“Dueting” the infamous TikTok coffee with UC Davis’ own Hannah Cho
By now, you’ve seen it all over TikTok and Instagram stories: whipped coffee. Equal amounts of instant coffee powder, sugar and hot water are whipped together, and the resulting foam is spooned atop a glass of milk, hot or cold. Made globally popular by second-year intended human development major Hannah Cho in a TikTok that was viewed over 12 million times, the light and frothy drink combines taste and aesthetics, and it’s relatively simple to make.
Cho forayed into the world of whipped coffee toward the end of February, and she posted a TikTok of her making the drink with her best friend on March 10. That post now has over 110,000 likes. Four days later, she posted a video that now has nearly two million views and counting.
Armed with a two-dollar IKEA milk frother, my housemates and I took a break from studying and attempted to produce the luscious foam. Inspired by the slew of TikTok videos we had seen and desperate to finish off the milk we had in our fridge before spring break, we began by meticulously measuring two tablespoons of coffee, sugar and hot water. Unfortunately, we ended up with a dark brown froth-like sludge rather than the promised caramel-colored foam. Albeit strong, it tasted great, but as Cho says, part of the appeal is the aesthetic.
“The first video I uploaded didn’t blow up,” Cho said. “The second time I did, my mom told me that my video wasn’t pretty enough. She said it had no aesthetic value to it and she made me redo it.”
Cho said her mom is quite proud of her contribution and considers it a big “I told you so” moment. As the caption of the TikTok says, Cho made the drink for her mom, and she really liked it.
Cho didn’t expect the TikTok to go viral. She recalls checking her phone and getting thousands of views every minute. She realized that it was actually a big deal when someone from The New York Times contacted her for an article.
“I was shocked at first,” Cho said. “I thought it was just going to stop, but I guess not. It became a worldwide trend. It’s crazy seeing everyone dueting my video and commenting. I didn’t expect it to get this much attention just for coffee.”
The popularity of the drink stems from its aesthetic value as well as for its simplicity, Cho said. It requires two fairly ubiquitous household ingredients and only about five to 10 minutes of whisking, so long as you don’t use a spoon like she did. In the video, she uses a spoon to whisk the ingredients together, which ended up taking 20 to 30 minutes. After filming that video, she bought a whisk, and the whisking process took about five minutes.
Some commenters on Cho’s TikTok spoke up about not having success in creating whipped coffee.
“You need to have the perfect one-to-one ratio, or it doesn’t work quite as well,” Cho said. “If you have a whisk, use a whisk because that saves a lot of time as well.
The issue of where the drink originated has popped up in the comments of Cho’s post as well — a number of people argue that whipped coffee is in fact a Greek frappé and others discuss it having roots in India or Thailand. Cho emphasized the fact that different cultures have different takes on the same types of food, often with different methods.
“I don’t actually know what the origin of this drink is, but I guess a lot of [cultures] have similarities in the drink itself,” Cho said. “I actually researched Greek frappés because I didn’t want people thinking I stole their culture’s ideas or anything. It is also Korean.”
With everyone in my house on a phone call or meeting, the whisk mysteriously missing (it was in the dishwasher) and a hankering for coffee, I decided to attempt whisking it with a spoon instead of using a hand mixer. This was, of course, before I talked to Cho about the process. Thirty minutes into stirring, my sister had finished her class and burst out laughing at the sight of me frantically stirring a mostly liquid mixture. It took an additional 10 minutes after that to reach foamy perfection. The coffee was good, better than the first attempt, but I would never use a spoon for this again.
Different versions of the drink have popped up on TikTok, and Cho hopes to try them once she can leave her house to get the ingredients.
“It’s really nice to see the trend go around,” Cho said. “People are actually getting creative with it. I’ve seen chocolate, caramel, cinnamon and matcha versions of it. If I do go out, I’m definitely looking forward to trying the matcha version.”
Inspired by another TikTok and missing Philz, my sister and I attempted to replicate the mint mojito; using the hand mixer, we were able to quickly get the desired consistency for the foam. The iced coffee is simultaneously light and decadent, and paired with mint, it makes the perfect caffeinated summer drink. We’ve made this version at least five times in the past 10 days.
With some additional free time from being at home, I’ve experimented quite a lot with this drink and tried to make adjustments based on my family’s coffee drinking habits. My dad, who mostly drinks black coffee or Americanos, and my sister, who doesn’t like her coffee too sweet, both provided pretty glowing reviews of the coffee with a two-to-one ratio of coffee to sugar. My mom doesn’t drink coffee, and she finds it somewhat comical that we pull out the hand mixer every other day to make this coffee. Admittedly, it is a bit comical, but the hand mixer allows me to make this gourmet coffee ten minutes before my Zoom class starts.
If you’re looking for something to do that will take up a good amount of time while sheltering in place, whisking it by hand might be the way to go.
“I’m really glad that people are enjoying it and having fun with it, especially during quarantine,” Cho said. “I know everyone’s bored and I guess this kind of eases that pain of boredom.”
Written by: Anjini Venugopal — firstname.lastname@example.org