Coffee 101: What is Dalgona Coffee?
In March 2020, when the whirlwind of chaos first began, a glimmer of hope (at least for coffee lovers) came in the form of the tasteful, aesthetic, and viral Dalgona coffee.
While it grabbed the attention of many, the large onslaught of videos and information made it easy to get lost in the details, so here is everything you need to know about Dalgona Coffee.
What Is Dalgona Coffee?
Dalgona coffee is a type of cold coffee drink made by whipping sugar, instant coffee, and hot water together. Instant coffee, for Dalgona coffee, is the key ingredient.
Through a relatively long period of vigorous mixture, the combination forms a frothy, creamy, and smooth concoction that tastes strongly of coffee and has a sweet, almost toffee-like taste. Layered on top of cold milk, regular coffee, or creamer, the drink has become a wide-spread internet sensation that many prefer as their daily dose of coffee.
While it is popularly known as “whipped coffee” or even “TikTok coffee,” for those completely new to the drink, the official name, Dalgona coffee, comes from the drink’s resemblance to the Korean word for honeycomb toffee: Dalgona.
The candy was first made popular in Korea in the early 1950s, when honeycomb toffee provided an affordable and tasty sweet to the public. Made by combining sugar, water, and baking soda, it results in a light yellow, bubbly candy that looks like a honeycomb. Because of the candy’s sweet and frothy texture but slight bitter aftertaste, whipped coffee was immediately named after it.
How Dalgona Coffee Became Viral
What is Dalgona coffee: a frothy, foamy, sweet and milky coffee drink. But how did it suddenly become so famous?
Dalgona coffee was first launched into the media in January 2020, when Korean Actor Jung Il-Woo was featured in an episode of KBS World, where he went to a restaurant in Macau, China to try items on the menu.
Upon arrival, Il-Woo ordered a coffee from the menu, and watched in wonder as the chef whipped coffee powder, sugar, and hot water together with a spoon to create a foamy cream. When Il-Woo tried the drink, he was immediately pleased, saying that the coffee reminded him of the sweet and sticky Dalgona candy.
After the episode was published, Dalgona coffee, as it was soon named, became extremely popular in Korea.
Later, in March, TikTok creator Hannah Cho uploaded a video of her making the coffee for her mother, only for the video to receive more than 12 million views and over 2 million likes. Then circulating amongst other trends in the viral rabbit hole that is TikTok, the coffee immediately took over the app and became an instant success.
With newly quarantined users having an excess of time to make the somewhat time-consuming coffee, Dalgona coffee began showing up everywhere.
The coffee soon spread to many other social media platforms, as well as the internet in general, to the point where “TikTok coffee” became the most searched kind of coffee on google, and #whippedcoffee was viewed by more than 2.2 billion people on TikTok.
Although the recent boom and widespread popularity of Dalgona coffee only began in early 2020, other forms of Dalgona coffee have existed in many cultures, under different names and techniques of preparation.
For instance, whipped coffee has been a part of Indian and Pakistani culture for a long time, under the name of “Phenti Hui.” Along with this, the Greek “Frappé” is a distant cousin of Dalgona coffee, made differently and whipped less so that it is more foamy and less creamy.
The Science Behind Dalgona Coffee
How you make Dalgona coffee can vary in the quantity of ingredients, but the basics always stay the same. It is always the same ratio of ingredients, and the same three ingredients: hot water, instant coffee, and sugar.
So what about this combination can create such a fluffy foam when there are no eggs or dairy involved?
The first thing to note is that popularly whipped items, such as whipped cream and meringues, both contain lots of proteins and little oil. These delicacies can be whipped since the proteins in the ingredients break down once they are exposed to air or physically broken apart.
As air is whipped into the cream, the air bubbles separate the polar parts (regions with uneven charge distribution) and nonpolar parts (regions with even charge distribution) of the proteins. Since polar molecules stick to each other, as do nonpolar molecules, the polar parts of the proteins stick to the inside of the air bubbles while the nonpolar parts of the protein stick to the outside of the air bubbles. This creates the foamy and whipped consistency.
The similarity between this phenomenon and what happens in Dalgona coffee, is that the coffee powder also contains lots of proteins and little oil. The coffee powder mixed with water and sugar helps create an airy texture.
Can You Make Dalgona Coffee Without Instant Coffee?
This popular TikTok instant coffee recipe cannot be made without instant coffee. As stated earlier on, the coffee powder must have lots of proteins but little oil in order for it to be whipped. Oil gets in the way of deconstructing proteins, and does not allow the coffee to achieve a foamy texture.
Since regular coffee grounds and brewed coffee have lots of oils in them, they cannot be made into Dalgona coffee. However, since instant coffee is made by dehydrating already brewed coffee, most of the oils are eliminated in this process, allowing the instant coffee to achieve a foamy texture.
In the same line of thinking, spray-dried coffee becomes foamier than freeze-dried coffee, when making Dalgona coffee, because it has less flavor and less aromatic oils. However, freeze-dried coffee can still achieve a creamy and luscious texture, while still packing in the flavor of brewed coffee.
Can You Make Dalgona Coffee Without Sugar?
Sugar is used in Dalgona coffee because the coffee is easier to make with sugar in it, and the sugar adds a subtle sweetness as well. However, sugar is not necessary for making whipped coffee.
The sugar in whipped coffee makes the water more viscous, and by consequence, the air bubbles more stable. If the coffee were to be made without sugar, the foam would be less creamy and more flat, and it would collapse quicker. This would even allow for a healthier alternative with fewer calories in Dalgona coffee.
With that said, whipped coffee can be made without sugar, but Dalgona coffee cannot. Since Dalgona coffee is named for its toffee flavor, it cannot be achieved without sugar.
What Else Can You Whip Besides Instant Coffee?
Whipped drinks have become a huge trend, with people making anything from whipped milk to whipped Matcha. While these all achieve the trendy, creamy texture of Dalgona coffee, all of them require other ingredients like egg whites or heavy whipping cream to make them since the base ingredients do not have the same properties as instant coffee.
How to Whip Dalgona Coffee at Home
The most popular ratio of ingredients in Dalgona coffee is 2 tablespoons of hot water, instant coffee and sugar each. However, the coffee can be achieved in any quantity, as long as the ratio of water to coffee granules to sugar is equal.
- 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder
- 2 teaspoons of hot water
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
1. Combine the hot water, sugar, and coffee powder in a bowl, and whisk until soft peaks form (Hand held whisks and electric mixers both work).
2. Add 8-10 ounces of milk or a dairy-free alternative to a glass with ice, and top it off with the whipped coffee. Enjoy!
We’ve covered what to know about Dalgona coffee, so now it’s your time to make it yourself! Start by getting some quality instant coffee for your recipe, which you can find right here.