How Instant Coffee Became The Beverage Of Choice For The Socially Distant

Before visiting Greece, I always associated instant coffee with my friend’s dad’s fishing boat. Shelf-stable and easily prepared, it was the beverage of choice when sailing the northern end of the Salish Sea. Stirred straight into a mug filled with hot water, it smelled as much of coffee as it did diesel fumes. Certainly, it was a means to a jittery, caffeinated end, and that in itself makes it worthy of appreciation.

The frappé, though, was an experience unto its own. Frothy, frosty and sweet, this hallmark of Greek coffee culture made me realize that instant isn’t an inferior choice. It’s an entirely different choice. Affordable, dependable and water-soluble, instant coffee has its place. And it also has its time, as evidenced by the popularity of a beverage born of South Korean social distancing: dalgona coffee.

With more than 100,000 posts tagged #dalgonacoffee (and another 114,000 tagged with its name in Korean) on Instagram, countless TikToks and YouTube tutorials, the iced beverage appears to be the #quarantinecoffee we were waiting for. Having just tried it, I can assure you it’s worth all the freeze-dried granules that have been spilled. It has a fullness, almost like a milkshake, and a straight-ahead coffee flavour.

To make dalgona coffee at home, you need instant coffee (which I have on hand for Andrea Nguyen’s no-churn Vietnamese coffee ice cream and the chocolate mousse from Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse), sugar, boiling water, your milk of choice and ice. The meringue-like coffee peak is achieved by whisking together equal parts instant coffee, sugar and boiling water (I used one tablespoon of each per serving, but with Swerve instead of sugar). Whisking by hand, it took me roughly 10 minutes to achieve a nice, stiff consistency. You then add a dollop of the glossy coffee foam to a glass filled with milk and ice, admire your handiwork and stir (or shake, which I liked better).

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