Instant, Ground, Specialty: Coffee Jargon Simplified

If you’ve heard your coffee enthusiast friend say that they like to “brew their cup just right,” you must be confused. Aren’t you just supposed to mix the coffee powder in cream and sugar? Yes, if you are a beginner. But life is too short for only instant coffee. There is a long list of beans, brews, roasts, and blends out there for you to try. So let’s dive right into the different types of coffee- instant, ground, and specialty. After all, it never hurts to explore!

Instant Coffee and Ground Coffee

Let’s start with the difference between ground coffee and instant coffee. Ground coffee is made by picking and drying coffee cherries, taking out the beans, roasting to a certain degree, and grinding to a specific size. When you take this ground coffee, brew a drink, cool the liquid, and dry the solid particles, you get instant coffee. So you could say instant coffee has gone through more processing than ground coffee. 

But processing is not the only difference between the two. This might come as an unpleasant surprise; instant coffee is made from the low quality robusta beans, husk, and all! Moreover, the drying and freezing take away the essential oils, thus compromising on flavor and quality. That is why people who are used to ground coffee find instant coffee flat and bitter. However, it stays true to its name- it often comes with added milk powder and sugar and dissolves in water for an instant coffee drink. No wonder it is cheaper than ground coffee!

Ground coffee, on the other hand, has deeper flavors and aroma. The beans are ground and roasted in different degrees; you take your pick. You brew it at home the way you want; there are various styles like the French press, drip or pour-over cone, a Moka pot, and so on. You get to manipulate the flavors, and the best part is that it will never taste bitter. 

Ground coffee typically has a higher caffeine content compared to instant coffee. But you can tweak your brew to adjust the caffeine content and taste. Instant coffee, on the other hand,  comes with a fixed percentage of caffeine. It is not the best idea to buy a strong one because Robusta beans have double the caffeine content of Arabica. That means you need to tone down a strong brew with lots of cream and sugar. 

Specialty Coffee

Specialty coffee is a gift of the third wave of coffee, associated with coffee businesses that opened after 2000. It is the gold standard.  The Specialty Coffee Association of America assigns a score of 80/100 or above to specialty coffees. 

The term was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal. The idea is that certain geographical microclimates produce coffee with unique flavor profiles. Hence, specialty coffee is the end product of rich quality Arabica beans grown, processed, roasted, ground, and brewed to perfection in special microclimates. 

But specialty coffee is not just about good quality beans and favorable climates. The coffee passes through a long chain of custody right from harvesting to packaging. The entire process is micromanaged, e.g. when to pick the cherries, how to preserve them, the time gap between harvesting and processing, and so on. Not to mention, it is free of primary defects like stones, sticks, or shriveled beans that can spoil aroma.

Moreover, specialty coffee must come from sustainable processes. It should not come at the cost of the dignity and well-being of individuals employed in the process. It should result in a better quality of life and livelihood for all those who are involved in the cultivation and preparation of the coffee. There are selective plantations that are known for producing specialty coffee, like Chikmagalur in Karnataka, India. 

Sure specialty is more expensive than instant or ground coffee, but that is because it goes through rigorous standards. Now that you know the difference between instant, ground, and specialty coffee, you can move out of your comfort zone and try these out!

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