At the start of the pandemic, TikTok and Instagram exploded with viral challenges and interesting recipes to combat being in lockdown. With nowhere to go and little access to restaurants for some time, people turned to the internet to get creative. One of the most viral trends that hit was the dalgona coffee, a whipped coffee drink that blew up on social media. Once the trend started to grow and ended up on TikTok in 2020, it became a global viral sensation. But who actually made the dalgona coffee famous, and what’s the origin of it?
Whipped instant coffee drinks have been around for over a hundred years, but dalgona coffee was invented a little more recently. A coffee shop owner in Macau invented dalgona coffee in the early 2000s, and this foamy drink acquired its modern name (and popularity) in 2020.
The Dalgona Coffee Trend: Who Started It?
Dalgona coffee may be older than you think! If you’re wondering when dalgona coffee was invented, the answer is a little complicated. Ever since the invention of instant coffee in 1890, there have been versions of this sweet whipped coffee drink all around the world, including in Pakistan, India, and Greece (where it’s called a “frappe”).
But dalgona coffee as we know it first came about in Macau in the early 2000s. After an accident that nearly took his arm, a man named Leong Kam Hon opened a coffee shop at the port. During the Grand Prix, a mysterious English-speaking couple taught him how to make a whipped instant coffee drink. In 2004, the actor Chow Yun-Fat (known for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) visited and loved the drink.1 In his honor, Leong Kam Hon called it “Chow Yun-Fat coffee.” So when did it become dalgona coffee?
Before dalgona coffee became the “quarantine coffee” trend, it accidentally became a viral sensation in South Korea. The first appearance of dalgona coffee is on a Korean TV show called Stars’ Top Recipe at Fun-Staurant, ordered by famous Korean actor Jung Il-Woo when he was in Macau, China in January 2020. Il-Woo ordered a whipped coffee and tasted it, immediately likening it to a Korean candy treat called ‘dalgona.’
And how did dalgona coffee become a pandemic sensation in the US? TikTok, of course!
What Is Dalgona?
Dalgona is the Korean version of honeycomb toffee, a mixture of melted sugar and baking soda. This Korean candy first appeared in the 1950s. The baking soda creates a foam-like texture, almost like cold foam or whipped cream. Dalgona street vendors will flatten the foam and stamp it with a shape before it hardens. The spongy toffee mixture is also quite popular in baked goods and as a topping on coffee shop drinks. Jong Il-woo mentioned that whipped coffee looks and tastes like dalgona, causing the drink to go viral.
What Is Dalgona Coffee?
Now that we know where the trend started, let’s look at what dalgona coffee is:
Dalgona coffee is a combination of instant coffee, sugar, hot water, and milk. Whipping the coffee, sugar, and hot water creates a luscious, foamy texture, which sits on top of the hot or cold milk. It can be cold or hot, making it a great year-round beverage. It’s also easy to make at home and requires only four ingredients, which is why it probably became so popular during the pandemic.
Whipped/Beaten Coffee & Its Origins
Although Jung Il-woo gave it its nickname ‘Dalgona,’ the original coffee drink is a ‘whipped coffee’ or ‘beaten coffee.’ While the origins are debated amongst multiple countries, it seems to be inspired by the beaten coffee drinks in India. A drink typically made at home, beaten coffee is the original dalgona coffee. The coffee is whipped with a spoon which has slightly different from a whipped texture. Regardless of the aeration method, dalgona coffee is a whipped/beaten coffee product and has become a multi-national sensation.
Featured Image Credit: Jennifer Gauld, Shutterstock