A Kopi O Enthusiast Tries Dalgona Coffee

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A Kopi-O Kosong Drinker Tries Dalgona Coffee

STORY: Diane Lam
31 March 2020
PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

If you'd asked me a couple of days ago, I never would have believed that the coffee pictured above started off looking like a sad bowl of soy sauce:

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

And if you'd told me that it were made out of instant coffee - which I always associate with camping, sadness, and desperation - I wouldn't have believed you either.

For the past couple of years, I've only ever taken my coffee two ways: kopi o kosong, or brewed at home or in a cafe from freshly ground beans. So when I started seeing #Dalgona all over TikTok and Instagram, I dismissed it as yet another hypebeast beverage created purely for likes. Named after a similarly-flavoured Korean sweet, this uber-photogenic coffee went viral not only for its appearance, but because of the effort needed to make it.

You see, in order to make Dalgona foam, you need to whisk the mixture by hand at least 400 times. Which is beyond extra, but provides the perfect distraction from depressing headlines. 

And boy, have I needed some distractions.

Firstly, how to make? There's like, a bajillion Dalgona videos on YouTube right now, mostly in Korean or Japanese, and laden with ASMR. 

To make the coffee foam, you only need three ingredients:

- 2 tablespoons of instant coffee
- 2 tablespoons of granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons of boiled water

Whisk the mixture until it gets foamy, pour it into a glass of milk, and you’ve got Dalgona coffee. If you're too lazy to hand whisk it, you can also use a milk frother or an electric mixer. 

Now, for all you coffee purists, I know, I know. You’ve maintained a lifelong habit of practicing safe distancing between yourself and instant coffee, let alone instant coffee with sugar. But in order to make Dalgona, you need to use an equal measure of both ingredients since instant coffee and sugar stabilise the foam.

I tried experimenting with "real" coffee by immersing two tablespoons of coffee grounds in a Clever Dripper before whisking it with one tablespoon of sugar, and it came out like this:

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

Not unimpressive, and a lot more palatable than the version I made by following the actual recipe (more on that later), but appearance-wise, a little anticlimactic. If I were to make something worthy of the 'gram, I'd have to forgo my freshly-ground beans for instant coffee.

I sighed, changed out my WFH pyjamas, and hauled myself to the nearest grocery store. 

Fast-forward to a couple of hours later. I stirred two tablespoons of The Substance That Shall Not Be Named with two tablespoons of granulated sugar, and whisked it by hand for about five minutes before deciding to taste it. 

In a word: UGH. The mixture was so siap, and yet so sweet, that whisking it by hand another 300 times didn't seem worth the effort. I busted out a milk foamer, whipped my coffee for about five minutes, and ended up with something that resembled a very gao teh cino. 

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

The foam didn't even rise! I tossed this in the sink about 2.5 seconds after snapping a photo. 

But I wasn't ready to give up. Amidst my grumbling about the grossness of Instagram recipes, my housemate volunteered her jar of Kona instant coffee from Hawaii. Unlike mine, hers was a light roast that smelled a lot less earthy than my jar of likely-expired Nescafe Classic. 

I decided to give Dalgona one last chance. This time, I'd use my housemate's coffee and would go extra hard on the hand whisking, as per the YouTube instructions.

But after 20 minutes, it still looked like this:

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

Like soy sauce with peanut oil! I asked a friend what I was doing wrong, and she said that I needed to use a thinner whisk and a bigger bowl, neither of which I own, so I gave up and grabbed the 'ol milk frother. 

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

After about two minutes, it looked like this. Gooey, gloopy, and potentially able to form peaks. Could it be...?

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

IT WAS. 

When it comes to Dalgona, not all instant coffees are equal, so based on my experience and on anecdotes from my friends, Nescafe Gold, Kona coffee, or Lavazza coffee work best. 

And as sick as I was of drinking Dalgona by this point, I had to conduct one more experiment: what happens if you make it without sugar?

I picked up a packet of Korean instant coffee from Koryo and got to work. 

PHOTO: DIANE LAM
PHOTO: DIANE LAM

Eh. The coffee gets a foamy, sure, but collapses within seconds without sugar to stabilise it. If you want to get the Dalgona effect without giving yourself diabetes, I'd recommend cutting the sugar to one fourth the recommended amount. And if it's still too sweet, use more ice. 

In the meantime, does anyone know what I can do with a leftover bottle of Nescafe Classic?

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TAGS: Coffee
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