Along with prompt and plentiful COVID-19 tests, the hottest trend coming out of South Korea these days is dalgona iced coffee. Since the young people of South Korea have been forced into social isolation, they have been Instagramming things in their own homes, and none has been more popular than dalgona coffee. There are nearly 80,000 posts hashtagged #달고나커피 and another 80,000 hashtagged #dalgona. Come on, everybody’s doing it!
So what is this stuff? Lo, it is nothing more than a mixture of instant coffee, sugar, and hot water whipped up and served on top of icy milk. In other parts of Asia, including India, Pakistan, and Macao, it’s known as whipped coffee. According to the L.A. Times, which published the first story about this in America last week, “the coffee was first introduced in January when it was featured on the popular TV show ‘Fun-straunt.’ Actor Jung Il Woo tried the drink at a restaurant in Macao and deemed it similar to the nostalgic taste of dalgona.” Dalgona is a toffee-like candy that used to be popular with Korean kids a generation ago (back when kids needed to leave the house to play video games; arcades would sell homemade dalgona kits) and is still eaten by tourists.
Since I had a jar of instant coffee buried deep in one of my kitchen cabinets and am, these days, always looking for ways to amuse myself within the confines of my apartment, I decided to give it a try.
The recipe is simple. Take two tablespoons each of instant coffee, sugar, and hot water and mix them together. At first it will look distinctly uninspiring:
But then you beat them fiercely and a miracle occurs. You can use either a hand mixer or a whisk for this (or an egg beater, I suppose, if you happen to still have one). Since I’ve been homebound and deprived of exercise, I opted to whisk. Conventional wisdom says it takes 400 strokes to achieve the proper consistency. I didn’t bother to count, but after about five minutes, I got this:
(For a demonstration, take a look at Korea Grandma, who is much more entertaining than I was.)
Dollop it on your milk. Instagram and tag it.
And then mix it all together and drink up.
After all the time I spent trying to get a perfect Insta shot, the taste of the thing was almost beside the point, but I really liked it. It was sweet and bitter all at once, like coffee ice cream or the way you expected coffee would taste when you were a kid, before you ever had any. It’s not unlike a Starbucks Frappuccino, except thicker and less icy. (Let that register for a minute: all those years you’ve been buying Frappuccinos—and yes, I know you have, because I made a shit-ton of them when I was working as a barista—and you could have made it yourself at home this whole time.) I’m not sure how it compares to Rhode Island coffee milk; if you’ve tried both, please let us know in the comments.
Korea Grandma suggests pouring the milk into the bowl with the coffee fluff and then slurping it for a more authentic dalgona flavor. I think I’ll try that next time.