Instant Coffee Has Been Around Longer Than You May Think

Just about everyone is familiar with the concept of instant coffee — coffee-flavored powder or crystals that dissolve easily in heated water — even if many of us turn our noses up at it from a quality perspective. The widespread enjoyment of instant coffee is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to Perfect Daily Grind, it first became popular during World War II, and remained so as innovations in freeze-drying during the 1960s helped to improve its overall flavor and quality.

But instant coffee, despite its huge growth in popularity during the 20th century, is not a 20th-century invention. In fact, the history of instant coffee goes back a long way ... so far back it even predates America as a country. That's right, the first instant coffee "compound" was reportedly invented in Britain in 1771, I Need Coffee notes, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The U.S. does play a crucial role in the development of instant coffee, however. No, not during the Revolutionary War or even later in WWII, but rather during the Civil War, when per History of Coffee, an experimental "cake" form of instant coffee was developed and rationed out to soldiers.

The evolution of instant coffee

The modern evolution of instant coffee is largely attributable to three men. According to History of Coffee, a New Zealander named David Strang was the first to invent a soluble instant coffee in 1890, using his patented "dry hot air" process. Within 20 years of Strang's invention, two others would help expedite innovation in the emergent market. The first stable coffee powder was created in Chicago in 1901 by Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato, who was using a modified process he originally intended for instant tea, per I Need Coffee.

But the first mass production of instant coffee was courtesy of a Belgian-born American citizen named George Constant Louis Washington, I Need Coffee reports. So if you want to say George Washington was the father of instant coffee, that's actually kind of true. Certainly, Washington was the creator of one of the first commercial brands. Craft of Coffee Guru attributes the clever Red E Coffee brand as Washington's first marketing foray, although he later rebranded the instant coffee under his own name.

Nestle got into the game in 1930, History of Coffee notes, after Brazil requested help due to issues with large coffee surpluses. As a result of this urging, a scientist working for Nestle named Max Morgenthaler came up with a new method for producing instant coffee in 1937. Only a year after this discovery, in 1938, a new product named Nescafé was born.