water over without going through an espresso machine.
But I admit it still doesn’t taste the exact same.
What are the Differences Between Instant Coffee and Espresso Powder?
I’m sure most of you have already started coming up with a list of differences between these two options, but if you haven’t, let me help you.
While instant coffee is often made with a blend of both Arabica and Robusta beans, espresso powder is predominantly made from Arabica beans.
If you pay attention to the beans used in the different instant coffee or espresso powders, you will see they do use beans from around the world. That does mean they offer distinct flavors, so check out the details to gain insight into the taste experience you will have.
Instant coffee is often viewed as having a harsher taste. That’s due to the use of Robusta beans in the coffee.
Arabica beans are often smoother in taste and can be sweeter and with more floral notes to the coffee. This differs from Robusta beans, where many feel the beans have a nuttier taste than Arabica.
That does help you to better understand what’s going on with the potential flavor of your coffee when deciding between instant and espresso powder.
Also, I find the espresso powder to produce a coffee that’s richer in taste compared to instant coffee.
The Caffeine Levels
The caffeine level is where things get interesting. I think that’s because we automatically presume espresso will have this extraordinarily high caffeine level and that instant coffee would be a weaker version.
Well, while espresso powder does have more caffeine, the difference is less than you think.
It’s not a surprise that the espresso powder does come across as stronger. It has more of a concentrated form of coffee powder, so you would expect it to pack more of a punch.
But here are the key figures. Keep in mind they will vary depending on the beans used, growing conditions, and so many other variables, so it’s impossible to give you a precise figure.
Instant coffee will have a caffeine level ranging from 40 – 108mg of caffeine. Espresso powder will have an average ranging from 58 – 185mg of caffeine.
That does mean there may be times when the caffeine level is the same, no matter if using instant coffee or espresso powder.
And yet, it does leave some room for the espresso powder to hit you hard when it comes to caffeine, but it’s not a guarantee.
How is it Used?
This is where there can be a difference between instant coffee and espresso powder that most people don’t think about: how it’s used.
I get the confusion.
Instant coffee is something people use all over the world. It’s a quick and easy drink to make, with it delivering a decent enough cup of coffee.
Espresso powder is a bit different.
Not only can you make a drink with the powder, but it’s also a common ingredient used by bakers wishing to include coffee flavor in their creations.
If you plan on making tiramisu, for example, espresso powder is the perfect ingredient. You can also add it to any creation that is chocolate based, as it will certainly enhance the flavor of the chocolate way beyond what you expect.
Which is Best?
After looking at the differences, which option is best?
Clearly, this is a difficult question to answer. Coffee is, after all, a very personal thing, and your tastes or preferences will be different from my own.
Obviously, you can use both to manage to get your caffeine fix in the morning. I do feel the quality of the coffee in the espresso powder is better than you get in instant coffee.
But that preference with the taste is down to my own likes and dislikes with coffee in general. I prefer coffee with less of a nutty taste, and that does sometimes rule out instant coffee.
I admit I’ve not used it in baking, but I can see why it works and how it would change the flavor of things.
So, here’s my opinion.
If you do want to add coffee to baking, espresso powder would be the best solution. From a drinking perspective, I would still choose espresso powder if I had to.
But that’s not to say instant coffee is all bad. That’s certainly not the case.
However, I would certainly spend time effectively shopping around and trying various options with instant coffee.
My Recap on Instant Coffee and Espresso Powder
I feel it has been an interesting comparison looking at both instant coffee and espresso powder. However, after covering a number of key points, here’s a recap of the things that stand out.
- Instant coffee is only used for making coffee to drink
- Espresso powder can be used in baking as well as for drinking
- Instant coffee is often a combo of Robusta and Arabica beans
- Espresso powder is mainly created from dark roasted Arabica beans
- Espresso powder is slightly stronger from a caffeine perspective
- Espresso powder is different from an actual espresso
- Both are made using hot water poured over the grains
- Espresso powder has a finer grind than instant coffee
Both options can work as a drink, but at least you can have some fun checking out instant coffee and espresso powder to see which one you prefer.
I see both instant coffee and espresso powder as having their place in the world of coffee. My own personal preference is for espresso powder, but that’s because of how I like my coffee.
If you want speed and convenience, instant coffee is the one to use. But be aware some instant coffee is better than others, so prepare to shop around and try different versions to find one that works for you.
But then, the same applies to espresso powder. At least you get to try different coffee as you experiment and come to terms with your own likes and dislikes.