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When I was at a hotel in Italy, I came across the best instant coffee I have ever had.

I hoarded the packets each day so I could stock up for when I was back home in the states.

Since then, I have never minded opting for instant coffee if I didn’t have access to my coffee machine.

As a coffee lover, I was surprised to find out that up until recently, I had never heard of instant espresso.

To me, it sounds like a term that would be a bit controversial among coffee lovers.

Today we will be covering the major differences between instant coffee and instant espresso as well as how they are made, what they can be used for and some expert recommendations. 

Welcome to today’s lesson on the differences and similarities between instant coffee and instant espresso.

If you’re looking for a particular section, just click on it below to jump there 🙂

Table of Contents:

Quick Take: The Major Differences Between Instant Espresso and Instant Coffee

How Instant & Powdered Coffees Are Made

Drawbacks & Benefits of Each Method

The Versatility of Instant Espresso

Benefits Of Instant Or Powdered coffees

Brewing Instructions & Tips

Recommended Espresso Powders On The Market

Recommended Instant Coffees On The Market

Conclusion: Key Takeaways For Instant Coffee & Instant Espresso

Quick Take: The Major Differences Between Instant Espresso and Instant Coffee

Like fresh coffee and shots of espresso, instant coffee and instant espresso have many differences.

If you’re in a bit of a rush, here is brief rundown of some key differences and similarities between the two.

Flavor Profile

No surprise here! The flavor profile of instant espresso tends to be a lot more complex than that of instant coffee.

Instant espresso will have a bolder and more intense flavor, with more chocolate and fruit notes than instant coffee.

This is primarily due to the type of beans used and how much the beans are roasted before brewing.

Instant coffee, while still having a strong coffee flavor, might leave a few sour notes or bitter flavor in your mouth after drinking.

Bean Type

The majority of instant coffee uses Robusta coffee beans.

These are the go-to as the trees produce more coffee fruit but tend to be considered lower quality as they lack the flavor profile and sugar content that you’ll find in Arabica beans.

Instant espresso on the other hand uses Arabica beans primarily.

These are the beans of choice as they provide a more complex flavor profile than Robusta beans, helping mimic the flavor profile of an actual espresso shot.

Roast Levels

While beans used for instant coffee are typically roasted more to a medium roast (410-460F), beans used for instant espresso tend to be roasted very dark (460-480F) to unlock that intensely concentrated flavor espresso beans normally produce.

Grind Level

While you will find instant coffee as a powder and in the form of coffee crystals, you will pretty much only find instant espresso in a very fine powder form.

Uses and Versatility

While you may assume that instant espresso is used for making lattes and more at home, it is primarily used in cooking!

Similar to adding salt to caramel, the addition of espresso powder in baking and different spice rubs elevates the flavor of whatever you’re cooking, without making the dish taste like coffee.

This being said, you can absolutely use instant espresso for your favorite coffee drink, just make sure you’re using a brand that isn’t just for baking.

We suggest two of the best espresso powders for drinking at the end of this article!

Instant coffee on the other hand is used more often to create a quick cup of coffee.

Caffeine Content

Because caffeine content can vary so much based on the brand producing the coffee, it is hard to definitively say which will have more caffeine.

However, because instant espresso is created using a much more concentrated form of coffee, you can expect it to have a bit more caffeine than a cup of instant coffee.

As a general base range, instant espresso is thought to contain about 60-100mg of caffeine per serving while instant coffee contains around 63 mg of caffeine on average.

Overall, these two contain an amount of caffeine comparable to your regular cup of coffee which sits at around 80-110 mg of caffeine.

Shelf Life

Both instant coffee and instant espresso have a much longer shelf life than fresh coffee, lasting 1-2 years after the best-by date or even longer when kept in optimal conditions!

How Instant & Powdered Coffees Are Made

The process of turning a green coffee bean into a powder that you can mix water into and all of a sudden have a semi-decent cup of coffee, is not a small one!

There are two main ways that you can make instant coffee or instant espresso.

One of the most popular instant coffee suppliers, Nescafe, uses both of these methods depending on which type of instant coffee they are producing.

Nescafe Original uses a spray-drying method while Nescafe Gold uses a freeze-drying method.

The first two steps of this production process are very similar, while the third step is where the processes split apart.

Step 1: Delivery and Roasting

After the green coffee beans are delivered, they are cleaned and taken to be roasted.

While Eleven Coffees states that Nescafe roasts their coffee to around a medium roast, the beans that are used for espresso powder are typically roasted to a darker level to enhance the flavor profile of the resulting coffee.

