How was Instant Coffee Invented?

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The antiquity of instant coffee could be traced back to 1771, when it was invented in Britain. The first American version was developed in 1853 during the Civil War. The journey continued till 1963, says Prof. Ashoka, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Instant coffee, also called soluble coffee or coffee powder, is manufactured by freeze or spray drying brewed coffee beans. The earliest version of instant coffee may have been invented around 1771, in Britain. Referred to as a coffee compound, it was granted a patent by the British government. The first American version was developed in 1853 and an experimental version was field-tested in cake form, during the American Civil War.

A type of instant or soluble coffee was invented and patented in 1889 by Mr. David Strang of Invercargill, New Zealand. It was sold under the trading name Strang’s Coffee, citing his patented Dry Hot-Air process. Satori Kato, a Japanese scientist working in Chicago in 1901, invented a similar product using a process he had originally developed for making instant tea.

An English chemist named George Constant Louis Washington developed his own instant coffee process in 1906. His brand of coffee powder, named Red E Coffee, was first marketed in 1909. It dominated the market in the US for the next three decades even though there were many people who disliked its taste. In 1938, Nestlé of Switzerland launched the Nescafé brand. It improved the taste by co-drying coffee extract along with an equal amount of soluble carbohydrate, and soon became the most popular brand of instant coffee.

Instant coffee found an instant market in the military. In World War I some soldiers nicknamed it a ‘cup of George.’ Consider this quote from an American soldier, writing home from the trenches in 1918: “I am very happy despite the rats, the rain, the mud, the draughts [sic], the roar of the cannon and the scream of shells. It takes only a minute to light my little oil heater and make some George Washington coffee … Every night I offer up a special petition to the health and well-being of [Mr. Washington].”

By World War II, instant coffee was incredibly popular with soldiers. G. Washington Coffee, Nescafé, and others had all emerged to meet the demand. High-vacuum freeze-dried coffee was developed shortly after World War II. By 1950, the Borden Company had devised methods for making pure coffee extract without added carbohydrate, making instant coffee more popular. In 1963, Maxwell House began marketing freeze-dried granules, which tasted more like freshly brewed coffee.

Today, about 15 percent of the US coffee consumption is in instant form.

Serialised from the book, Popular Triumphs of Human Innovation in Everyday Life, by Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad.

©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

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Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.