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When Was Instant Coffee Invented? History Of the First Cup

instant coffee

Instant coffee is a quick and convenient drink, but its history is filled with patents and inventors claiming to have the first real instant coffee. While the invention is credited to Alphonse Allais, some many patents and changes led to what we call instant coffee today. Instant coffee was not popular at first, but changes to the processing created a flavorful yet convenient coffee drink. Let’s take a look at when instant coffee was invented and what it’s like today:

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When was Instant Coffee Invented?

The first accepted patent for a water-soluble coffee substance was in 1881. It was invented and patented (#141520) by Alphonse Allais in France. Allais’ patent is the first form of real water-dissolving, instant coffee instead of a coffee concentrate mix, which was called Essence of Coffee and was not popular at all. Camp Coffee was invented before Allais’ patent, but it is syrup and not instant coffee grounds.

how is instant coffee made
Image credit: Unsplash

Who Else Helped to Invent Instant Coffee?

While Alphonse Allais created the first real patent for instant coffee, other inventions helped create the convenient dissolving coffee beans.

After the first patent, a New Zealand man named David Strang patented (#3518) the Dry Hot-Air process of making instant coffee in 1890. Another inventor, a Japanese chemist named Satori Kato, created a similar instant coffee and was originally thought to be the inventor. However, David Strang’s patented instant coffee was invented before Kato’s popular water-soluble instant coffee.

Instant Coffee Then vs. Now

Essence of Coffee

Dunn's Essence of Coffee instant coffee history
Image: Nick Webb, Flickr, licensed under CC 2.0

Before instant coffee, there was Essence of Coffee. It was made for the military during the Civil War, but the taste and body were so sludgy and bitter that nearly everyone disliked it immediately. Essence of Coffee was one of the first documented cases of “instant coffee,” and it contained coffee, milk, and sugar in one packet. The huge lack of popularity led to the discontinuation of Essence of Coffee, and it never resurfaced again.

Camp Coffee

Before Nescafe and the rise of instant coffee’s popularity, a Scottish company created an instant coffee syrup called Camp Coffee. There is confusion as to who actually invented it, with some saying it was an Indian chemist and others saying it was one of the company’s owners. Consisting of coffee and chicory, Paterson & Sons Ltd created this syrup in Scotland. It is still in production today in Scotland and parts of the UK, but it can be difficult to find.


Nestle launched Nescafe in 1938, a major step towards a tastier, higher-quality instant coffee. Like Camp Coffee, the attempt was to make a better instant coffee than the other brands.

Espresso powder vs Instant coffee

Nescafe quickly rose in popularity due to its flavor and aroma, which was vastly superior to the very first attempts at instant coffee. Nescafe was so popular that it’s still in production today, a testament to the quality and flavor that Nestle creates with their instant coffee.

An even newer kind of instant coffee is Jot, a high-end, specially brewed coffee concentrate that functions as instant coffee. Just add hot water or milk for an instant cup of coffee! It’s amazing how technology has changed since the early days of instant.

What Kind of Beans are Used for Instant Coffee Today?

Instant coffee has come a long way, including the type of beans and overall, much better flavor. Robusta beans are usually the bean of choice for instant, which helps produce a stronger flavor after processing. These beans are easier to grow and have a more bitter taste, so they’re also found in a lot of espresso blends. Robusta beans also create a lot of crema, the natural foam that forms on top of coffee and espresso.

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Though it may not be the same as it is today, knowing the history is important to appreciate what we call instant coffee today. A few important factors played into the improvement of instant, with patents and changes that make it an enjoyable drink today. Although there was confusion as to who and when it was invented first, it’s clear that instant coffee had a long road ahead when it first came out for the troops.


Featured Image Credit: Olichel, Pixabay


Jaimie Wisniowski

Jaimie is a freelance writer fueled by coffee, whether it’s hot, iced, or made from a local coffee shop. She enjoys writing all things coffee, especially if it means trying the latest coffee shop trends (hello cold foam!). After spending years writing poems, college essays, and short stories, it only a matter of time to turn writing into a career. Writing about coffee simply combined two of her favorite things! When she’s not drinking coffee by the minute and writing at her laptop, Jaimie spends time hiking, exercising, and living an active life. She also loves to snuggle up with a good book and her dog, Margo. If you catch her without a cup of coffee, she’s probably on her way to the coffee maker now.

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