Espresso Powder And Instant Coffee — What’s The Difference?

Although they might sound similar, instant coffee and espresso powder, also known as instant espresso, are very different.

In Singapore and Malaysia, instant coffee is more common and can be found easily at most convenience and grocery stores.

Espresso powder, on the other hand, is less accessible and pricier than instant coffee.

However, if you have some espresso beans on hand, a coffee machine, a coffee grinder, and an oven, you can also make your espresso powder at home!

In this article, we will find out the difference between espresso powder and instant coffee in terms of taste, how they are made, how much caffeine they have, and in what ways they are used.

This way, you will know how to use and substitute them if you see them in recipes in future!

How Are They Made

instant coffee
Instant coffee granules. Photo from moritz320.

Instant coffee is made with whole coffee beans that have been roasted, ground, and then brewed before it is dehydrated to form instant coffee crystals.

These coffee crystals can then be dissolved with hot water or milk to get you coffee.

There are two standard methods of making instant coffee — Freeze Drying and Spray Drying.

  • Freeze Drying involves cooking down coffee to form a concentrated extract before it is frozen into slabs of frozen coffee and further broken down into granules. These granules will then be sent into a vacuum to dry until dried instant coffee granules are formed.
  • Spray Drying requires fewer steps. A concentrate of liquid coffee is sprayed into hot air to help dry it. Once the coffee reaches the ground, all the liquid will have evaporated and what is left are dried coffee crystals.
instant espresso powder
Instant espresso powder. Photo from Elesban Landero Berriozábal.

Espresso powder, also known as instant espresso or espresso crystals, is made from dark roast coffee beans.

To make espresso powder, the espresso beans are ground first then brewed. Then, the already-brewed coffee grounds will be dried to remove excess moisture before being ground into fine powder to form espresso powder.

Espresso powder’s intense and complex flavours make it a popular choice for bakers to elevate chocolate flavours in their baked goods.

Because instant coffee is less intense, you will have to use slightly more (about ½ teaspoon per teaspoon of espresso powder) in your recipes as a substitute. However, do note not to use too much, as instant coffee can impart a sour and bitter flavour to your food.

How Do They Taste

brewed coffee
Brewing a cup of hot coffee. Photo from Amr Taha.

Instant coffee is less potent than instant espresso powder.

Depending on the coffee beans it is made from, the taste can differ. The better the coffee the manufacturers use, the better tasting the instant coffee will be.

The process of making instant coffee also affects its taste.

Freeze drying is a more expensive process as compared to spray drying. However, it preserves more flavours and yields better instant coffee.

So, if you are looking to get instant coffee for cooking or drinking, look out for those that are freeze-dried.

Instant espresso has a richer, stronger, and more concentrated taste than instant coffee.

You will also find that the taste of instant espresso is less harsh and does not have that acidic or sour taste that is commonly found in instant coffee.

How Much Caffeine In Them

caffeine tiles
Photo from Coffee Geek.

According to the USDA, instant coffee contains an average of about 3140mg of caffeine per 100g portion.

This means that for a cup of coffee made with one teaspoon of instant coffee powder (~2g), that would be about 63 mg of caffeine per cup.

Espresso powder’s caffeine content is comparable, ranging from 30 mg to 80 mg of caffeine per ~2g teaspoon serving of the powder.

According to the USDA, this is similar to a freshly brewed single shot of espresso, clocking ~63 mg of caffeine per shot.

Do note that these figures are just a guide. The actual caffeine content of your cuppa will vary depending on the brand, type of coffee beans used to make the powder, and how much coffee powder you use.

What Are They Used For

chocolate almond loaf cake
Espresso powder can be used to enhance chocolate flavours in cooking and baking. Photo from Julissa Capdevilla .

Instant coffee is a drink commonly enjoyed worldwide as a convenient alternative to other kinds of coffee, such as specialty coffee and brewed coffee.

It can be served up almost instantly as it only requires hot water stirring into the dried coffee granules.

On the other hand, espresso powder is more commonly used by bakers to enhance the flavours of their chocolate baked goods.

It brings out the flavours of chocolate without imparting any taste of coffee, and adds an extra depth of flavour to baked goods. Usually, only about 1-2 teaspoons are used per recipe.

Espresso powder can also be made into a drink by rehydrating it with hot water.

As it is dehydrated espresso, adding water will give you espresso. However, doing so is usually not recommended as it will not be as flavourful as a freshly brewed shot of espresso.

Espresso Powder vs Instant Coffee

While they might look similar, as outlined in this article, they are made and used very differently!

Espresso powder has a more robust, smoother taste and is often used in baking, while instant coffee can be slightly bitter or sour, and is often used as a quick pick-me-up.

Regardless, both work well to give you that much-needed caffeine boost to get you up and running on lazy mornings!

people in a cafe with coffee machine
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Are you interested to learn more about coffee — how it’s made, origins, different types of beans, and more? Check out more reads here to learn everything you need to know about coffee.

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