I am reading one of the most inspiring books of my entire life right now. The Slow Fix by Carl Honoré. Fitting I guess as I pen a piece on instant coffee. As Honoré points out, we live in a world addicted to speed. Captivated by the quick and easy. Instant coffee seems a very good expression of this.
Yet it’s never truly satisfying, is it?
First off, while I might be considered a coffee expert, as far as “instant” goes my experience is limited to childhood occasions where I sipped sugary, sweet Ricoffy, a beverage rumoured to contain at least some actual coffee as an ingredient.
“Instant” roughly groups up into two categories, freeze-dried liquid coffees and blends of coffee and chicory and other additives, the former being premium priced. As far as the blended ones go, let’s call them coffee-flavoured beverages and leave it at that, shall we?
I don’t really have an idea at all as to how good or bad instants are. You see, there is a problem. Most of the instants are FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), and as such are built around price rather than coffee. Bean choice, brew methods and extraction technique, which is the speciality arena I dwell in, do not feature when it comes to instant. As such, there is little intent when it comes pushing the flavour envelope, and what few examples I have tried have disappointed radically.
Now we also have the Nespresso-type machines entering the world of coffee. All of the envelope-pushing we do as artisan coffee makers revolves around coffee that is freshly roasted, and ground just before use, with careful consideration of grind to water temperature to extraction time to bean selection. Nespresso is premised on coffee as fast as possible, not coffee done as well as possible, and it doesn’t come cheap either!
Dare I say that success in the coffee world revolves around the perfect cup, rather than hooking a caffeine drip to the most exposed vein on your elastic-bound forearm? That the pleasure of fussing over that first brew in the morning is not a price to pay but the reward?
Let me use wine as an analogy. Consider the examination of the label on that bottle of carefully matured vino, followed by a cut of the foil cap, the removal of that fragile cork, and eventually a first pour. Box wine would of course be more convenient but that’s not living better.
David Donde is the guy behind Truth Coffee in Cape Town.