There is a popular Ethiopian legend wherein coffee is discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi, who found his goats frolicking and full of energy after eating the red fruit of the coffee shrub. Kaldi tried the fruit for himself and had a similar reaction. After witnessing their strange behavior, a monk took some of the fruit back to his fellow monks; they too spent the night awake and alert. Of course, they would have been reacting to coffee’s high dose of caffeine. This natural stimulant also serves as an inborn plant pesticide, protecting the coffee fruit from insects. The word “coffee” has roots in several languages. In Yemen it earned the name qahwah, which was originally a romantic term for wine. It later became the Turkish kahveh, then Dutch koffie and finally coffee in English.

Most people nowadays drink soluble coffee, also known as instant coffee. It is so because in this fast pace world, there is little time to brew and prepare coffee in its traditional way. Since the introduction of soluble coffee in the fifties, the world has increasing number of instant coffee manufacturers. It is manufactured by either freeze-drying or spray drying methods, after which rehydrated before use. These methods are applied because that way you get coffee that is prepared faster, has lower shipping weight and volume than beans or ground coffee for the same amount of prepared drink and longer shelf life if kept dry.

The desire to make coffee instantly by simply mixing a liquid or dry concentrate with hot water goes back hundreds of years. The earliest documented version of instant coffee was developed in Britain in 1771. The first American product was developed in 1853, and an experimental version (in cake form) was field tested during the Civil War. In 1901, the first successful technique for manufacturing a stable powdered product was invented in Japan by Sartori Kato, who used a process he had developed for making instant tea. Five years later, George Constant Washington, a British chemist living in Guatemala, developed the first commercially successful process for making instant coffee.

Washington’s invention, marketed as “Red E Coffee,” dominated the instant coffee market in the United States for 30 years, beginning around 1910. During the 1930s, the Brazilian coffee industry encouraged research on instant coffee as a way of preserving their excess coffee production. The Nestlé company worked on this effort and began manufacturing Nescafé in 1938, using a process of co-drying coffee extract along with an equal amount of soluble carbohydrate. Instant coffee was enormously popular with American soldiers during World War II; one year, the entire production from the U.S. Nescafé plant (in excess of one million cases) went solely to the military.

By 1950, Borden researchers had devised methods for making pure coffee extract without the additional carbohydrate component. This improvement boosted instant coffee use from one out of every 16 cups of coffee consumed domestically in 1946 to one out of every four cups in 1954. In 1963, Maxwell House began marketing freeze-dried granules, which reconstituted into a beverage that tasted more like freshly brewed coffee. During the next five years, all of the major manufacturers introduced freeze-dried versions, and by the mid-1980s, 40% of the instant coffee used in the United States was freeze dried.

Drinking coffee has been linked to many health benefits. Given that instant coffee contains the same antioxidants and nutrients as regular coffee, it should have most of the same health effects like:

  • Enhance brain function
  • Boost metabolism
  • Reduce disease risk
  • Decrease diabetes risk
  • Improve liver health
  • Improve mental health
  • Promote longevity

Many of these studies were observational in nature.

These types of studies cannot prove that coffee causes the reduction in disease risk, only that people who habitually drink coffee are less likely to get them.

If you’re wondering how much coffee to drink, consuming 3–5 cups of instant coffee each day may be optimal. This amount is usually linked with the highest risk reduction in studies. Overall, instant coffee is a healthy, low-calorie beverage that is linked to the same health benefits as other types of coffee.