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Not all instant coffee is created equal

Over the years the number of South African instant coffee drinkers has grown due to its convenience and time-saving advantages – with this sector projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.91% during the period of 2020-2025.

Furthermore, according to the South African Instant Coffee Market – Forecasts 2020 to 2025 report, South Africa’s vibrant out-of-home coffee culture has propelled the interest in different roasts and flavours of instant coffee with the younger segment of the market, who enjoy being able to make a quick but quality cup of coffee at home, in their own time. 

“Instant coffee continues to grow as our lives become busier. We are constantly looking for time saving options that won’t compromise when it comes to getting what we enjoy,” comments Thokozane Radebe, brand manager for premium instant coffee brand, Douwe Egberts.

“Agreed!” asserts Matthew Dees, senior brand manager for Jacobs, adding that this easy-to-make-and-enjoy coffee is also no longer the lesser quality coffee it was once thought to be, “but is now made by well-known brands with quality beans, with complex flavours in mind”.

Premium brands such as Douwe Egberts and Jacobs, both offer freeze-dried instant coffee ranges to ensure that their coffee offers the same quality and taste that their consumers expect.

“When manufacturing instant coffee, many factors come in to play, but what most consumers don’t know is that not all instant coffee is made the same way,” notes Radebe “It can be made using a variety of techniques which contributes to their taste, quality and cost.”

Freeze-dried instant coffee

When looking for a high-quality instant coffee, freeze-dried is the way to go, both Dees and Radebe concur.

Made with quality beans, this coffee offers a excellent aroma and higher flavour profile. The texture of the coffee is an indication if it has been freeze-dried, as it is a solid coffee granule that when held between two fingers cannot be broken easily.

To make freeze dried coffee the coffee extract is frozen to around -40°C and then cut into smaller granules. These are then dried at a low temperature, under vacuum. This and the gentle drying conditions preserve the quality of the aroma and the flavour of the coffee.

Instant coffees such as Jacobs and Douwe Egberts, which are both freeze-dried, are known for their tastes, quality and aromas.

Spray-dried instant coffee

Due to the process involved in making spray-dried coffee, a lesser quality of coffee bean is used than in freeze-dried coffee. This method is sometimes preferred over others due to its cost-effectiveness and allows for more coffee to be produced due to shorter drying times.

However, the coffee can end up losing a large amount of its natural flavour. The texture of this coffee is softer and crumbles easily. It is also rounder and fragile looking, with a darker colour.

The method involved is to use hot steam to evaporate the fluid. The coffee is then pulverised under high pressure in a tube steaming in hot air.


Chicory is not authentic coffee as it is made from a different plant. It is meant to be a more affordable, coffee-type drink option, but lacks the texture, taste and aroma of pure coffee.

Chicory appears almost orange in colour which is distinctly different to freeze- and spray-dried instant coffee, and the texture is much softer and disintegrates almost immediately when rubbed between two fingertips. 

Some chicory is either prepared with roasted and ground coffee, or a blend of chicory and instant coffee. The ratio of coffee to chicory can be as high as 3to1 or as low as 1 to 3.

With different coffee brands lining the supermarket shelves, knowing how different instant coffees are made can make an impact on your choice. Understanding what occurs during the process, and the types of coffee beans used, can appeal to your coffee knowledge confidence, and of course to your coffee enjoying taste buds.