While not the first instant coffee to be marketed, Nescafé was the first to be made by a spray drying process that maintained the flavour of the coffee. While earlier products were said to have a disagreeable, bitter taste, Nescafe was well accepted. Launched by Nestlé in Switzerland in 1938, it went on to become a world-wide brand.
A Nestlé media release to mark the 75th anniversary of the launch read, in part, as follows:
Mar 28, 2013
A Nestlé brand that started as an idea to solve the problem of what to do with unsold coffee is celebrating its 75th anniversary and its position as one of the world’s favourite drinks.
Today more than 5,500 cups of Nescafé instant coffee are consumed every second with different varieties catering to different tastes and preferences around the globe.
“We are celebrating the rich history and heritage of Nescafé, the world’s first instant coffee, which has kept the distinct coffee aroma. Over the past 75 years it has evolved from a tin of coffee to a full portfolio of products and systems,” said Carsten Fredholm, Head of Nestlé’s Beverage Strategic Business Unit.
“Nescafé is present in over 180 countries and we are also highlighting its promise for future growth as it continues to lead the coffee beverage category,” he added.
Innovation from the start
In 1929, Louis Dapples, the Nestlé Chairman at the time, was presented with an interesting task by his former employer, the Banque Française et Italienne pour l’Amérique du Sud.
Following the Wall Street Crash and the collapse of coffee prices, the bank had a lot of coffee sitting unsold in warehouses in Brazil.
Nestlé was asked whether these stocks could be turned into a ‘soluble coffee cube’ to be sold to consumers.
A chemist Dr Max Morgenthaler joined the company to help its researchers find a solution.
After three years of research they discovered that café au lait – coffee mixed with milk and sugar – converted into powder kept its flavour for longer.
But this powder was not easily soluble, and the milk and sugar caused production challenges.
Nescafé is born
However, Dr Morgenthaler found that coffee taste and aroma were better preserved in sweetened milk coffee rather than unsweetened. He also found that the coffee kept longer after being exposed to high temperature and pressure.
Dr Morgenthaler concluded that the secret of preserving the coffee aroma lay in creating a soluble coffee with enough carbohydrates. This was new and went against original thinking.
A year later he used a specific technique to produce a powder that did this, and presented it to the Nestlé Executive Board and technical directors as drinkable soluble coffee samples.
Two years later on April 1, 1938, the soluble coffee product, named Nescafé, was launched in Switzerland. Nestlé set up a large-scale production line of coffee extraction and ‘spray drying’ coffee beans to produce Nescafé at its factory in the Swiss town of Orbe.
The brand was rolled out in the United Kingdom two months later and the United States in 1939.
By April 1940 Nescafé was available in 30 countries worldwide including Australia which began local production in 1948.
Nescafé during the war effort
More than three quarters of Nescafé’s worldwide production was consumed in Switzerland, the UK and the US during the Second World War.
Its shelf life – longer than fresh coffee – helped its popularity to grow and sales volumes doubled.
The bulk of Nescafé’s production was provided as supplies to US troops.
Two production factories were set up in the US by 1943 to keep up with demand.
In 1952 the Nescafé factory in St Menet, France, produced a new innovation – a product that didn’t need added carbohydrates.
During the 1960s the product was re-launched in glass containers in Europe and Japan to help preserve freshness.
In 1965 the brand unveiled another innovation – freeze-dried soluble coffee Nescafé Gold Blend.
Over the decades Nescafé expanded its soluble coffee recipe creating other varieties – Nescafé Decaffeinated, Nescafé Gold Espresso, Nescafé Frappé, Nescafé Cappuccino and Nescafé Ready-to-Drink.
In the 1990s researchers developed a proprietary self-foaming solution to improve the texture of milk froth, which is now used in Nescafé Cappuccino….
Nescafé in Australia
Following the global popularity of the world’s first instant coffee, Nescafé was imported to Australia in 1938 and local production began 10 years later at the former Nestlé factory in Dennington, Victoria.
In 1986 production of Nescafé moved to the Nestlé factory at Gympie in Queensland, which now manufactures iconic coffee brands such as Nescafé GOLD and Nescafé Blend 43.
Today, Australians drink more than 3.6 billion cups of Nescafé instant coffee every year.