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What’s in your 3-in-1 coffee? You can have a healthier brew without breaking the bank

It is quick, convenient and cheap, but how much of a caffeine kick does that morning coffee really have? The programme Talking Point finds some tips for a better brew, from as simple as the right water temperature.

What’s in your 3-in-1 coffee? You can have a healthier brew without breaking the bank

Need your caffeine? Talking Point host Rai Kannu (bottom right) learnt six things about his morning brew.

SINGAPORE: Coffee is a drug many of us need to feel more awake in the morning. While nothing less than a premium, hand-crafted drink will do for some, instant coffee is the daily fix for others.

After all, the convenience of adding hot water to a powdery mix for a pick-me-up is hard to beat.

And when Talking Point asked its viewers what product they would like the programme to look into, 3-in-1 coffee came up.

Here are six things host Rai Kannu learnt, including how to have a healthier, aromatic brew without breaking the bank.


Tests found 3-in-1 coffees contained an average of 60.9 milligrammes of caffeine per 100 millilitres — higher than instant black coffee (45.8 mg/100 ml) and canned and bottled commercial coffee (42.7 mg/100 ml) but lower than speciality coffees available at cafes (95.3 mg/100 ml).

The caffeine power of different types of instant coffee.

No matter how much you enjoy coffee, you should not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine a day, advised nutritionist Chan Joy Seng of Alive Nutrition Consultancy. That works out at around four cups of 3-in-1.

Although coffee has health benefits including improved endurance performance, too much caffeine can be overstimulating, leading to jitters or even heart palpitations. And when caffeine intake stops, you might get a headache.


Although coffee cultivation dates to 15th-century Arabia, using plants said to have been taken from Ethiopia, instant coffee and 3-in-1 coffee are more recent inventions.

David Strang of New Zealand is credited with inventing soluble coffee using a method called dry hot-air processing around 1890.

Many brands to choose from now, more than a century after its early beginnings.

Belgian-born American inventor George Constant Louis Washington is credited as the first mass producer of instant coffee, while Nestle chemist Max Morgenthaler developed a soluble coffee powder that retained its aroma in 1937, which launched the Nescafe brand in 1938.

Korean company Dongsuh was the first in the world to launch a coffee mix containing coffee powder, powdered cream and sugar in 1976. And in Singapore, the brand Super was a pioneer in 3-in-1 coffee in the late 1980s.


Instant coffee is either spray-dried, which is more common, or freeze-dried, which costs more.

In the spray-drying process, coffee is reduced to a concentrated liquid and sprayed into a stream of hot air to become fine powder.

Freeze-drying preserves the aroma and flavours of coffee better. It removes moisture from coffee extract by freezing the product at about minus 40 degrees Celsius and by vacuum.

WATCH: How to make instant coffee taste barista level (2:55)

At homegrown outfit Killiney Group’s factory, director Woon Tien Yuan showed Kannu a ribbon blender, a machine that mixes the coffee powder, creamer and sugar for about 20 minutes before they are packed into sachets, then into larger bags.


Emulsifiers and stabilisers are two common ingredients or additives found in 3-in-1 coffee.

Emulsifiers prevent the separation of fat or oil — which coffee contains — from water, while stabilisers help the mixture to maintain a homogeneous appearance, said food scientist Ramesh Krish Kumar, the co-founder and managing director of beverage company Asmara.

Anti-caking agents absorb moisture from the environment, preventing 3-in-1 coffee from lumping together. Sodium caseinate, meanwhile, allows the mixture to disperse when hot water is added, instead of forming a lump that does not dissolve, he said.

Talking Point host Rai Kannu (left) with food scientist Ramesh Krish Kumar.

Maltodextrin, a highly processed carbohydrate and another common ingredient, is a bulking agent that gives the product more volume.

These ingredients are “highly regulated” and, because they are used in small quantities, do not have any harmful health effects, Ramesh said.

Among “the biggest concerns” about 3-in-1 coffee, however, is the fat and sugar content.

The creamers used tend to be “very high in hydrogenated fat”, said Ramesh. Hydrogenation is a chemical process that makes fat unhealthier but is done to make the fat stable so that it “doesn’t taste rancid”.

It would be “very challenging” to find 3-in-1 coffees without hydrogenated fat, but some manufacturers use low-fat or non-fat creamers, he added.

Sugar seems easier to cut down on, with more 3-in-1 brands offering lower-sugar options. Consumers can look out for the Health Promotion Board’s lower-in-sugar Healthier Choice Symbol.

For reduced sugar, look out for the Healthier Choice Symbol.

According to the Health Ministry’s HealthHub site, products with this label contain at least 25 per cent less sugar than similar products in the same food category.


For a healthier brew, have a kopi o kosong (black coffee without sugar), then add milk and sugar alternatives as needed, advised Ramesh.

Consumers can choose fat-free skim milk or low-fat milk, for instance. Or they can opt for a natural sugar substitute like stevia to sweeten their drink.


A healthier cup of coffee need not be bitter or lacklustre, and social enterprise cafe The Caffeine Experience’s managing founder, Matthew Poh, has tricks up his sleeve.

Kannu with The Caffeine Experience’s managing founder, Matthew Poh.

Instead of adding boiling water to a kopi o kosong bag — which should be brewed immediately after being opened to minimise oxidation — pour in water that is 70 to 80 degrees Celsius.

“The hotter the water, the more caffeine it extracts (and) it’s usually more bitter,” Poh said. “Lower temperature brings out the sweeter notes.”

Another trick to enable more flavours to emerge is to pour in the hot water slowly, taking 30 seconds or so, he said. You can then take out the coffee bag immediately or after three minutes for a stronger drink.

Kannu found the drink prepared by Poh to be “very different” from the one he had made himself. “It’s a lot less bitter. I can taste a bit of the citrus notes,” he remarked. “It’s a lot lighter and easier to drink.”

WATCH: The full episode — What’s in your instant 3-in-1 coffee? (22:34)

Another alternative is to use drip-bag coffee, suggested Poh. This coffee bag has “wings” that rest on the brim of a mug. These drip bags cost more than 3-in-1 coffee but are equally hassle-free.

Depending on the coffee blend, the unit cost of one bag can range from about S$1 to nearly S$2. Users have to only pour hot water over the coffee grounds and into the mug.

If the drinker fancies some sugar, Poh recommends no more than half a spoonful, as anything more would “overpower” the intrinsic taste and notes of the coffee.

And instead of cold milk, which would result in a “drastic” drop in temperature, he would advise using milk heated to about 60 degrees Celsius, which is sweeter than cold milk.

Watch this episode of Talking Point here. The programme airs on Channel 5 every Thursday at 9.30pm.

Source: CNA/dp


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