With the social media craze, we’re pretty sure you would have heard of this fluffy, airy, and caffeinated creation called Dalgona coffee. Photos and videos of this strangely interesting coffee drink are trending on Instagram, and more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon, especially with how little ingredients are needed! The original recipe requires an equal amount of instant coffee, sugar, and hot water, which is then combined and whipped up into a fluffy coffee foam that’s then topped and stirred into icy cold milk.
Dalgona Coffee, an Innovative Drink with Minimal Ingredients
Dalgona itself is a Korean street food made from melted glucose and baking soda. It has a caramel-like flavor and crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth texture which makes it a popular treat among kids. Most of us might have never heard of it before, but thanks to Korean actor Jung Il-woo who ordered a whipped coffee drink that unexpectedly tasted like dalgona, people started recreating the drink and calling it “dalgona coffee”.
Making a cup of dalgona coffee only requires simple ingredients (instant coffee, sugar, hot water, and milk), but the process is really fascinating to watch and perform. Some of us might be wondering, how does the coffee mixture form such a light and airy mixture by simply whipping it? What does each ingredient do, and what happens if they’re replaced or omitted?
This article will answer all your burning questions about the making of this coffee, and what goes beyond the naked eye in the creation of its addictive texture. Apart from that, there are also tips to help you avoid the mistakes people have experienced before. And, if you haven’t seen our take on this popular beverage, you have to try our version of it – Gula Melaka Dalgona Coffee, which is locally-inspired. Now let’s start discovering the science behind one of the biggest drink trends of 2020.
Why and How Does the Mixture Form Its Airy Texture?
Two main factors play a part in the formation of your dalgona coffee’s foam – the whipping process and the presence of sugar. Since they determine the success of your dalgona coffee, let’s learn more about the basics of these two elements.
The whipping or beating process is described as something done to incorporate air into a liquid that can hold volume. Although we usually associate “whipping” with whipped cream or egg whites, it’s also applied in the making of dalgona coffee.
Beating the coffee mixture creates a network of air bubbles that increases the liquid’s volume, making it become stiffer and appear fluffier. That is why you are able to pipe or scoop the foam into your glass of iced milk easily, after you’ve whipped up the coffee mixture.
It’s best to beat at a medium speed and gradually increase to high speed to create more stable air bubbles. Although beating at high speed throughout might seem like it should give you thicker foam more easily, the air bubbles created are actually larger, making the foam fragile and prone to collapse.
We recommend beating the coffee mixture in three stages to achieve maximum volume:
- Medium speed: To induce frothing and create a network of air bubbles.
- High speed: To achieve maximum volume and medium-stiff peaks. Increase the speed of your mixer gradually, not immediately.
- Low speed: After your mixture has reached medium-stiff peaks, turn the mixer down to low speed and hold it there for a few seconds to stabilize the foam. The medium-stiff peak stage is somewhere between medium peaks and stiff peaks; the tip of your mixture should be able to stand up firmly, but with a little curl at its tip.
It is essential to add the right amount of sugar to your dalgona coffee solution as sugar helps to stabilise the foam. Without sugar, a mixture of instant coffee and water will still foam up when you beat it, however the bubbles in the foam will not be very stable and deflate quickly. The same theory applies if there's too little sugar!
When you add sugar, it helps to thicken the coffee solution, so that when you whip air into it, the air bubbles that are formed cannot move as freely as an instant coffee-water solution that doesn't have sugar. This results in a stable foam that doesn't deflate easily. This way, you can take multiple pictures of the insta-worthy foam without worrying about it deflating into a pool of liquid coffee!
Do I Have to Use Instant Coffee Powder?
We’ve seen some people attempting to make dalgona coffee using other types of coffee such as ground coffee and coffee powder mix. While they might work, your best bet is to use unsweetened instant black coffee. Another option is to use espresso powder, but keep in mind that it’s stronger than instant coffee powder.
Instant coffee is very concentrated, which means that it contains a high amount of the substances required to create the foam, even if you’re only using a small amount of it. For one serving, the original recipe uses 2 tablespoons of instant coffee powder diluted in 2 tablespoons of hot water.
Kimchimari has tried making a version of dalgona coffee using ground coffee, and it worked. The principle of making the coffee foam is still the same – use very, very concentrated coffee. She made the coffee solution by steeping 3½ tablespoons of ground coffee in 5 tablespoons of hot water and straining it. The subsequent steps are pretty much the same (adding sugar and beating), but it took a longer time to create the foam using this method. The resulting coffee foam is also less stiff than the one that’s made using instant coffee powder. Bottom line: using ground coffee is possible, but not really recommended.
