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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Burnard

The Wonderful World of Instant Coffee

Potential content warning CW/TW: Heads up, there’s about to be some COVID-19 related discussion and it’s going to get a little dark. There’s no mention of symptoms or treatments, just musings about societal empathy using personal anecdotes. If that’s not something you can handle right now (which is totally okay, I understand), please don’t put yourself through it. If you’d like to skip to the coffee talk, scroll to the next time you see the following picture:

Hi everyone. I’m tired. I’m so, so tired. There’s no real recipe with this one, just a discussion of instant coffee and why it’s so cool. Because I’m tired. Fatigued, exhausted, weary, and sleepy (which are all very different things). I went on a walk today and took a mental tally of all of the people I saw and how many of them were wearing face coverings as per the CDC’s recommendations. I stopped counting when I got to 63 people...only 22 of whom were covering their mouths and noses. I was forced to stand in the street or the grass (which I’m allergic to) so many times because people, UNMASKED PEOPLE, still refuse to comply with social distancing. Some people have conditions that preclude them from wearing masks. That’s alright. Those people matter too. I find it very hard to believe that, of the 63 people I counted, 41 of those people had a condition like that. I’m so, so tired. I’m tired of trying to explain to people that they should care whether other people live or die. Whether I live or die. It’s a lot. I’m tired of hearing “if you’re so worried about it, just stay inside.” No. I need to get exercise to make sure my lungs and heart still work as well as they can, something that’s just a little bit important right now. I cannot describe the feeling that comes with knowing your neighbors value their own temporary mild inconvenience over your life.

The above is from a neighborhood facebook group. The original poster (whose name is scratched out in blue) said that he wears a mask when he leaves the house, and asked if others could do the same so we can all protect each other. There are 153 comments on that post. More than half of them echo this exchange. The commenter here proceeded to say that the elderly and immunocompromised and “those that live in fear” should all stay inside so that “normal” people can go back to their daily lives. I didn’t screenshot anything else she said because it was even more terrible and I refuse to have it on my blog. I wish she were in the minority.

The sheriff has asked that people stop driving to Julian (a gorgeous town about an hour from here, known for their apple products) to get apple pies. And instead of putting in exactly 0 effort to not drive an hour there and back to get a damn pie for the next month or so, people were enraged at this simple request. A request that came from the citizens of Julian. You know, the actual people who live in the town and don’t have hospital access like we do. There was somehow pushback for this. “If they’re so worried about it, why don’t they just close?” “If I want to take a car trip with my family to get a pie, no one can stop me.” “Julian is a tourist town, what do they expect?” These are real things that real people said. In writing. For all their neighbors to see. Again- I’m tired of trying to explain to people that they should care whether other people live or die.

Wash your hands, stay 6 ft. apart, don’t endanger the lives of other people. Keep yourself and others safe. I am begging you.

Alright, onward and upward-


Coffee! Instant coffee is extremely versatile, especially in baking. You can add it into any chocolate baked good to punch up the chocolate flavor (unless you add a bunch, it won’t taste like coffee; it’ll just enhance what the chocolate is already doing). You can also add it to vanilla cakes, etc. to create tasty coffee-flavored things. Keep in mind, though, that caffeine does not cook out. So if you’re like me and have to stay away from caffeine, stick to decaf. It tastes the same. You can also add it to puddings, hot chocolate, spice rubs, ice cream, whipped cream, pie crust...really anything you can think of. You do you.

This is what I’ve been using lately. Don’t mind the dents, it shipped that way. Also don’t mind the Greek.

If you’ve been on the internet in the last couple of weeks (days? Months? What is time???), you’ve probably seen approximately seven billion posts about Dalgona Coffee, or Whipped Coffee. I’m a fan. It’s delicious and very easy to make (provided you have an electric hand mixer).

All you do is combine equal parts instant coffee, white sugar, and hot water. The standard amount for one cup of coffee seems to be 1-2 tbsp. And then you whisk it forever and ever. Or, if you’re me, you go at it with a hand mixer for about 5 minutes. And before your very eyes, you watch it go from liquid, to syrup, to foam, to eventually come together as a lovely coffee marshmallow fluff textured miracle. There’s science behind it, which I’ll get to in a second (there has been much kitchen experimentation, because it’s not like there’s anything else going on...also science is fun). I’ve seen some people stop mixing when it gets to a sort of soft liquid foam, but I prefer to keep going until it gets closer to stiff peak stage. You can’t really over-whip it like whipped cream or buttercream, it won’t separate. So just keep going until you get a consistency you like. And then gently spoon it over the beverage of your choice. It’ll stay in a nice pretty layer at the top until you post your picture on instagram and then ravenously stir everything together and destroy all the beautiful work you’ve just done in favor of sweet, sweet coffee.

