X

Dalgona coffee: ‘It’ drink of the crisis was around back in the day

Dalgona coffee — whipped coffee made with instant coffee, sugar, and milk — has emerged as an internet sensation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resourceful people who are hunkering down at home are making it because they’ve run out of fresh beans.
Dalgona coffee — whipped coffee made with instant coffee, sugar, and milk — has emerged as an internet sensation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resourceful people who are hunkering down at home are making it because they’ve run out of fresh beans.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

With the public health crisis keeping us at home — except for limited grocery outings, or maybe walking or jogging — we tend to notice things we haven’t noticed in a while, if ever. Maybe you’ve taken a path in a park or the woods that you’d never explored before. It was there all along; you just hadn’t discovered it yet.

If there’s one humorous aspect to the food side of this crazy time we’re experiencing, it’s that people are cooking and concocting stuff that is new to them: breadmaking, fermentation projects, you name it. And, of course, even though these things aren’t really new, they want to snap a photo, record a video, and share their proud story of discovery and kitchen accomplishment on social media.

Apparently, dalgona coffee is all the rage in the quarantine cuisine category. What is dalgona coffee, you ask? This internet sensation is being described as “whipped coffee,” an espresso-esque drink made with instant coffee and milk. Resourceful people who are hunkering down at home are making it, because they’ve run out of fresh beans.

I learned about the dalgona coffee craze from Henri Hollis, who works full-time with me on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s food and dining content. Henri is young and hip, and in tune with such things as dalgona coffee, because he’s so digital-savvy (a good thing, since that’s his primary role as an audience specialist — although he is a darn good reporter, too).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are discovering new ways to use instant coffee, which has been around since the 1800s. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are discovering new ways to use instant coffee, which has been around since the 1800s. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

When Henri excitedly described this trendy espresso expression to me, I laughed.

“That’s not new,” I said. “I was doing that 30 years ago.”

Sorry to burst your bubble, Henri.

What’s interesting is that the circumstances under which I learned to make this drink were similar to these times: I was physically isolated.

It was back in the summer of 1993. I was studying in Spain. The spring semester had ended, and I wanted to stay in that country, but had run out of money. A friend told me that there was a last-minute opening for a counselor position at an English-language summer camp for kids. I said yes.

What a disaster.

I can’t even remember how long Intercamp lasted. Three weeks? Eight? It felt like an eternity. The kids didn’t want to speak English all day. They just wanted to splash in a pool. There was nothing to do during down times, because the staff was not supposed to leave the campgrounds. And, even if we did, the place was in a remote location, a mile or so from a small pueblo, where nothing ever happened anyway. There was one bar in the whole village.

As luck would have it, the only night I escaped to the cantina for a drink with a fellow counselor, the guy who ran Intercamp was there, guzzling a beer. He let our infraction slide.

Oh, and the Intercamp kids gave me lice. Gracias, chicos.

In the midst of such misery, the camp cafeteria didn’t even have café con leche, the espresso with steamed milk preparation of coffee that is typical in Spain. The majority don’t do drip coffee (they call that café Americano) and I’d gotten hooked (I still am) on their version.

Thanks to my commiserating camp counselor peers, I learned to make do with instant coffee.

Here’s how we did it back then: Add a couple teaspoons of instant coffee, about half a tablespoon of sugar and a wee bit of milk — like half a tablespoon — to a coffee cup. Take a spoon and stir and stir and stir, until the coffee and sugar dissolve, and the concoction is the consistency of a thick syrup. Add steamed milk, something like half a cup. It’s not real café con leche, but you still get pretty good crema, the slick, oily film on top.

There’s dalgona coffee, Spanish-style (circa 1993) for you.

What other food “discoveries” will emerge during this stretch of human history? It won’t be gochujang, kimchi or turmeric, which certainly aren’t new if your heritage traces back to places like Korea or India, where these foods have been a cultural constant for ages.

Then, again, Americans had to rediscover toast to remember how great sliced bread really is.

Everything old is bound to be new again, someday.

RELATED:

ExploreMore Adventures in Food
ExploreRead the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.