"The hardest part is getting your picture just right!" BBC Food
If I want to stay up to date with the foodie world I really should join Instagram. Like yesterday's Good Food writer Daniel Neman, I had never heard of dalgona coffee, Google's number six on it's list of most searched recipes. If, however, I was an Instagram follower I would have known. Now I am an old - nay elderly in today's parlance - lady so I have an excuse. To the young world at large it's probably a bit surprising that I can use a computer; however as a food writer for The Age's Good Food section you would think that membership of Instagram was virtually compulsory. Tik Tok too - though that may soon be banned. I think I am right in saying that.
Anyway it seems that dalgona coffee is all the rage on Instagram. Way back, shortly after the time of its coming to the public notice, Instagram - or somebody on Instagram created a dalgona challenge - hashtag #dalgonacoffeechallenge. If you click on the link you will get a few views before they are greyed out if you are not an Instagram user. One writer said in March that at that point there were over 50,000 posts on Instagram. I wonder how many there are now? Some of the online videos demonstrating how to make it have had millions of views. Here are just a few 'pretty' pictures:
So what is it? Well it's just instant coffee - yes it's got to be instant because:
"It is not possible to make dalgona coffee using ground coffee beans; instant coffee creates the dense and foamy topping and the reason for this has much to do with the drying process of the coffee granules." Wake Coffee via Wikipedia
Another proposed reason for it needing to be instant is that during the pandemic real coffee beans were in short supply and so people had to turn to instant coffee for their coffee fix. And this is a way to improve the taste of that coffee. It's pretty sweet.
Anyway back to how to make it. You whip your instant coffee with sugar and boiling water - for quite a long time if you do it by hand, which you are supposed to - until it becomes frothy and creamy coloured. I noticed that Taste.com (and others) recommended doing it with a hand electric beater. And yes you can use all sorts of different sugars. Then you put your milk in your glass - about three quarters full - cold, iced or hot according to taste, and dollop your froth on top. As they all say it's sort of like an upside-down cappuccino. To drink it you mix it all together - though I'm guessing some people don't.
There are, of course lots of recipes out there. My Korean Kitchen is as good a place as any to find one. This is a picture of her finished drink, which I have to say looks marginally gluggy to me.
So that's what it is, now where did it come from? Well here again it demonstrates its very modern origins, because it became popular when a Korean film star - Jung Il-Woo, on a Korean television program about the favourite foods of celebrities, tried this drink in a Macau and raved about it. So it is television driven and celebrity driven too. The show was screened in January just as the pandemic was breaking and Korea as we all know was one of the first to make its people go into a lockdown situation. It's also known as quarantine or pandemic coffee.
The other reason it became so popular in Korea is that Jung Il-Woo said that it reminded him of a sweet/lolly with the same name which is a bit like honeycomb and whose name is derived from 'dalguna' which means 'it's sweet.' It's a very popular street food for kids:
"You’re supposed to carefully eat around the pattern, without breaking it. It’s not easy! For us children, this always was a highly intense, competitive activity. People often use a pin or a toothpick as a tool. I remember we even used our saliva to smooth out the edges. Some vendors reward you with another one if you successfully break off the outer part, saving the shape, and some others have other rewards such as small toys."
This reminiscence came from a Korean American lady called Hyosun who has a recipe for the candy on her website Korean Bapsang. So bearing in mind yesterday's comments about the top ten list being full of sweet things and nostalgic comfort food, perhaps this is yet another reason for dalgona coffee's huge popularity - at least in Korea.
I confess I am a little intrigued about the origins though. Yes it was obviously popularised on Korean television at just the right moment in time, but where did the café/restaurant owner in Macau get the recipe?
Well it turns out it's not really a new thing, rather it's an evolution of at least two different drinks - a Greek Frappé on the left, and an Indian beaten coffee on the right, with aAn American Iced Coffee Frappéin the middle. In the Greek and Indian version the instant coffee is beaten with the sugar and the water, as in the dalgona coffee, but the milk is then added to the coffee mixture, causing the milk to froth at the top. In the case of the Frappé the milk is cold - this is really an Iced Coffee and sometimes ice-cream is added, and in the case of the Indian coffee it is hot milk. Leite's Culinaria has a recipe for Greek Frappé, Martha Stewart has one for a Frappé in which everything is beaten together and Whisk Affair has one for the Indian Beaten Coffee.
And there are lots of other different ways of serving coffee around the world. Homegrounds deals with nineteen of them, but interestingly they do not include the Indian cappuccino as it is sometimes known or the Korean dalgona coffee.
Then there's Golden Turmeric Latte - which is another supremely trendy and media fuelled thing. Not coffee but still - same kind of thing. Maybe there's yet another post there.