Step 2: Batch Extracting & Concentrating

The roasted beans are sent to the grinder, where the ground coffee beans are then transferred into a large container to undergo extraction a.k.a the brewing process.

Unlike a normal brewing process, this process yields a very highly concentrated coffee liquid.

In some smaller roasteries like Black & White coffee in North Carolina, their coffee concentrate is created by using an espresso machine instead of a batch style of extraction.

This creates some of the most concentrated coffee possible.

Roast Kat created an in depth video documenting their instant coffee making process that you can watch here

Step 3: Drying & Processing

This step is where the two methods split apart:

After you obtain your concentrated coffee liquid, you can take two different routes.

Route #1: Spray Drying Method

For the spray drying method, this coffee concentrate is moved to a very hot and dry chamber, where it is sprayed directly into the air.

Because of the area’s toasty environment, all of the liquid in the coffee concentrate evaporates off, leaving you with fine coffee powder that falls to the collection area on the ground.

This is the dehydrated ground coffee that is packed up for you to enjoy.

Route #2: Freeze Drying Method

For the freeze-drying method, the concentrated coffee is heated further to evaporate off more of the liquid, turning it into an intense coffee extract.

Once this thicker, more concentrated extract is created, it is moved along a conveyor belt into a -50C room where it is freeze dried into thin sheets.

After the sheets are frozen solid (which is quite quickly in some cases), it is then passed through a machine that breaks up the sheets into granules.

These granules are then passed into a vacuum chamber for the air to be removed and then into a heated drying chamber where any remaining ice from the previous processes is melted off and removed.

What is left is the dry fine powder or crystals that will be packaged up along the line.

Step 4: Packaging

Naturally after the instant coffee or espresso is made, it will be sent along the assembly line to be packaged.

Drawbacks & Benefits of Each Method

Spray Drying:

While this method may be good for producing large quantities of instant coffee, this method causes the coffee to lose a lot of the aromas and flavor when the liquid is sprayed into the air to dry.

Freeze Drying:

This method is most commonly used in the industry as both the flavor and aroma of the coffee are kept relatively well in the process.

However, the process of freeze drying tends to be more expensive than that of spray drying.

The Versatility of Instant Espresso

To start, instant espresso is known by many different names, including:

  • Espresso powder
  • Espresso baking powder
  • Instant espresso powder

While one (a.k.a me 🙂 ) might assume the primary use of instant espresso is to make a good cup of coffee in the morning, it is more commonly found in the kitchen for cooking and baking.

The purpose of using espresso powder in the kitchen isn’t to create a coffee-flavored dish but to enhance and elevate the flavors already present, similar to adding sea salt to caramel.

This ingredient can intensify the chocolate flavor in brownies and add depth to savory dishes like barbecue and chili.

Author Laura Manzano also points out that you can use some of these powders to create just enough liquid coffee for a recipe, avoiding the need to brew a full pot and wasting the rest.

Tasty Foods published a fantastic article detailing various ways to use espresso powder in foods, including some surprising applications like salad dressing.

I highly recommend checking it out here!

Benefits of Instant or Powdered Coffees

Whether you’re on the go or just away from a coffee maker, there are several benefits to using instant or powdered coffees.

Extended Shelf Life

When using fresh coffee, you need to keep an eye on how old the beans or grounds are.

Exposure to oxygen over an extended period of time can cause the beans to lose their flavor and create a less than idea tasting cup of coffee.

With instant coffee or espresso, you have a shelf-life potential of YEARS. This can be the perfect option for someone who just has a cup of coffee every once in a while

Ease of Use

Another major appeal of these two powdered coffees is the ease of use.

All you need to do is add liquid to use these dried coffees, making them great for travel and camping trips.


This benefit applies mainly to powdered and instant espresso.

Not only does it have a super long shelf life, but you can choose to make a morning coffee with it or throw it into your favorite food to make it even better.

Who doesn’t like a good 2 for 1 deal??

Brewing Instructions & Tips

As someone who has added way too much instant coffee into my drink before, I highly recommend following the instructions on the package before brewing.

In the case of instant espresso, this may be 1tsp per 2oz of water to create an instant shot of espresso, or for instant coffee, 1-2tsp per 8oz or coffee cup of water.

Procaffinator Fun Fact: You don’t need to use hot water to dissolve instant coffee granules- you just need to use a liquid (!!!!)

I am a bit ashamed that I didn’t know this, but you don’t need to use a hot liquid to dissolve your instant coffee.

This makes it even easier to make your favorite iced coffee drinks from instant coffee if you choose.

In fact, it is recommended to use cold water to dissolve the substance as it contains an ingredient called amylum.