What Temperature Should the Water Be?
The purpose of using hot water is to ensure that the sugar and coffee powder will be completely dissolved. Therefore, it’s not necessary to use very hot water, as long as it is hot enough to dissolve the coffee and the sugar. Without hot water, the foam might turn out grainy due to the presence of undissolved large sugar granules.
In fact, your foam will be more stable if the coffee solution is on the cooler side! A lower temperature makes the solution slightly more viscous, which prevents the air bubbles from collapsing. If it takes too long to create any foam, try cooling the coffee solution down by refrigerating it for a few minutes. Be careful not to leave it in the fridge for too long though as you don’t want your water to be ice cold.
Why Won’t My Mixture Fluff Up?
Here comes our biggest fear whenever we experiment with new recipes–not getting the results we want. You’ve beaten the mixture for ages, but it barely starts to fluff up. What should you do?
Before you panic and throw in the towel, we’ve got some solutions to the common problems faced in making dalgona coffee.
The most foolproof ingredient for making dalgona coffee is pure instant coffee powder; using any other type of coffee will probably lead to failure. For instance, 3-in-1 instant coffee contains many different ingredients and additives that will interfere with the air bubble formation. Likewise, using ground coffee isn’t that easy, although it can be made into a very concentrated coffee solution to achieve the foam.
As mentioned above, sugar is essential in creating and holding the foam’s structure. If you skimp on the sugar, beating the coffee solution will not only take much longer, it’ll also collapse very easily = all your hard work ruined. The original recipe uses equal parts of white sugar, instant coffee and water, and for our gula melaka dalgona recipe, we used slightly more gula melaka than water as the gula melaka is less sweet than white sugar. Using sufficient sugar will ensure that you achieve a fluffy, cloudlike foam.
Patience is key when you’re making dalgona coffee. Achieving medium to stiff peaks will take some time, especially if you are using a hand whisk. When you start whisking the mixture, it should start becoming frothy after a while. As you go along, the mixture will start to transform into a large foamy mass. Only stop whipping when the mixture has whipped up into medium-stiff peaks, otherwise you will get a foam that’s too soft, or too liquid to float on top of the milk.
Now that you understand the science behind the drink, what to do and not to do, give it a go with our Gula Melaka Dalgona Coffee Recipe!
Watch video tutorial:
Aside from joining the dalgona coffee hype train, we gave this drink a local twist by using gula melaka instead of white sugar to make the coffee foam. Our version of dalgona coffee is sweetened using only gula melaka, which makes its flavor more complex with buttery and smoky caramel notes. If you enjoy the original recipe, give this one a try and you’ll find out why we love it so much!
Gula Melaka Dalgona Coffee
yields 1 cup
For gula melaka coffee foam
1-2 tbsp instant coffee powder (depending on strength)
2 tbsp hot water
3 tbsp gula melaka, chopped to sand-like texture
For gula melaka syrup / drizzle
32g gula melaka, chopped to sand-like texture
Pandan/Banana leaf and gula melaka (optional)
INSTRUCTIONSFor Gula Melaka Coffee Foam
- Combine instant coffee powder, hot water, and gula melaka in a bowl.
- Using a hand mixer, beat the ingredients until medium-stiff peaks form.
Dissolve the gula melaka in the water and boil over high heat. Cook until the water evaporates and it becomes slightly thick.
- Warm the milk over medium heat. When the side of the pot starts to form small bubbles, remove from the heat and add in 3 tablespoons of the gula melaka syrup and mix.
- Optional - Fill a piping bag with the remaining gula melaka and drip onto the insides of your glass. Add in a good amount of ice and pour in the cooled milk. Pipe/dollop coffee foam on top.
- Sprinkle chopped gula melaka, drizzle with the remaining gula melaka syrup and garnish with pandan/banana leaf to finish. Stir thoroughly to mix the dalgona and the milk before drinking.
A Sweeter Way to Get Your Caffeine Fix
If you haven’t tried your hands on this unique take on coffee, why not give it a go? Feel free to adjust the amount of gula melaka syrup in the drink to your liking, but we would recommend not to reduce the amount of gula melaka used in the coffee mixture. Stir your masterpiece thoroughly before drinking, and cool down in the heat by sipping up the ice cold glass of caramelly goodness!
Trying this recipe out? Make sure you hashtag #bakestarters on Instagram so we can see your wonderful creations!