In the 1950s and 1960s, Niro A/S, which later became part of GEA Group, began to pioneer improved extraction, spray drying and agglomeration for instant coffee production.
Today, Niro has developed processes and systems to improve virtually every stage of instant coffee production, helping to ensure that consumers around the World are able to savour the full aromatic delights of the World’s favourite beverage. Niro designs and builds entire production process lines for instant coffee producers all over the World. Every part of the process is designed to achieve the customer’s desired targets for quality, quantity and consistency. Though largely unseen by the coffee consumers who buy the World’s annual consumption of 950 billion cups of instant coffee, Niro play a key role in bringing them their favourite drink.
Instant coffee comes in three forms; freeze dried, spray-dried and liquid coffee extract. The process of making all three types of instant coffee starts once the beans have been roasted and ground. The coarsely ground coffee is then mixed with water that has been heated to approximately 200°C in large extraction columns. Clarifiers are then used to separate out the insoluble components that would otherwise end up as residues in the cup.
After concentration, the extract can be dried in either a spray dryer or a freeze dryer. As the World leader in these technologies, Niro coffee processing systems produces unmatched, top quality coffee powders, agglomerated coffee and coffee granules.
A wide range of tailor-made and standard design spray dryers produce coffee powder and the freeze dryers deliver the granules. Granules are formed through agglomerating the spray dried coffee powder in a two-stage, wetting and drying process. To ensure that the instant coffee, whether in powder or granule form, retains the taste and scent of fresh coffee, precise aroma recovery systems are put in place to ensure that aroma released during the concentration process is captured and returned into the finished product.
Creativity and social change
Coffee has proved to be a social beverage over which to form friendships or discover love. Many have also found it to help them think more clearly, creatively, and independently – Bach, Beethoven and even Balzac composed music with inspiration from coffee.
The American and French Revolutions were both plotted in 18th century coffee houses. More recently, coffee has stimulated a notable – but almost entirely peaceful – social revolution in Japan. Throughout the long history of Japan, the people of Japan have been devoted to drinking tea, developing in the process the famously elaborate tea ceremony. Since the mid-1990s there has been a significant shift in demand towards coffee and, today, coffee is more popular than tea in both volume and value.
One of the prime movers in this taste shift has been StarbucksŪ, whose coffee shop concept has been successfully capturing the Japanese consumers’ imagination.
It appears that Japanese women have taken the Starbucks idea to heart and this has prompted them to emulate the ‘real’ coffee experience at home. Consequently, there has been a substantial rise in demand for fresh ground coffee – which gives a sense of authenticity but does not require consumers to grind their own beans.
Instant coffee still accounts for the bulk of Japan’s coffee sales. The lucrative RTD (ready-to-drink) market is very popular with Japanese commuters and city workers. This coffee/milk/sugar mixture is sold in a sealed cardboard or a can container.
The current target for this type of coffee is China, where companies hope to replicate the Japanese experience of conversion from tea to coffee.
Fresh or instant: Who drinks what?
Consumption statistics for fresh and instant coffee reveal an extraordinary degree of variation between different markets.
Canadians and North Americans are devoted to fresh coffee, with ov er 95% preferring it to the instant variety. As would be expected from a major producer area, Latin America is a strong market for fresh coffee, with just 10% of consumers buying instant coffee. In Africa and the Middle East, 86% of coffee drinkers prefer fresh coffee.
In Western Europe, 90% prefer fresh coffee – although the UK reverses the trend, with 90% of consumers opting for the instant variety. This picture changes in Eastern Europe, where only 65% of buyers purchase fresh coffee.
In the Asia-Pacific area, the figure for fresh coffee buyers drops to 46%. The Australasians are in a league of their own, with 79% of consumers preferring instant coffee.
The broad picture from these statistics show that instant coffee holds a strong position in countries where tea has been the long-standing traditional beverage.
Comparative market shares for spray dried and freeze dried coffee reveal that, as a general rule, the markets with more disposable income are shifting towards freeze-dried granules, whereas sales of spray dried powder coffees are growing in the emerging economies. This position reflects the lower cost base – and hence lower sale price – of spray dried instant coffee.
Adding value through technology
Niro is a leading supplier of process equipment to the World’s coffee producers, helping to convert the raw beans into the aromatic drink that consumers enjoy all around the World. Niro produces process solutions for the following coffee production stages:
Green bean treatment: systems for cleaning, blending and storing harvested beans.
Roast bean treatment: systems for controlling storage conditions and industrial-scale grinding
Extraction: fast instant coffee (FIC) extraction systems, batch percolators and continuous counter-current extractors
Extract treatment: aroma recovery systems and clarifiers for removing unwanted residue
Concentration: falling film evaporators, plate evaporators, freeze concentrators and membrane filtration systems
Drying: spray driers, continuous freeze driers and batch freeze driers
Agglomeration: re-wetting systems for achieving dustless powders and customized granules.