If you love coffee, you should travel to South Korea – here is why
Not many coffee lovers have South Korea in mind when they think about countries to visit and experience the coffee culture. Even though Korea is not cultivating coffee, it is worth visiting to experience a unique and modern coffee shop scene. Read further to find out how coffee has arrived in Korea and how it has become a vital part of the sophisticated culture over time. The Korean coffee culture might not be as ancient and well known, but it is an original, exceptional experience for sure!
The history of coffee in Korea started in 1896 when King Gojong tried coffee for the first time. With coffee arriving in Korea, the first Korean cafés, called “dabang”, developed in the early 1900s. In the beginning, only the wealthy people could afford the new western drink. Coffee represented modernization. Over time, dabangs became venues for statesman, salesman and artists. They admired the advanced ambience. As JungHee Jang describes it: “It was a great pleasure to experience using forks to have cake and drinking coffee in a teacup instead of using chopsticks to eat kimchi and drinking traditional soup out of a bowl.”
Coffee Consumption of Koreans
Nowadays, coffee is available for everyone. Some convenience stores such as 7-Eleven would sell a cup of coffee for only 1,000 2on (87cents). Koreans love their coffee! Thus, their consumption is increasing drastically. According to the Korean Economic Institute of America, Koreans drank on average 12.3 cups of coffee per week in 2019. South Koreas coffee consumption per capita was 2.3 kg. In contrast, the per capita consumption was at 1.8 kg in 2006. While in 2016/17 2,316,000 bags of 60 kilograms each were consumed, in 2018/19 the number of bags reached 2,484,000. Korea accounts for 6% of the Asia-Pacific coffee market. The revenue of the South Korean coffee market was estimated at USD 10,281 million in 2020. Moreover, an increase of 10.9% per year is expected.
Café Boom in Korea
Even though Korea is not cultivating coffee, it has become a nation known for its unique coffee culture. Many cafés have their home roastery. While coffee itself has become important for Koreans, it only plays an ancillary role. The café culture that has arisen from this beverage has shaped the modern Korean culture and became a unique part of South Koreas identity.
With rising interest in coffee, more and more cafés were shooting out of the ground like mushrooms. It has been estimated that South Korea has around 70,000 cafés. Korea’s largest coffee shop chain, Ediya Co, has approximately 2,200 coffee shops in the country. Starbucks for instance has around 1,140 shops in 75 cities. Did you know that Seoul has more Starbucks stores than any other city in the world? Seoul is the coffee capital with 18,000 cafés (2016). Consequently, Seoul has more cafés per capita than any other country in the world.
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Unique Coffee Culture
Korea has established an incomparable coffee culture, resulting from the café boom. The café market has become saturated over time and shop owners have invented the most creative and unique concepts to distinguish themselves. Going to a café in Seoul is more than just grabbing a nice cup of coffee – it is an experience. You can find anything from cat-, dog, or raccoon cafés over art cafés, board game cafés, virtual reality cafés, DJ cafés, BTS cafés to coffee shops in florists and factories.
Not only their atmosphere is special but also the drinks on their menu. You will find unique recipes such as popcorn latte or Jollypong latte, besides the usual coffee options, Or creative drinks like the selfie latte, where your photo is printed on your coffee. Moreover, Korean coffee shops offer incredible non-coffee drinks like strawberry matcha latte or Chrysanthemum tea, a light and slightly sweet tea full made from flower blossom. Furthermore, the cakes and pastries come in all different colours and cute designs like animal doughnuts or rainbow cakes.
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This blog post was written by Nele!