Smithsonian magazine started a recent article with the question, “is there a future for instant coffee?” For most of us reading this site, the answer is probably no (right?!) but this is an interesting point of departure for a tour of the current instant coffee market and its history. They point out that the instant market has grown 7-10% per year recently:

But who is buying this stuff? China.

The country that historically drank about two cups of coffee per year per person is now the fourth-largest global market for ready to drink (RTD) coffee in terms of volume. The reason? Convenience. A 2012 poll found that 70 percent of Chinese workers said they were overworked and more than 40 percent stated they had less leisure time than previous years. Plus, most new buyers are used to boiling water to make tea, often owning just a teapot and not the appliances needed to make a fresh pot of coffee. By 2017, the Chinese RTD coffee market is projected to increase by 129 percent in volume.

This reminds me of Korean coffee culture, where, alongside a robust specialty coffee industry, instant coffee outsells rice at major retailers and ready-to-drink coffee is available in a vast array of formats (see the photo I took above of a vending machine that also serves coffee). Convenience may be a major factor, but price is also a big driver given that lower salaries and higher coffee prices make whole bean coffee a luxury for many. Still, I wonder what the Chinese specialty coffee market will look like in five to ten years?

You can read more about the history of instant coffee at the Smithsonian magazine.