In the immortal words of Agent Cooper, as played by Kyle Maclachlan, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”
Never has this advice been more vital than right now, as we languish under the woeful uncertainty of a public health crisis. But with shelter-in-place conditions having closed off most “treat yo’self” venues, where and how do you source these gifts to self?
The answer just might be fluffy coffee. (And we think Agent Cooper would approve.)
If the term fluffy coffee doesn’t ring a bell, it also goes by names such as whipped coffee, dalgona coffee, or phutti hui. You may have seen it on TikTok, Instagram, Buzzfeed, or in any number of article headlines just like this one, all asking “what, how, and why?”
The what is simple. Take three ingredients — instant coffee powder, sugar, and hot water — then combine them with a whisk or, better yet, an electric whisk, until the mixture gets thick and, well, fluffy. At that point, most people pour it over cold milk, creating a two-tone iced beverage that would be as much at home on a Dairy Queen counter as it would at your favorite third-wave coffee bar. You can also pour it over warm milk or, hell, even hot coffee—while higher temperatures will melt the fluffy part more quickly, you’ll still have a delicious, extra-creamy drink to enjoy.
The how is equally straightforward. While fluffy coffee may seem to be the result of a cabin fever-fueled pantry raid, it actually originated in South Korea some time back. (The drink’s other predominant name, “dalgona coffee,” refers to a popular Korean candy with a similar color and texture.)
The why should also be simple. It’s sweet and caffeinated, has a creamy velvety texture without the calories of whipped cream, and most importantly, we all have a whole lot of time on our hands to make it.
But I suggest that the why is more nuanced than that. Lots of cooking projects are taking off during shelter-in-place, as people avoid grocery stores and try to find positive ways to fill the hours. But you don’t see TikToks of people pounding their sourdough starter into submission. So why the global obsession with this ridiculously simple beverage?
I think it’s because fluffy coffee is wholly superfluous. Unlike many other cooking projects out there, which are borne of necessity and scarcity, fluffy coffee stands out for being frivolous and fun, like sushi sliders or a six-layer birthday cake. By turning a morning pick-me-up into an extravagant dessert, fluffy coffee lets us turn a survival food into a special occasion.
It also offers a low bar for individual expression and creativity. After all, the essence of fluffy coffee turns on the texture of the fluff. Search the hashtag and you’ll see coffee-colored foam in every conceivable structure, from airy meringues to velvety soft-serve to molten dulce de leche.
Most importantly, fluffy coffee presses the same neural buttons as going out for something special, a basic human need that hopefully we’ll never again take for granted. Where you might once have Instagrammed the latte art crafted by your barista, instead you can pose your fluffy coffee against a window for that pearly morning light effect, show it off to friends and strangers, and enjoy it the way food should be consumed — one mindful sip after another. (Lord knows you’ve got the time for it now.)
In rare moments of emotional objectivity, it’s interesting to contemplate this huge experience the world is sharing. Cultural trends come and go, typically chased by as much snark as enthusiasm. But with all of us caught up in this very trying, frequently tragic experience together, it’s not too strong a statement to say that fluffy coffee could be what saves us. In the face of staggering loss, why shouldn’t something small, and simple, and frankly a little silly, be what brings the world together?
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