Almost everyone is familiar with instant coffee — coffee-flavored powder or crystals that dissolve quickly in hot water — even if many of us look down on it from a quality standpoint. Instant coffee’s widespread popularity is a relatively recent development. According to Perfect Daily Grind, it first gained popularity during World War II and remained popular throughout the 1960s as freeze-drying innovations improved its overall flavour and quality.
However, despite its meteoric rise in popularity during the twentieth century, instant coffee is not a twentieth-century invention. Indeed, instant coffee has a long history… so long that it predates the United States of America as a country. That’s correct; according to I Need Coffee, the first instant coffee “compound” was reportedly invented in 1771 in Britain, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
However, the United States was instrumental in the development of instant coffee. No, not during the Revolutionary War or even later in WWII, but rather during the Civil War, when an experimental “cake” form of instant coffee was developed and distributed to soldiers, according to History of Coffee.
Three men are largely responsible for the modern evolution of instant coffee. According to the History of Coffee, a New Zealander named David Strang invented the first soluble instant coffee in 1890, utilising his patented “dry hot air” process. Within twenty years of Strang’s invention, two more would contribute to the acceleration of innovation in the emerging market. According to I Need Coffee, the first stable coffee powder was created in Chicago in 1901 by Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato, who modified a process originally intended for instant tea.
However, according to I Need Coffee, the first mass production of instant coffee was facilitated by a Belgian-born American citizen named George Constant Louis Washington. Thus, if you want to claim George Washington as the inventor of instant coffee, you could make a case for it. Washington, without a doubt, was the inventor of one of the first commercial brands. Washington’s first marketing venture, according to Craft of Coffee Guru, was with the clever Red E Coffee brand, although he later rebranded the instant coffee under his own name.
Nestle entered the game in 1930, as noted in History of Coffee, after Brazil requested assistance due to large coffee surpluses. As a result of this encouragement, in 1937, a Nestle scientist named Max Morgenthaler invented a new method for producing instant coffee. In 1938, less than a year after this discovery, a new product called Nescafé was born.