Speed. Ease. Efficiency. Those are three things everyone likes to incorporate in their routine. Finding ways to shave time here, quicken up things there. Since coffee is a daily habit and there are so many options out there, it's fascinating to see how many different entities have added (or subtracted) the notion of convenience.
Instant / Powdered Coffee
There have been many iterations of 'instant', or powdered coffee . The inception of instant coffee actually began in 1771 in Britain and it was called "coffee compounds". The US's equivalent of instant coffee started in 1851. Even though various countries had different methods, practices & names, they were all on the same idea, coffee, that was quick, compact, and could be easily stored with a higher-than-average shelf life.
Just because it's powdered, doesn't mean it's not coffee! It IS actual coffee, that has been roasted, ground and brewed. Yet the magic happens in the science. The Huffington Posts explains two common methods.
"There are two ways to make instant coffee: spray drying and freeze drying. Spray drying is achieved by spraying liquid coffee concentrate as a fine mist into very hot, dry air (we’re talking about 480 degrees F). When the coffee hits the ground, the water has been evaporated and it has dried into small, round crystals. Freeze drying coffee involves a few steps. First, the coffee is cooked down into an extract. The coffee extract is chilled at about 20 degrees F into a coffee slushie. The coffee slushie is then further chilled on a belt, drum or tray to -40 degrees F until it forms slabs of coffee ice. The coffee ice is broken into granules. They’re then sent to a drying vacuum, where the ice vaporizes and leaves behind instant coffee granules. "
By removing the water, a highly efficient method of coffee making was born! You know see little packets, (or even jars!) of instant coffee often next to a water machine, or a hotel microwave. While not always ideal, sometimes you just need that quickie! The coffee used to make dried instant can be a mix of high and low quality coffee so know going into this that the quality may not be what you're used to if you craft your own coffee at home using high quality beans.
The idea of a single-serve machine originated from Nespresso in the late 1990's, yet was perfected by the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters a.k.a, Keurig. In 1998, the first single-serve machine, called the B2000 was launched into the marketplace. Starting with office spaces, they stated to make standard drip brewers somewhat obsolete. Kuerig was an immediate success and despite many criticisms, single-serve machines have had an incredibly loyal following for over 15 years.
Single serve is quick and for most a step above instant, and Keurig developed over time various flavored blends in their pods too. This wave has now expanded even beyond Keurig. Grocery stores, and even other coffee business, sell their own 'pods' or capsules. Entire aisles are even dedicated to this stuff. You'll find everything from "Donut Infused" to herbal blends for tea+coffee hybrids. Whether or not it's all coffee -- it's definitely nice to see that you have options, but because this is a hot brew method, the coffee brewed can be bitter, which is an indicator it's high in acids too -- so not a great choice for folks bothered by acids.
In today's time, you almost cannot go two blocks down the road without seeing a coffee shop. Large chains, to the more humble "Mom & Pop" shops -- coffee has found its way embedded into the routines of millions of people.
Despite the kinds of beverages many shops offer, it is interesting to think about how many people go through (in person or drive-thru) coffee shops every minute. Every hour. Every day. Lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, hot and iced drinks zooming out the window at amazing speeds! There is almost a 'fast-food' culture to it all. Get in, get caffeinated, & get out! Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not! These are extremely convenient but definitely not cheap and some of the drinks are high in calories and sugar so for those on a budget or watching their waistline not the best daily option.
Most large grocery chains and even smaller groceries and convenience stores sell bottled / ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee. Similar to instant coffee it's readily available and instant but in a liquid form. There are dozens of companies bottling coffee, some cold brew, some with flavored nut milks, some with sugar and everything in between so label reading here is important to know what you are getting since there are massive choices. This fast coffee is a great way to get a coffee and not wait in any lines. The variety available at grocery stores is even mirroring that of coffee from chain shops. Bottles & cartons of coffee, imbued with Chocolate, Hazelnut, Almond, Caramel, Irish Creams, and so on! Again, you have no choice of what beans are being used, how the coffee is brewed. There's also label reading to make sure you know how much fat, sugar, chemicals and/or preservatives may be in them which is important for health conscious coffee lovers.
The first electric drip coffee maker was called the Wigomat. Created and patented in 1954 Germany, this machine was a huge step for coffee technology, in that it surpassed the quality and ease of electric percolator coffee makers. We can certainly thank the progress of electrical technology on this one, folks. Granted the idea of a standard drip-brewer isn't "new" or recent, but the electrical component does have something fresh about it! The "Mr. Coffee" had a brilliant idea with putting a programmable timer. The timer allowed this style of a coffee maker to be embedded nearly everywhere in North American culture. It was incredibly noticeable on TV as well. Just about every film in the early 80's-90's had a scene with the timed coffee maker going off. Having your coffee maker do all the work for you? (given you've prepared it the night before) That's pretty neat! Again, acids lurk in this hot brew method so something to be aware of.
Cold-brewed coffee sometimes gets a bad wrap for being time consuming but really it just requires a little planning and is extremely convenient. For example for your first brew cycle if you are brewing 24 hours (the most common brew length) one the best plans is to set up the brew cycle in the morning and then while you are at work, going about your day and then sleeping that night, your craft cold brew is working it's magic.
In the morning you wake up to 8-12 servings of delicious cold brew coffee that you store in the refrigerator for fresh coffee anytime. Then when you are enjoying your last serving, a few days or a week later, depending on how much coffee you drink per day, you repeat the process. Some cold brewers require a bit of time for setting up the brew process from 1-15 minutes, depending on which brewer you use (the BOD® Cold Brew Coffee System takes about 1 no-mess minute to get brewing).
The great thing about cold brewing is you can customize the coffee to your personal taste preference. Some brew for 12 hours (in which case make it in the evening and in the morning it's ready). The longer you brew, the stronger the coffee extract, so figure out your brew number by timing how many hours fit your personal taste profile and plug the brew set up into your schedule so your coffee is ready when you are. The average cold brew coffee drinker brews a 24 hour cycle but you can go up to 72 hours for the maximum super-concentrated elixir!
Talk about a low-maintenance and personalized method, nothing beats cold brew for those features. Remember brew at room temperature for maximum extraction. Some brewers say to brew in the refrigerator but the cold temperature slows the extraction and produces a weak coffee extract, and nobody want that!