By offering a kit to help people make their own frothy-sweet dalgona coffee, a new company hopes to cash in on one of the pandemic’s earliest and most common phenomena.
However, Katie Angel, the maker of Whipped Drinks, has found herself in hot water after claiming to have invented a drink that is nearly identical to dalgona coffee. Of course, Angel did not invent whipped coffee, as Twitter users quickly pointed out. The viral drink created by whipping instant coffee, water, and sugar into a frantic foam was made famous by South Korean actor Jung Il-Woo, who was presented with the drink by Leong Kam Hon, a cafe owner in Macau when he appeared on a television show. Whipped Drinks claimed to have invented this “whipped coffee creation” more than a year before.
According to the companies website, which has since been updated, Angel “improvised with premium instant coffee in her home kitchen to make a whipped coffee creation… After months of delicious trial and error, she finally came up with the recipe for Whipped Drinks.” The recipe in question is essentially the same as every other dalgona coffee recipe, with the addition of cocoa powder and sea salt. While adding some cocoa and a pinch of salt sounds like a good idea, it isn’t enough to turn Whipped Drinks’ product into something other than dalgona coffee with a flavor twist.
Whipped Drinks’ coffee kit is perplexing for various reasons, not the least of which is the price. A “high-speed frother,” a jug, “whip sticks” (instant coffee), and a recipe book are included in the $49 kit. Good, ethically sourced coffee is costly, and small business owners should be able to charge enough to cover their employees’ costs. However, this seems like a lot of money to spend on what we were all doing a year ago with the cheapest, most readily available pantry staples.
In many ways, the ease with which we could make dalgona coffee during the most terrifying months of the pandemic was the most calming aspect: we didn’t need costly whisks, specialty coffee, or a “gilded frothing jug” to do so. It was a simple pleasure that almost everyone could partake in, a global experience that required only sugar, cheap instant coffee, and a few extra minutes to upload your creation to Instagram or TikTok. The fact that a white business owner claimed ownership of a drink that she very clearly lifted from a South Korean star, who in turn popularized — with proper credit — the recipe of a man in Macau, has enraged the internet. It’s a type of theft and cultural erasure that has allowed white companies to profit from the labor and ingenuity of people of color time and time again, with those same people receiving little benefit at all. One Twitter user wrote, “White people have a history of claiming they ‘discovered’ recipes, warm water, and a continent someone else was already living in.”
Another user noted that frothy coffee is nothing new, claiming that they’ve been “making ‘Dalgona’ Coffee with their grandma for last 20 years.” Others on Twitter remarked that not only was the product not original but that whipped coffee drinks had a long history in many parts of the world before dalgona coffee went viral. “Whipped coffee has been a staple in desi countries for at least 40 plus years!”
After the uproar, Whipped Drinks’ website has been updated to clarify that Angel did not invent the drink, but rather “fell in love with the viral whipped coffee trend, also known as dalgona coffee, that originated in South Korea.” Angel’s lengthy and arduous recipe creation process is noticeably absent from the revised origin story, which is probably for the better given that the drink has only three key ingredients and, well, already existed.
Whipped Drinks apologized for not highlighting the origins of the dalgona/whipped coffee trend in their most recent Instagram post, where comments are disabled, saying that the criticism and backlash “made us aware of the fact that we did not highlight the origins of the dalgona/whipped coffee trend and for that we apologize.” According to the company, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum will receive a portion of the proceeds from each sale.