top of page

The appeal of Dalgona Coffee

Image by Tijana Drndarski

Dalgona Coffee. Simple ingredients. Anyone can make it. Looks great in photos. What's there not to love?


Or as one friend shared with me recently, "It must be good eh? My kids have a 5-minute attention span. But they have no problems whisking coffee for 8 minutes."

In our chapter on "what makes food tasty", we examined how tasty food and drink is can be altered due to the seemingly irrelevant factors. The Chilean Seabass (fun fact: it's not even a seabass) is a popular dish in many cultures, but it was almost never eaten when it went by its original name, the Patagonian Toothfish. We think that wine tastes different in a glass compared to in a cup. And the same chocolates taste sweeter if they are round rather than in cubes. 

Here are 3 reasons why Dalgona Coffee is so popular, which has nothing to do with taste:

1.  Dopamine


Many popular personalities from billionaires to your random motivational speaker use dopamine to explain why we do something*. The popular example: I eat chocolate, brain releases dopamine, I feel good, I eat chocolate again. Of course, this understanding of dopamine is just wrong. Dopamine doesn't just spike after we have done or eaten enjoyable. Dopamine spikes even before we do or eat that something enjoyable. In fact, it usually spikes much more before rather than after. 

The large spike of dopamine before you actually do anything enjoyable gives us important insight into how dopamine actually affects our behaviour. Dopamine isn't primarily a reward you feel for doing or eating something. Rather, it is the pleasure we feel in the pursuit of reward that has a good chance of occurring. 

Think about gamblers in the casino - they don't always win, but why do they keep going back? Or let's say you posted something on social media and it gets a lot of likes. Do you feel great because of the likes, or do you feel the urge to make your next post? Same explanation for the need to constantly check email - it is because dopamine spikes before you actually open your mailbox that you are motivated (I use this word loosely - motivation in a biological sense is quite complicated) to open it.

Same thing with Dalgona Coffee. Even before you make it, you know you would probably be able to accomplish it. And it will look pretty good. And you inevitably will take a photo because you anticipate that you will get likes for your photo.

Now imagine if Dalgona Coffee is much more difficult to make - the success rate is only 30%. Or after many months of Dalgona Coffee photos, there is much less response on social media, so you expect that your next posted photo is going to get much fewer likes. The coffee tastes exactly the same, but would people still make it?

>> Find out more at our Dopamine page

*Ironically, the act itself - the persistent but inaccurate use of dopamine to justify explanations in popular culture -  is a better example of dopamine than whatever is typically said.

2.   Conformity 

Remember this?

Image by Major Tom Agency

The ALS ice-bucket challenge. For a while on the internet, everyone was doing this. Ostensibly, it is for a good cause - awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). But there are many serious diseases, and how many would actually pay attention to ALS if there wasn't such a challenge.


One of the reasons why the ice-bucket challenge was as popular as it was is explained above, with the effects of dopamine. But there's another major reason - conformity. We generally like doing what others do. Which actually is the nature of all fads. We actually go to quite incredulous extents to do what others are doing, even when we don't know why or when we know it is wrong. Find out more at our page on conformity. 

3.   The IKEA effect

Some of you might already be familiar with the IKEA effect. When you put in a lot of effort into doing something, 


Simply put, the IKEA effect is the increased value we place on something because we have laboured. Or, we love it more if we made it. The name, of course, comes from the furniture company IKEA, who are able to charge lower prices since the customer had to assemble the furniture themselves. It turns out that there is a large and unexpected side benefit - customers, having spent some time to assemble the furniture, liked it more than if the same furniture had come already assembled.


Think about the projects that you spent a lot of time on. Or the cake which you baked. The food you cooked. Or... the Dalgona Coffee you made. Your brain tries to justify your extra effort by making you like the end-product more - I spent so much time on it, it must be great. Your Dalgona Coffee might or might not be tasty, but it tastes better because you stirred it. 

bottom of page