Korean Coffee Culture ☕: A Modern Evolution

Coffee Beans

Korea has become the Coffee Prince of the world! ☕

by Fit-n-spicy mochi

The evolution of Korean coffee culture is a relatively modern one. As such, it has evolved at a “modernly” rapid pace. In recent years, Seoul’s per capita coffee consumption AND coffee shops per capita has surpassed that of the well-established coffee culture cities of Seattle and San Francisco!

While historical evidence of drinking coffee appears as far back as the 15th century in Yemen; the introduction of coffee to Korea is much more recent. The first documentation of coffee appearing in Korea is attributed to Antoinette Sontag (the sister-in-law of a Russian ambassador) presenting a cup to Emperor Gojong in 1896. Antoinette established the first “다방” dabang (café) in Seoul in 1902 for diplomats and people in high-ranking positions. For many years after that, coffee in Korea was seen and experienced as a luxury reserved for the upper-class; symbolizing modern westernization, culture and status.


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In the 1960s dabangs finally opened up to adult middle-class citizens and became popular venues for dating. The first production of instant coffee began at this time in Korea as well, making it even more accessible and popular among the middle-class.

The 1970s introduced the idea of music-themed cafés with DJs playing music and taking song requests. These cafés became popular especially with college students. Also at this time, coffee vending machines began popping up in offices and universities, increasing coffee’s accessibility and popularity.

Competition increased among dabangs in the 1980s, inspiring more themes and creativity not only in the atmosphere and décor of the cafés, but also in the food and drink offerings. Cafés that roasted and brewed their own coffee onsite also made their appearance at this time.

With the influx of foreign franchises in the late 1990s, café competition and coffee consumption skyrocketed. Korea’s economic growth at this time meant more quality-of-life spending money. The Korean coffee consumer expanded their horizons with greater knowledge of the international coffee cultures, styles, roasts and preparations as well as finding more time to spend in cafes.

With the turn of the century, South Korea became one of the fastest growing coffee markets in the world. Korea boasts more certified baristas than any country in the world; almost 350,000 in early 2016! That’s more than double the number of Starbucks employees globally!

Along with growth in popularity, coffee has taken on its own subtle differences in Korea. Apparently in Korea, a latte is expected to be EXTRA hot! A Korean cappuccino is actually a latte with cinnamon. Ordering a “coffee” doesn’t mean you’ll get a drip coffee. In Korea you’ll most likely get an Americano; an espresso with added hot water.

Latte art and 3-dimensional foam art have been more recent additions to coffee creativity. From the more common leaf, heart and nature inspired designs in latte foam, to the super creative 3D forms that take on animals, characters (like Hello Kitty), and pretty much anything a 3D foam artist can think of, cafés in Korea continue to stay on trend sporting the latest in consumer-grabbing concepts.

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With a café almost every 50 meters in Seoul, competition is fierce for coffee-drinkers’ business. You can find a café to suit just about any social or personal need or desire. Need to study? Want to play with cats or dogs? Want to hang out and online-game with friends? Casual date? Is a large modern space or a cozy themed-atmosphere more your style? Indoors/Outdoors? Table service or take away? There are cafés to suit all those tastes and more!

Obsessed with the streets of #gangnam ?? #Korea #garosugil #koreancafes #aesthetics

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Have you been to Korea and had a unique coffee or café experience? Ever wanted to open up a café  yourself? Tell us about it in the comments! Our SnackFever boxes have been blessed with canned coffee or packets of delicious and convenient instant coffee every so often, be sure to check them out ☕.

Fit-n-spicy Mochi is a foodie fitness instructor.
She currently teaches Indoor Cycling, HIIT, Boot Camp, Strength and TRX classes and throws K-Pop into the mix whenever she can.


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