Normally, I enjoy my java either iced or, recently, very hot and strong: brewed in a battered coffeemaker while I am in the shower or standing on the roof for 15 minutes before work begins. In different times, I frequent an overpriced coffee shop around the corner, because I do love a pastry and also, why not. Half a pot of strong coffee makes for a freewheeling morning that replicates the rush of getting on the subway and commuting to work. But the act itself falls into the same category as all the other things we are now doing at home, like cooking for sustenance and not for clout. However, I recently became aware of “whipped coffee,” or dalgona, a South Korean trend that is remarkably similar to that which took over Tik Tok, and have been consumed by the idea ever since.
Recipes for this beverage proliferate on the internet, but I used the one from Tasty, a Buzzfeed subsidiary that specializes in Instagram-friendly quick videos and recipes for people who prefer their food to resemble that which is served at TGI Fridays or the Cheesecake Factory: over-the-top, heavy on the sauce and, in a fucked-up way, perfect. Making the coffee itself was simple and the ingredients are not fancy: Hot water, sugar, and instant coffee powder whipped to a furious froth with a hand mixer or a whisk poured over your liquid of choice on ice. The process of making the beverage took maybe 10 minutes, max, and the result was pleasant enough. The finished drink was bitter but also sweet and hit me sideways with a caffeine rush I haven’t felt since college, when my preferred coffee intake was a large iced French vanilla from Dunkin’, light and sweet, consumed before my earliest class. Thankfully, this didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, but it is not a coffee for everyday.
Replacing quotidian rituals with their homebound counterparts has been a pleasant side effect of social distancing, and for me, I have tried to use the 15 minutes of silence as a time to not look at my phone and to have a think. Sometimes this works, but other times, I take my precious screen to the outside and look at shit online. Whipped coffee looks like fluffy poo, but also photographs well in the right light. It evokes the beauty of an outside beverage: fussy, foamy, and probably expensive if one were to order it at a Starbucks, which puts it firmly in the category of a treat and also, possibly, a distraction.
Arguing against anything that offers distraction right now is fruitless, unless the act of arguing about it creates enough of a distraction that you feel comfortable thinking about anything other than the world at large for ten to fifteen minutes. Whipped coffee is maybe the perfect Instagram food for this moment because it’s easy to make, feels “productive” and actually tastes good: a rare trifecta for Instagram-ready food trends. Sure, it takes more time than a regular cup of coffee would, but it’s nice to have something to do—a neat fifteen minute chunk of time, a small, simple project with a pleasurable end result.
Most of the food trends that make it to Instagram and other social media platforms are silly, anyway, because they are complicated and the end result is not necessarily consumption. Some trends of yore, like avocado toast and acai bowls, have the benefit of looking good and also tasting good, but others, like this nightmarish 100-layer dip, are projects that marry excess and visual horror. A seven-layer dip is a beautiful thing to eat and fun to prepare, but a 100-layer dip is the sort of undertaking that no one in their right mind would do in real life.
Even if this dip were to ostensibly feed an entire football team, the logistics of eating a 100-layer dip out of what appears to be an aquarium are difficult to conceptualize and also, impossible. That’s because this food is not meant to be eaten; instead, the product is the process. Though I am horrified by the amount of food plopped into this container and understand that the only way to really eat it would be with a chip the size of a toddler, part of me still wants to eat it, or at the very least, to try.
Video Editor: Lisa Fischer, Cinematographer: Tessa Travis