The problem with instant coffee is not that it’s instant. The problem is that it’s made with the crappiest beans on the market, which are roasted to a crisp then spray dried, a process that uses hot gas (up to 80 degrees celsius) to quickly and cheaply create dry granules. Hence the acrid, chemically taste of supermarket instant coffee.
But there’s a better way. It’s freeze-drying: a slower, more expensive process that uses low temperature and low pressure to remove moisture while preserving flavour and aroma compounds. When used on high-quality ingredients, it produces impressive results. Even beer can be turned into a powder and brought convincingly back to life with water.
Australia’s specialty coffee roasters have an on-again off-again relationship with freeze-dried instant, which is admittedly expensive to make. The beans have to be roasted, ground and brewed, then sent off somewhere for freeze-drying. If you can find instant specialty at a cafe or online store, it rarely sticks around for more than a month or two before going out of stock. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)
But now Tripod Coffee, a compostable coffee-pod company founded by former professional cricketers Ed Cowan and Steve Cazzulino in 2014, has entered the instant game.
Its new Three Capes “Just Add Water” is made only with beans sourced from Yirgacheffe, a region in Ethiopia renowned for producing particularly high-quality coffees. The single-origin beans are grown at 1700 to 2200 metres above sea level. At these altitudes, fruit matures more slowly, developing complex sugars and lively acidity. These are, of course, specialty grade crops, rated 80 or more on a standardised 100-point scale by an independent tester.
My day always starts with filter coffee. I take whole beans out of my freezer, grind them in a little hand-cranked mill, dump the grounds into a paper filter, then very slowly pour boiling water over until my cup fills up with delicious black coffee. I like this ritual, but I also resent it. It takes time and it’s kind of tedious, especially on the days I have three coffees.
When a 70-gram jar of Three Capes entered my house last week, it replaced that ritual – partially at first, then completely. Now all I’m doing is adding 1.5 teaspoons of the fine powder to a mug and topping it up with 300 millilitres of boiling water. There’s enough in there for about 23 coffees of this size, or roughly the same as 400 grams of whole beans, which works out to about $1.90 per mug.
While even instant specialty coffee can’t quite match the vibrancy and mouth-filling body of a freshly ground and brewed coffee, it’s close enough. I’m kind of dreading the time when the jar runs out and I'm back to grinding, pouring and waiting.
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