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Instant Coffee Production – A Summary of BBC’s Inside the Factory

How do they make instant coffee?

On the 17th of august the BBC show, Inside the Factory, gave us an insight into the manufacturing of instant coffee. It was an incredibly interesting watch and revealed the vast scale and energy required to make such a product in vast quantities.

It took just under 14 hours for coffee to arrive in green bean form and leave freeze-dried in thousands upon thousands of instant coffee jars. Among the other features was Maxwell of Colonna coffee providing an insight into specialty coffee, and a look at the history of not only coffee in the UK, but also the beginnings of instant coffee manufacturing around the time of the world wars.

Instant Coffee Production

Making Instant Coffee – Summarising the steps

1. The green coffee arrives at the factory and is sorted for debris. The factory worker claimed they even found a live iguana in the sorting chamber!

2. The coffee is air-moved through tubes into a giant roaster. The coffee is then roasted.

3. The coffee is rapidly cooled to end the roasting process and is moved into the grinder. Ground coffee is sucked away and the aroma is caught in aroma chambers for later use.

4. The grounds are fed into an enormous vat described as being like a cafetiere. Here hot water is added, the coffee is brewed and then led away in pipes. Grounds are squeezed for drying and then burned for power generation.

5. Whilst being moved through the piping system, a high temperature of 70C is maintained to evaporate water and concentrate the coffee into a thick liquor.

6. The liquor is slowly cooled and, through pipes, is taken to the freezing zone and spread onto a belt. Temperatures of minus 40-50C are used to freeze an 8mm sheet of coffee in minutes.

7. The panes of coffee are crushed.

8. They enter an air-free vacuum chamber with temperatures around 50C. The aim is to convert the frozen, crushed coffee straight into a gas without becoming a liquid. This leaves behind freeze-dried coffee granules with no water content.

9. The granules are run into the packaging room where tens of thousands jars await on a factory line. The granules are deposited and so too is a flushing of aroma, held from the earlier grinding stage.

10. The jars are sealed, labelled and packaged up, then loaded onto lorries and back out of the factory.

11. These 175,000 jars of instant coffee are then shipped all over the world, surprisingly perhaps to coffee producing countries such as Peru and Indonesia.

What stood out?

The sheer scale and energy required took me by surprise. There is some serious science behind this, with capturing coffee aromas, maintaining incredibly cold temperatures, evaporating water from frozen coffee and piping which carry coffee up and down six storeys of factory.

It’s interesting that brewed coffee grounds are burned to generate energy. This surely offsets some of the enormous energy consumption but I doubt it’s enough to keep a freezer running at minus 40C for extended periods of time, let alone the rest of the factory. The vacuum chamber comes to mind.

This process is so large, yet takes around 14 hours from arrival of the beans to leaving in jars. It’s a speedy process for the sheer scale and the end result allows us to brew a coffee … instantly. From when a kettle has finished boiling, you can make a cup of coffee and drink it in under thirty seconds (adding cold water – don’t neck it with boiling water!).

The features covering the history of coffee houses in London and production of instant coffee were illuminating and a great addition. Coffee’s early role in politics, business and study is undeniable, with many of the penny houses becoming global powerhouses such as Lloyds. Early forms of instant coffee also appear quite grim, including the chicory based liquor drink consumed by Britons in the trenches of WW1. There was a nice section too on America’s instant coffee breakthrough, called George Washington Coffee (not him). Before ‘Cup of Joe’ became a thing, it was called a ‘Cup of George.

Greg Wallace is endearingly silly and gets too excited in the company of women.

If you’d like to watch this show, and I do recommend it, UK viewers can find it on iPlayer. YouTube will also likely have a copy up.



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