Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Barry Gray
I have both instant coffee and ground coffee in my home, and I do enjoy both depending on the type of coffee drink I want to make. But I was going to my coffee station earlier, and when I saw the two coffee options side by side, it got me thinking.
The question that popped up in my mind was all connected to the actual differences between the two. Let’s face it: you get coffee at the end, and they both start off as a coffee bean, so when does the change occur, and how does it alter the finished results you can achieve?
Both instant and ground coffee have a number of differences. Instant is cheaper, while ground has more aroma and flavor. Also, ground coffee keeps more of its caffeine, but instant is far more convenient and won’t degrade in the same way as ground coffee.
What this all means is you need to think about the type of coffee you plan on making and also how long it takes you to work through your coffee. I always feel having coffee as fresh as possible makes a significant difference to the finished drink, so if you hardly make a cup, then ground coffee may not be the best.
Yet before I dive into the differences in a bit more detail, a quick word about what I even mean when I talk about instant coffee or ground coffee.
What is Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee is where my own particular coffee journey started, and it was all thanks to a jar of the stuff sitting in a kitchen cupboard. It was a brand called Red Mountain, and I now know it was pretty mellow and mild.
But what is it?
Instant coffee will often be made from robusta beans that are roasted into a liquid and then dehydrated to form those coffee crystals you see in the jar. It’s an entirely different way of doing things, but what you get at the end is something that is completely dry.
This dryness is crucial as it helps the coffee to effectively be preserved for longer. Still, it also helps keep the freshness and, more importantly, the richness of the coffee.
That is why it looks so different from ground coffee. By the time it has reached the jar, it has already gone through several stages that just won’t happen with ground coffee.
What is Ground Coffee?
Ground coffee is entirely different when compared to instant coffee, even though they clearly come from the same origin.
The beans are roasted with ground coffee and then ground down to different sizes depending on your desired coffee. Not all ground coffee is the same. For example, you need different grinds if using an espresso machine compared to a pour-over.
But so much flavor will also come from the quality of the bean that has been harvested. Also, you get different roast levels that will also change the flavor of the ground coffee.
What are the Differences Between Instant and Ground Coffee?
I’ve spent some time thinking about how I would discuss the differences between both instant and ground coffee. I reached the conclusion it should come down to how things affect the flavor and enjoyment of the coffee.
Let’s face it: that’s what we want from coffee, no matter the version.
The Flavor and Taste
There’s no comparison between instant and ground coffee when it comes to either the flavor or taste. Ground coffee wins, and even those companies that produce instant coffee are constantly trying to improve their techniques to allow more flavor to be delivered.
Sadly, the manufacturing process does remove so much of the flavor from instant coffee. However, it can still deliver a decent drink. Yet, the flavor aspect is a world away from what you get with ground coffee.
It’s the fact ground coffee is not over-processed that helps the flavor. It goes through fewer steps than instant coffee, and that makes a huge difference.
Along with the flavor, aroma plays a huge role in how enjoyable coffee can be, and this is another area where there’s a vast difference between instant and ground coffee.
The aroma of ground coffee is far superior to instant coffee. This is thanks to the roasting process, where a company that knows what it’s doing can really fine-tune the roasting part.
As a result, an experienced roaster can allow a certain level of oils to be extracted from the beans, helping release the aroma and yet still making it possible for the flavor to also flow from the beans when brewing.
You just do not get that kind of feedback from instant coffee.
If it’s the caffeine kick you are looking for, then ground coffee is what you need. So much of the caffeine aspect is lost in the preparation of instant coffee, and while there’s still some in there, it’s not as powerful as it is in ground coffee.
But here’s an important point.
The companies that manufacture instant coffee will almost determine the level of caffeine that ends up in a cup. Also, they use robusta beans, so they have a head start with the caffeine, but how it’s manufactured means so much caffeine is lost.
And yet, ground coffee has to really be blended with more than one type of bean to deliver the caffeine hit. Arabica beans do have less caffeine in them than robusta, but you still get a real hit when you pile in more coffee to help you out.
Instant Coffee Clumps Together
I’m moving away from the taste aspect for a moment, and there’s one thing I’m sure most people have noticed with a jar of instant coffee: some of the granules stick together in the bottom of the jar.
It’s annoying as I’ve found myself on so many occasions trying to prize off those granules as I know that my last cup of coffee will be as weak as bath water. You just do not get that from ground coffee, which sits there in its bag, all fluffy and ready to be scooped up and added to whatever brewing method you plan on using.
It tends to be caused by some moisture, but here’s the good news. Those granules that are all stuck together will still dissolve when you throw in some hot water.
Also, it won’t change the taste of your coffee either. In other words, it’s more of a nuisance rather than anything else.
Ground Coffee Deteriorates
I’m finally on one difference where instant coffee is the winner, and it’s the problem with deterioration.
Ground coffee will degrade and go stale, and it does this naturally. Instant coffee doesn’t have the same issues, so it will still taste the same even weeks after you open the jar.
This makes instant coffee a perfect choice for people who rarely drink coffee.
But with ground coffee, it starts to lose some of its punch over time. The air, light, and moisture are all enemies of ground coffee, and it does get to the point where you notice a difference in the coffee.
Yet the sad thing is I’ve had so many friends coming to talk to me and being all confused about their coffee. They can’t understand how they make their French press the same way with the same coffee, and yet it suddenly doesn’t taste right.
The answer is almost always they have had their ground coffee open for a long time, and it’s simply gone stale.
Instant Coffee is More Convenient
One thing I do love about my instant coffee is I can take it anywhere. I’m not talking about having the whole jar (I often buy those massive jars) and carrying it with me when I go camping.
But I see instant coffee as working well when I’m in nature and making some cowboy coffee. It’s just easier putting some in a small container, or even a bag, and throwing it in my bag.
The fact you don’t have to filter out anything is a massive bonus with instant coffee. While I appreciate the taste of ground coffee more, there are just times when instant coffee makes your life a whole lot easier.
Which Do I Prefer?
Out of the two options, I do prefer ground coffee, but let me give you a quick recap of the reasons why I like this option.
- Ground coffee generally tastes better.
- The aroma of ground coffee is superior.
- The variety of flavors you can get from ground coffee is better.
- You have more options with brewing methods with ground coffee.
Considering those things are all about the taste aspect, it makes sense for me to choose ground coffee as my preferred option.
But I’m not saying instant coffee is terrible. It has its place, and I think every coffee lover should have some at home. For me, instant coffee has these benefits.
- It’s often cheaper to purchase, so it’s perfect for those on a budget.
- It lasts longer and doesn’t deteriorate.
- It’s way more convenient.
Those are important points to remember, and I would certainly suggest taking your time and experimenting with different brands of instant coffee. Some are better than others when it comes to the taste.
Numerous differences exist between instant and ground coffee, resulting in a different coffee-drinking experience. Both have their positives and negatives, and that’s why I always keep both options in my pantry.
For me, this is part of the joy of coffee. You get to try different versions via an array of brewing methods, culminating in different tastes at the end. While I do prefer ground over instant, it’s not a train smash if you only have the instant version at home.
Instead, if you are creative, you can have some amazing fun messing around with the granules and seeing what you end up making.