I believe the Korean coffee market is transforming closer to the real coffee world, in which we can experience various kinds of coffee from different origins and we are able to enjoy coffee in our own way.
Only 10 years ago, 3 in 1 and black instant coffee were very popular in Korea. Quite a few people were not likely to be familiar with coffee names like “Americano,” “Café latte,” etc. Also, many coffee consumers were not interested in coffee terms, such as medium roasting. However, Korean coffee culture has spread rapidly, like an epidemic. Surprisingly, coffee is now a very common beverage. You can find coffee shops on every street corner.
I think our coffee culture is mainly a mixture of the American style and the Japanese style. The European and Southeast-Asian styles are also slightly combined, too. The reason why I say that all coffee cultures exist in the Korean coffee culture is that I can experience different parts of coffee culture all at the same time. For example, I can drink iced Americano, which has lots of ice like the American and Japanese styles. I can also drink dark roasted coffee with condensed milk, like the south-east Asian style. Sometimes I can go to an antique salon and enjoy the coffee with a beautiful porcelain cup.
Moreover, we have a unique service culture in coffee shops due to our chop-chop, impatient character. Every franchise coffee store serves an automatic waiting bell for its customer. When you order the beverage, a cashier gives you a bell. You can wait for your beverage anywhere inside the café, and when yours is ready, the bell vibrates like a smart phone. The clerk checks your bell number and gives you your drink. So even in a crowded morning, we can wait for coffee very peacefully. In my opinion, this is a great waiting system. On the downside, however, I feel it lacks the personal touch.
In the near future, I think the Korean coffee industry might take care of two kinds of customers: Some people like drinking specialty coffee although it is expensive; others like drinking caffeine if the price is reasonable. Speaking of which, I am going to introduce briefly my favorite three coffee shops (Anthracite, Coffee Avenue, Fritz coffee) as a coffee lover so that you can imagine our specialty coffee market more vividly.
First, “Anthracite (www.anthracitecoffee.com/)”. I feel it has a loose artistic connection to literature, music and gardening. I visited the store around Hong-Ik University in Seoul. It was a shoe factory that was renovated, and the café space is decorated with some of remaining facilities from the shoe factory. I think the owner tried to keep as much of the industrial atmosphere of the building as possible. Anthracite sells both specialty single-origin coffee from Ethiopia, Colombia and other major coffee origins as well as blended coffee, such as one that they have named “mystery history.” The taste is very original and the concept, inspired by literature, is also very impressive.
Second, “Coffee Avenue (www.coffee-avenue.com/)” has an interior that is quite different from the outside of the shop. The appearance is very simple, but their coffee is anything but. They sell a coffee drink named “Levelup” which has a tremendous flavor from Ethiopia. In addition, sourcing the green coffee beans directly from their origins such as Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, etc. is one of their strengths, so you can enjoy drinking various great quality drip coffee any time, and buy their own roasted beans as well. In my case, the most unforgettable taste is the cappuccino with one cube of brown sugar. When I get stressed from my work, I go there and drink the cappuccino. It’s my soul drink and makes me feel so relieved.
Last but not least, “Fritz coffee company (www.facebook.com/fritzcoffeecompany/timeline)” has fascinating interior design and coffee. The shop’s main color is dark brown, and colorful lanterns hang from the ceiling like stars. They make vintage style coffee that tastes like old Korean coffee (I mean delicious mom-made coffee putting the power of instant coffee). Meanwhile they make both cleaned single-origin coffee and blended coffee. I like their bakery as well, because their breads are made in nostalgic old-school style. As I drink the coffee and eat the pastry in the coffee shop, it reminds me of my childhood when I used to eat sweet bread behind my mom’s back.
On the other hand, some companies started business to draw the customers who are important to coffee price and quantity. ‘Paik coffee’ and ‘mmthcoffee’ are using the low price strategy to attract customers to them very effectively. They serve large portions of coffee at low prices (50% down from the average price.) In my opinion, their coffee is popular with the person who needs the caffeine during their working hours. The customers usually buy the large-sized coffee in the morning and drink all day.
In conclusion, the path of developing our coffee market is very similar to our economic growth. Trends move so fast and we accept literally all kinds of things about coffee. The market will probably become much bigger and more interesting than it is now. I am honored to watch this important moment of our coffee history as a coffee person.