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Because I’m in the business of making tasty food, it’s also assumed that I’m picky about beverages—after all, good food and drink go hand in hand. But the truth is I always stick to cheap well whiskey, I won’t ever turn my nose up to a frosty box of wine, and I was born and raised on instant coffee. This horrifies most people I know, but with nearly 50 percent of the world’s coffee crop ultimately being turned into the instant stuff, I know I can’t be alone.
On a recent trip to Greece, my suspicions were confirmed—I am definitely not alone. I couldn’t walk down a street in Athens without stumbling over a frappé, the frothy iced coffee beverage made from spray-dried Nescafé. You know you’re in a Greek café when the table is filled with tall foamy glasses and chain-smoking old men.
What is a Greek Frappé?
A frappé is made with just instant coffee and water, with the option to add sugar and a splash of evaporated milk, and yet it has a creamy, dreamy layer of thick foam made from just these ingredients. No, you can’t just shake up any coffee into a thick and stable foam, you need the power of instant.
Obviously, the process of drying coffee concentrates its solids. When dissolved in a small amount of water, the resulting viscous solution easily traps tiny air bubbles, like a meringue. The foam is similar to the crema found on espresso, but much thicker and more stable because dissolved instant coffee is a more stable emulsion than regular brewed coffee.
How did the Greeks discover the magical properties hidden in instant coffee? According to Nescafé, it was a happy accident. At the 1957 International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki, Nescafé representative Dimitris Vcondios was demonstrating a new children's chocolate beverage that was made in a shaker. Suddenly in need of a caffeine pick me up, but with no hot water in sight, Dimitris shook up his coffee with ice and water in the shaker instead, and the frappé was born.
What is Instant Coffee?
Although instant coffee’s been around since its invention in 1881, it didn’t become the international pantry all-star it is today until after World War II. Instant coffee was touted as a modern marvel; its saved you time and money and was always good to the last drop.
Unlike other postwar consumer preferences towards convenience foods, which have largely fallen out of fashion, the world’s love of instant coffee only continues to grow. Sales of instant coffee nearly tripled between 2000 and 2014, with almost half of the world preferring it to a freshly brewed cup.
Most instant coffee is made using the spray-dried method, wherein brewed coffee is reduced to a concentrate before spraying through an atomizer into a stream of hot air, instantly removing most of its moisture. This method is fast and cheap, however, it subjects the coffee to temperatures as high as 400°F (204°C), resulting in the loss of aromatics. Spray-dried coffee has aromas added back to it after the processing.
The other method for making instant coffee is by freeze-drying. In the freeze-drying process, brewed coffee is frozen, cut into small pieces, and placed under vacuum. The temperature is then slightly raised in two phases, converting the water to vapor without ever exceeding 40°F (4°C). Freeze-dried coffee retains more of coffee’s volatile aromas but is also more expensive and time consuming due to the multi-step processing.
Thankfully for all the instant fans out there, more and more quality options are becoming available. The cool cats at Sudden Coffee sell my favorite, a freeze-dried, fair trade, instant coffee that any kind of coffee drinker can get behind.
How to Make a Frappé
Frappés require some serious agitation to get fluffy, so I use a cocktail shaker or jar for shaking up the foam, but you can also go pro by using a milk frother instead.
I first add a splash of water, before a couple teaspoons of instant coffee. If using freeze-dried coffee rather that spray-dried, a touch of sugar is necessary for a stable foam. Spray-dried coffee is completely stripped of fat, so it easily froths up thick and light by itself. On the other hand, freeze-dried coffee still retains much of its oils, and needs the added viscosity sugar brings to the party for stability.
I next shake up the mix until fully dissolved before adding some ice cubes for a second shake, during which time the mixture really thickens up with foam. All that’s left is to pour the foam into a glass and top with more water and ice.
Now take a sip and relax. After all that shaking you’ve earned it.