Instant coffee invented down south

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012

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New Zealand is home to flat whites, but we have another caffeine feat to celebrate - the invention of instant coffee.

It's long been accepted that instant coffee was created in 1901 by Chicago chemist Satori Kato. But a recent discovery shows instant coffee was actually invented in Invercargill where it was available from 1889.

David Strang, who owned the Coffee and Spice Works factory, is the man credited with creating "soluble coffee powder" says Susan Irvine, New Zealand Historic Places Trust heritage adviser.

"I am convinced he was the first person in the world to invent instant coffee... that's huge," Irvine said.

"Strang applied for the patent in 1890 which would suggest it wasn't available anywhere else at the time."

Irvine made the discovery while registering a nearby home built by James Strang, David's son. Further research revealed James worked for his father in the coffee business which opened in 1872.

The introduction of instant coffee in New Zealand was revolutionary, as described in the Otago Daily Times of the day.

"Strang's soluble coffee powder requires no boiling, but is made instantly with boiling water. Then, again, it can be made in a breakfast cup and requires neither the use of pots nor the employment of experienced cooks."

But the taste would have been something else, Otago University food science product development and research manager Patrick Silcock said. It would have lacked the earthy body and bitterness of today's instants which are made from robusta and arabica beans.

"It would have been dried more slowly and less carefully. It would have had less of an aroma than instant coffee currently has."

Strang patented a number of related inventions here and internationally, including a "coffee-roasting apparatus of novel design" and Strang's Eclipse Hot Air Grain Dryer. He also made mocha, by blending coffee with cocoa.

Strang began working in a Glasgow coffee warehouse. His award-winning New Zealand products were also distributed in Fiji and Australia.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said it wasn't unusual for the town's legends to go unheralded.

"This is wonderful news. We have a lot of heroes under represented due to our geographic isolation. A classic example is Burt Munro. No-one knew he still held the speed record [for under 1000cc motorcycles] until the World's Fastest Indian came out."

The site of the original factory in Esk St is now owned by H and J Smith Holdings, which has been clearing the land. Part of an old building was demolished when a parapet with "Southland Coffee Mills established 1872" appeared on a building behind, Irvine said.

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"Demolition has ceased in the meantime, which we are pleased about given it is the site of the invention of instant coffee."

- Sunday Star Times

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