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The Korean Dalgona Coffee Craze Hits Denver

The Korean Dalgona Coffee Craze Hits Denver
Courtesy of MiddleState Coffee

If there's one beverage (other than Corona beer) that has made a name for itself as the drink of the pandemic, it's dalgona coffee. What started as a trend in South Korea during social-distancing regulations quickly took off on Tik Tok and other social-media apps. The ingredients are simple enough: instant coffee, sugar and hot water— although the method of turning it into a dessert-like whip makes it more tricky than you'd think. You can join in the #dalgonacoffeechallenge by attempting to make it yourself, or find it at a few Denver establishments.

Most dalgona recipes call for equal parts of each of the three ingredients, so you're mixing about two ounces of liquid, making the act of whipping by hand (the preferred method of online experts) tiresome. Using a small whisk yields results after about ten minutes of vigorous whipping — if you're lucky. But if you're not out to impress, an electric beater eases the process. After whipping the mixture, top cold milk (dairy or non-dairy) with your dalgona. Some challenge participants opt for hot coffee, but the creaminess lasts longer and tastes better over a chilled or iced liquid. The result is a sweet, toffee-like flavor that gradually combines with the milk for a creamy coffee drink.

Since the idea for the dalgona popped up during quarantine, the phenomena has been more of a home-kitchen project, but the amount of effort usually outweighs the reward. Fortunately, several local coffee shops have caught on to the trend: Both Hudson Hill and Middle State Coffee added the creamy concoction to their menus after perfecting the recipe and method.

Middle State got into the instant-coffee game three years ago, so the west Denver roaster and shop has access to a bulk supply of dalgona's main ingredient. Owner Jay DeRose says he also had another key ingredient: "We had time to experiment."

DeRose says he tried close to fifty dalgonas before nailing it. After much tweaking, he landed on a recipe that doesn't exactly follow the "equal parts" rule and enlists the help of an electric mixer to speed up the process.

In addition to dalgona, Middle State has added an espresso milkshake and a cold-brew milkshake to its menu and has started canning cold brew. The company's motto, "Have Fun. Brew Coffee" is still guiding DeRose and his team through the difficult COVID era. "A lot of the seriousness isn't exactly being lost, but I think people are starting to come around and take [coffee] a little less seriously — myself included," he notes.

Here are some tips and tricks from Middle State if you decide to make your own dalgona:

— DeRose claims you can taste the difference in quality between instant coffees, so if you're used to specialty coffee, take that into account when selecting an instant coffee to use in your base. Believe it or not, there are some pretty good brands out there.

— Dissolve the instant coffee and sugar in the hot water, then let it cool down before mixing.

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— The mixture will sit on top of the ice and milk for about five minutes before it settles.

— There are shortcuts like using an electric mixer, blender bottle or even a blender, but you sacrifice some of the creamy texture.

— For an extra kick, add a teaspoon or two of coffee liqueur into the coffee mixture before whisking.

— Prepare yourself for a caffeine buzz.

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