Amylum is a substance that “hardens when it makes contact with hot water, making it harder to stir and dissolve”.

So, if you’ve ever struggled with dissolving your instant coffee without it clumping, this might be why!

Once you have fully mixed in your instant coffee of choice, feel free to add whatever else you would like to make your favorite drink!

As far as adding espresso powder to your baked goods or other foods, make sure to follow the recipe for best results.

Recommended Espresso Powders On The Market

If you’re looking to give instant espresso a try, either to drink or to cook with, here are some of the top recommended brands by Americas Test KitchenSpruce Eats, and more.

King Arthur Espresso Powder

This certified kosher espresso powder is one of the best on the market with over 9,000 5-star reviews on Amazon.

A bonus to this company is that there are a number of great recipes you can try out on their website.

You can buy it here on Amazon for $10 or from their website here.

Note: This espresso powder is used for baking only, not drinking.

Illy Clasico

Voted best overall espresso powder by CoffeeAffection, this espresso powder is one you use for drinking not baking.

You’ll get some of those great chocolate flavors from the Arabica beans used, making it a great option for someone who is on the go frequently.

Grab it here from Amazon for $11

Civilized Coffee Co. Espresso Powder

Voted by Americas Test Kitchen as the best choice for espresso powder overall.

While you may not want to try and make a latte with this one, the company recommends adding it to morning smoothies for a bit of a caffeine kick!

you can grab this one here on amazon for $8.50 or off their website, which also offers free US shipping!

Nescafe Gold Espresso

This instant espresso may not be winning any awards, but it was added to this list as it was the one of the only instant espressos I found in my local supermarket.

At a cost of $8 for a 3.5oz, this espresso powder makes it on the list for being an accessible, affordable and convenient option.

Best Instant Coffee On The Market

There are a lot of instant coffees out there but both Spruce Eats and Serious Eats have put together fantastic lists of their favorite instant coffees.

Below are a few of the most recommended, but feel free to check out both lists in the links above 🙂

Intelligentsia Instant Coffee House Blend

Voted best overall by Spruce Eats, this instant coffee is known its bold brown sugar flavors.

Unlike some instant coffees, it also comes in packets. A box of 5 single use packets will set you back around $12

You can grab it from their website here!

Mount Hagen – Organic & Fairtrade Instant Coffee

I was able to find this one in my local grocery store which is always exciting.

It is highly rated among Spruce Eats but will put you back around $15 which is getting a biiit pricey for my taste.

However, the high ratings absolutely hold up as I think this has become one of my favorite instant coffees to date.

Grab two jars of it from Amazon for $24 here!

Swift Decaf Colombian Instant Coffee

Good decaf coffee in general can be hard to find, so finding a good decaf instant coffee isn’t a walk in the park either.

Serious Eats notes fruity flavors in this one like cherry and grape. In this box you will get a pack of 6 sachets for $12.

Check out this product and more on Swift’s website here!

Trung Nguyen G7 Instant Coffee w/ Cream & Sugar

This last one is a bit different, having both cream and sugar added into the instant coffee mix.

Trung Nguyen produces some of the best Vietnamese coffee out there, so it is no surpise that this was voted as one of Wired’s favorite instant coffees.

This coffee sells for around $8.50 for 20 single serve packets on Amazon. Get it here!

Conclusion: Key Takeaways for Instant Coffee & Instant Espresso

Overall, instant coffee and instant espresso share a number of similarities and differences.

While both can be made either through spray drying or freeze-drying process, instant espresso is made from darker roasted Arabica coffee beans to capture the complex flavor profile of a fresh espresso shot.

These beans may give the instant espresso some fruitier and chocolate flavor notes as opposed to Robusta beans.

Additionally, the instant espresso concentrate that comes from the brewing process may undergo further heating to create an even more concentrated flavor. 

This is to ensure that the instant espresso delivers that rich and bold espresso flavor when combined with hot water.

On the other hand, Robusta beans are primarily used for instant coffee as they are lower quality but also grown more frequently than Arabica beans.

This produces a strong coffee flavor but also has more notes of bitterness or sourness to the cup of coffee. These beans are typically roasted to a medium level before the coffee concentrate is created.

You will find people enjoying instant coffee in the morning while instant espresso or espresso powder is commonly used in baking and cooking to enhance other ingredients flavor profiles.

Most commonly, it is used in combination with chocolate desserts to create a next level fudgy or chocolate taste.

If you haven’t tried instant espresso yet, I absolutely recommend some of the options we listed above! It’s an easy way to switch up from your on-the-go instant coffee if you need something new.