Oh, dalgona... where do I begin? When I think of the infamous whipped coffee drink, I’m transported to early pandemic days here in the U.S. At the time, our biggest concerns were baking banana bread and finding out how to get our dalgona consistency just right. Depending on how active you are on social media, you’re either very familiar with dalgona coffee. Or, you are wondering what in the world I’m talking about.
For those who have yet to hear about it, dalgona is a layered iced coffee drink, featuring milk topped with a light and fluffy whipped coffee cream. It’s refreshing and sweet, airy yet strong. The beverage got popular on TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram in 2020 during quarantine, when people started documenting themselves making it at home.
The start of the trend
Long before dalgona gained popularity in the western world, it was already a sensation abroad. Many can trace the start of the trend to South Korean actor Jung Il Woo. The actor appeared on the KBS2 television show “Stars’ Top Recipe” and tried the drink at a Macau café.
The actor nicknamed the drink “dalgona coffee” because its appearance and taste reminded him of Korean dalgona. This is a honeycomb toffee-like candy consisting of melted sugar. The candy gained popularity in the 1950s after the Korean War, when parents were seeking easy, wallet-friendly treats to make at home for their kids. Like dalgona coffee, its ingredients are simple. It's just sugar and baking soda.
Jung Il Woo’s video with dalgona coffee made people around the world obsessed with the drink, finding dozens of ways to spice up the original recipe (see dalgona matcha or boozy dalgona). They also documented their experience making it as they quarantined at home. The drink became so popular on social media during the pandemic that it earned itself the nickname “quarantine coffee.” It is an undoubtedly memorable moment in coffee history.
Dalgona around the world
Though dalgona coffee rocketed to global fame in 2020, there have been variations of it all around the world for years. Phenti hui is popular in India and Pakistan. Indians and Pakistanis make it with the same ingredients: milk, sugar, and instant coffee aerated into a fluffy, light cream. One difference between the two beverages is that phenti hui can be served warm or cold. Dalgona coffee is popularly an iced drink. In addition, phenti hui is layered with milk on top of the coffee. However, in dalgona coffee, the layer of coffee sits on top of the milk.
Another beverage similar to dalgona coffee is cà phê trung, or Vietnamese “egg coffee.” It is light and airy yet rich and decadent. Vietnamese make egg coffee by beating egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk until it forms a creamy, meringue-like whip. They then top the fluffy whipped egg yolk on espresso or iced coffee.
Greece also has its own version. The traditional Greek “frappe” has been around since the 1950s, and its light, airy texture make it a popular summertime treat. (Another fun fact: The word “frappé” is French, and they originally used to describe any iced drink. The “café frappé”, or blended iced coffee, became popular beginning in the 19th century - and now, the term is common all over the world!)
How to make dalgona coffee
Making dalgona coffee is actually quite simple. All of the ingredients you’ll need are probably already in your kitchen. To make it, you’ll need ice, your milk of choice, sugar, water, and instant coffee grounds. Keep in mind that it’s really important you use instant coffee. Regular coffee grounds won’t work!
Start by mixing 2 tablespoons of instant coffee with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of hot water in a bowl. Using a whisk or hand-mixer, whisk the mixture vigorously. Do this until it thickens and becomes a smooth, whipped cream-like consistency.
If you don’t have a whisk or hand-mixer, you can even use a fork (just prepare to put in more arm power!) As you whisk your dalgona and wait for it to thicken, be patient with the process. It can take awhile, depending on what tool you’re using. I also recommend making it with a partner. My boyfriend and I took turns when making it, alternating whenever the other person’s arm got tired.
Once the dalgona reaches your desired consistency, fill a glass with ice and milk, leaving an inch or two of room at the top. Then, spoon your dalgona onto your milk, and voila! You’re done.
Some pro tips to keep in mind. Use a large bowl when whisking the dalgona, because things can get a bit messy! And be sure to mix the dalgona in with the milk before drinking it. Otherwise, you’ll get a really strong mouthful of coffee and sugar. And for those who are caffeine-sensitive, decaf instant coffee works just as well as the regular stuff.
Another big tip. Keeping the mixture cold while you’re whisking it will help you keep your dalgona from melting. That way that you can achieve the ideal whipped foam consistency more quickly and easily. An easy way to do this is by placing the bowl that has your coffee and sugar mixture in it within a bigger bowl that’s filled with ice (kind of like a double boiler, but cold). Then, allowing it to cool the dalgona as you whisk it.
But... How does it taste?
Depending on how you like your coffee, dalgona can be a hit or miss. Though I do appreciate black coffee and straight espresso, I also have a soft spot for sweet, fun, and innovative drinks - so dalgona is a win in my book.
Because dalgona’s ratio of coffee to sugar is 1:1, the beverage is as strong as it is sugary. So, you definitely won’t be missing out on caffeine, if that’s what you’re looking for. Overall, the drink is light, creamy, and refreshing. You can also customize it to your taste with ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon, or even rose or lavender syrup.
Though many will remember dalgona coffee as a pandemic era moment, this trend is promising to stick around far into the future. Give it a try, and be sure to try out all of its cultural variations. Let it serve as an homage to 2020. The year was a symbol of all of the quirky activities that helped us stay sane during one of the most crazy years of our lifetime.