Wake Up Call

Ripples of the Dalgona Coffee Craze Coursed Through Greater Phoenix

Let's take a local journey through the dalgona trend.
Let's take a local journey through the dalgona trend. Lauren Cusimano
The dalgona coffee craze coincided so perfectly with the quarantine that it’s hard to imagine any of us having the stomach for it when this whole thing is over. But the whipped coffee drink is so quick to make (we’ll get to that) and easy to drink, we probably will anyway.

The whole thing is said to have originated from a South Korean actor ordering a whipped coffee on a TV program while traveling in the People's Republic of China. Though it became an instant cornerstone of quarantine culture, ripples of the pretty little drink can be felt weeks (okay, months) later in the Phoenix area.

First, Some Background

Dalgona is actually a Korean candy and street snack. It's made with melted sugar and baking soda to create something of a puffy, beige candy shares an associate professor of Korean at the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. She refers to this video as a visual aid.

The dalgona drink is being referred to as a sweet Korean coffee, but that’s not altogether the case.


click to enlarge The name may be misleading, but we're still going to make it. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The name may be misleading, but we're still going to make it.
Lauren Cusimano
“The literal translation of dalgona would be ‘it's sweet,’” says a spokesperson for the Arizona Korean Association in an email. “The web often translates dalgona as ‘honeycomb toffee’; however, honeycomb toffee contains baking soda as one of the ingredients. This would be different from the whipped coffee mixture that is on top of dalgona coffee.”

So, would this coffee craze be a good depiction of Korean culture?

“It certainly is popular, but [we’re] not sure we would describe it as a ‘good depiction of Korean culture,’” they say. “Korean culture has multiple facets to it.”

Our ASU associate professor Türker agrees.


“No, it is not related to Korean culture,” she says. “Because the color of the coffee is similar to dalgona, Koreans called it dalgona coffee.”

However, this revelation is not to say we’re all above the sugary coffee treat.

“Of course, I have made it,” she says. “I like it so much.”

The Arizona Korean Association echoes this.

“It is very easy to make!” says the spokesperson. “Just mix instant coffee, sugar, and water in 1:1:1 ratio. Mix with a hand-held mixer for about two to three minutes, and voila, you have creamy coffee topping for your milk.”

click to enlarge You can get all the ingredients you need for dalgona after one trip to Sprouts. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
You can get all the ingredients you need for dalgona after one trip to Sprouts.
Lauren Cusimano

It Really Is Just That Easy

Making the now novelty coffee drink takes about five minutes. You can assemble all the needed ingredients from just one trip to Sprouts. And yes, before you even ask, there is a way to give it an Arizona spin.

Some of the extremely simple recipes found online (okay, they’re all extremely simple) calls for two tablespoons of instant coffee, two tablespoons of granulated sugar, and one cup of whole milk.

click to enlarge Be sure to use local milk. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Be sure to use local milk.
Lauren Cusimano
Here is where we recommended you make that a cup of milk, whole or otherwise, from Danzeisen Dairy — the family-run dairy based in Laveen.

Combine the instant coffee, sugar, and two tablespoons of boiling water (kettled, stove-topped, or microwaved) in a mixing bowl. Then, whip like the wind with a small whisk or whatever other fancy kitchen tools you have handy. Whisk till the goop morphs into a lighter brown color and takes on a bubbly thick consistency.

Standing by, have a rocks glass filled with ice and the Danzeisen Dairy milk at the ready. Once your dalgona topper is nice and frothy, gently pour the caffeinated foam over the milk. Then, final step, take as many photos as possible,. Because if you didn’t share your creation online in 2020, did you even make dalgona?

There’s one drawback. Giving the label on the Sprouts-brand instant coffee a spin, you’ll see that while it's manufactured exclusively for Sprouts Farmers Market in Phoenix, it is a product of Germany. But instead of hearing the sad trombone, know you can head over to the Peixoto Coffee Roasters online store for a shot at the real, Arizona thing.

click to enlarge Go for the ultra-local coffee. - PEIXOTO COFFEE ROASTERS
Go for the ultra-local coffee.
Peixoto Coffee Roasters

Peixoto Coffee Roasters Was There for Us

It was easy for the Peixoto Coffee Roasters to rise to this ultra-current occasion. For starters, the Chandler-based coffee company already had specialty-grade instant coffee at the ready in its online store (which has already sold out and come back in the past month).

“We started instantizing our coffee in the fall of last year as a way to get people to drink better quality coffee when they were traveling, camping, adventuring,” Peixoto co-owner Julia Peters says via email. What timing.

“During the quarantine, many people are at home, browsing their phones. Dalgona coffee, with its whipped peaks and fluffy consistency, is eye-catching. It sparks people’s curiosity and makes people want to try it,” she says. "Just one word of caution. With specialty instant coffee you will have to chill the liquid before whipping vigorously. It helps the solution get that fluffy whipped texture."

click to enlarge Peixoto Coffee Roasters had instant coffee at the ready. - PEIXOTO COFFEE ROASTERS
Peixoto Coffee Roasters had instant coffee at the ready.
Peixoto Coffee Roasters
However, Peters doesn’t give the dalgona craze too much credit for the online sales. Not even close. She says there was a strong demand for the stuff pre-dalgona

“We order small batches of coffee to be instantized at a time so selling out is pretty common for us,” she says. “The dalgona trend gave a boost to instant coffee demand and sales but our instant coffee has always been well-received in our community because the quality is noticeable in comparison to the commonly found instant coffees available at grocery stores.”

At this time, instant forms of Peixoto Doce and Peixoto Honey are available for online purchase. Customers may opt for curbside pickup at the Chandler coffee shop or opt for free shipping and delivery via the United States Postal Service. We recommend ... either.

“It is truly a good product,” Peters says. “Even without all the sugar and the whipping.”

click to enlarge The Roastery of Cave Creek has an espresso blend, as do many other Arizona coffee companies. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The Roastery of Cave Creek has an espresso blend, as do many other Arizona coffee companies.
Lauren Cusimano

But Wait, There’s More

A few more choices exist for the coffee component of Arizona-style dalgona. Most recipes call for instant coffee, sure, but strong coffee, like an espresso blend, is also an option.

Therefore, if you have a favorite Phoenix or Arizona coffee roaster in mind, see if the shop or online store offers an espresso blend. We’re looking at you, Spitball Espresso from Press Coffee Roasters and World Cup Espresso from the Roastery of Cave Creek.

So, in Conclusion …

A not-so-great example of Korean culture or no, a boost to online sales for a local coffee roaster or no, dalgona can still be a fun kitchen project. Because above all, as stay-at-home orders begin to lift and we begin to imagine getting dressed for work again, it will get you caffeinated.

Editor’s note: This article was updated from its original version.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.