Spoiler alert: instant coffee doesn’t suck. Well, most of it does. But there are a few companies and roasters working hard to innovate in the instant coffee space to insure that you can brew a great cup no matter how you do it. It’s okay if you don’t believe me yet, I had a hard time believing it myself at first too.
I mean, how could it be any good? Instant coffee is for wilderness camping, for your ancient grandparents, and for serving to people you don’t like (I’m kidding - you’d obviously serve them tea). And it’s not just a perception or a stereotype, instant coffee is, or at least was, objectively bad. Historically, it was made using the Robusta variety of coffee. The second most popular coffee variety in the world only to Coffea Arabica, Robusta is Arabica’s disowned little brother - often tasting like burnt tires or rubber. Not only does it taste cheap, it is cheap. At about half of the value of its prized older brother, Robusta beans are purchased, instafied, and sold to the consumer at a fraction of the cost of just about any other caffeinated drink.
First on the scene
Rewind the clock to 2015, and the saviour of instant coffee enters the scene. Founded in San Francisco by a barista and techie tag team, Sudden Coffee is born to brew the world’s first high quality speciality instant coffee. Since Sudden’s first innovation, a handful of others have entered the scene to create and continue to innovate. Companies like Swift Cup, Voila, and now Canada’s own Pilot Coffee have picked up the instant torch, sourcing high quality specialty brews to put in your pocket or purse.
Sudden’s process for turning craft coffee into convenience looks like this: source high quality specialty coffee that has been roasted with care and brew it in a slow, pour over method similar to how you brew at home. The coffee is then freeze dried and dehydrated using a vacuum method, rendering it into the familiar granular instant coffee complexion. It’s then packaged into vacuumed sealed recyclable tubes and shipped all over the world. Crack a tube, pour some hot water over it, and that’s it - instant specialty coffee!
A Canadian innovation
Pilot’s take on this new endeavour is unique, and another step towards innovating in this space. Unlike almost every other instant coffee product, Pilot has chosen to precisely grind freshly roasted beans and package them into individual nitro sealed bags, as opposed to dehydrating and serving the previously brewed coffee in a tube. Not like a grocery bag though, it’s more like a tea bag. Branded as steeped coffee, Pilot’s instant offering is sold in a box of 15 single servings, each individually packaged steeping bags. Although the beauty and brilliance of instant coffee is that most of the brewing is done for you, I like the steeping method because it still puts an element of extraction into your hands. Not strong enough? Agitate the bag and steep it a little longer. A little too strong? Simply pull the bag a little quicker next time.
Pilot is currently selling two versions of their steeped coffee, their classic Heritage blend and a single origin Guatemala. I picked up a box of the single origin Catalan De Las Mercedes and was thoroughly impressed. Pilot has really maintained their high standard of excellence with this project, from the packaging to the final product in your cup. That’s really saying something, considering my expectations weren’t too high. I mean, it’s still instant coffee right?
My new morning routine?
So will I be steeping one of these bags in my cup every morning? Of course not! Instant coffee was never meant to replace your morning routine. My wife has a handful of them in her on-call bag for when she’s on nights, and I’ll never be without one when I’m on the road or in the air. These instant solutions are to insure that you’ll never be without great tasting coffee whenever and wherever you are.