Here’s the thing- it still tastes like instant coffee. I highly recommend you add some other stuff to it. My favorite combination so far is cinnamon, a tiny bit of cardamom, and vanilla. You can also add cocoa powder, though it might take a bit longer to whip up (I’ve found I have to add a little more coffee and sugar about halfway through the mixing process), which I go into a little more detail about below. I generally drink oat milk over any other milks, so that’s what I use when I make it. Do yourself a favor and try it with chocolate milk. It tastes more like dessert than breakfast, but I promise it’s worth it. I’m drinking one even as I type this.

Treat yourself.

The reason this works is a little bit complicated. Here is the most comprehensive explanation I’ve been able to find. It has to do with the way the proteins are broken down and reformed. When you vigorously mix the ingredients together, you’re incorporating air in the form of teeny tiny bubbles. The further you go, the more bubbles you create, which increases the volume. For starters, some instant coffees include stabilizers like xanthan gum, which give it some added sturdiness (the same reason we use it in gluten free baking). Instant coffee lacks the fat/oil content of regular coffee grounds, something that happens during processing in order to give it a longer shelf life. Fat is the enemy of foam. If you’ve ever made meringue or macarons, you know that getting some egg yolk in the bowl when you’re trying to whip egg whites will make your life miserable- it just won’t whip up. Same goes for this situation. It’s why adding cocoa powder could make things a little more difficult. Cocoa powder is what you get when you remove the cocoa butter from cacao beans. Depending on the quality of the cocoa powder, some cocoa butter could still be present. So when you add cocoa powder into the instant coffee mix, you’re introducing a source of fat, which will impede your whipping efforts.

So you know about whipped coffee. But did you know you can use the same ingredients to make coffee whipped cream? You do now! I actually learned about this before I learned about whipped coffee, and my world was rocked. My vegan baking has been forever changed. On a whim several months ago, I used it as a layer in a pseudo-tiramisu and it was absolutely the right decision. Seriously, it was so damn good. I cannot stress enough how excellent it was.

The coffee:water:sugar ratio for whipped coffee is 1:1:1. For coffee whipped cream, it’s 1:2:3. That means if we’re going with tablespoons- 1 tbsp coffee crystals, 2 tbsp water, 3 tbsp sugar. Instead of hot water, use ice water. To increase the amount of the final product, just use the same ratio with more ingredients (2 tbsp coffee, 4 tbsp water, 6 tbsp sugar, etc.). And that’s it! Instead of the marshmallow fluff consistency of whipped coffee, you get a beautifully fluffy, glossy, stable whipped cream. Obviously, without the cream.

This is where the kitchen chemistry came in. Was the ratio difference the reason for the consistency difference? Or was it the temperature? So I did what any rational person does and changed a variable and tried again. This time I used the 1:1:1 ratio with ice water instead of hot water. I ended up with something between whipped coffee and coffee whipped cream! It’s a stronger flavor and darker color (due to the amount of coffee and sugar), but the consistency was MUCH closer to that of the whipped cream. So temperature definitely makes a difference.

But what would happen if we brought the finished products to the same temperature? I put the whipped cream and the new mixture into Tupperware and then put that Tupperware into the freezer (the whipped coffee did not go into the freezer, because it went into me instead). There was little difference between being frozen for a few hours and being frozen overnight. The 1:1:1 ratio’d mixture retained more of its structure after freezing than the 1:2:3. When I took them out to test, the 1:2:3 began to melt into liquid almost immediately. But the 1:1:1 stayed at a sort of frosting texture and melted much more slowly.

What did we learn here? The initial temperature of the water matters if you’re going to serve it right away (and it possibly affects how the proteins set up, which could affect the stability of the mixture permanently; my hypothesis is that that part doesn’t matter as much, though, considering the initial structural similarities in the cold water samples). Hot water gets you more elasticity and cold water gets you more fluff. But if you’re freezing it and consuming it later, the eventual temperature matters much less than the ingredient ratios. With equal amounts of coffee, water, and sugar, it keeps some structure. With greater sugar and water content, it crystallizes more and loses its structure quickly after being removed from freezing temperatures. Neat, huh! Is that useful information? Probably not! But it used up some time and flexed those brain muscles, so I’d say it was worth it.

For science and no other reason. Definitely not just to have something, anything, to do. Nope. Science.

That’s it, no formal recipe write-up. Stay safe, friends. Have fun with kitchen chemistry! I’m here if you need me.

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