With coffee’s popularity worldwide on the rise, it’s not a surprise that different countries have their own unique coffee culture and special coffee spots.
Dive in with us and explore the coffee culture, history, and places around the world in our new World Coffee Series. And this time - coffee in South Korea!
The History of Coffee in South Korea
Coffee didn’t appear in Korea until the 19th century, centuries after it had already spread out around Europe. At the beginning, it was a symbol of status and Western culture affiliation. For this reason, coffee was mostly consumed by the elites, the wealthy, royals, the emperor himself and other intellectual persons. It wasn’t until the instant coffee was introduced by the Americans when coffee became popular with the middle class as well. Fast forward and coffee is now being influenced by the youth culture in South Korea, evolving from small and doll coffee houses to modern and themed cafes.
South Korean Coffee Culture
South Korea has a very unique coffee culture compared to the rest of the world. Beyond its emphasis on specialty coffee beans and roasting processes, coffee drinkers also take a lot of attention to the coffee aesthetics. This is the reason many cafes in South Korea are either aesthetically unique, have some kind of themed decorations and desserts, or have an activity that can be enjoyed along with the coffee. Like in America, many of these cafes are also places for business meetings and for people to hang out with their family and friends.
Instant Coffee in South Korea
Outside of cafes and coffee shops, instant coffee also plays a large role in the overall coffee scene in South Korea. The love for instant coffee sets South Korea apart from other countries. According to Statista, 35.71% of South Koreans drank instant coffee at least once a day in 2018 - far more than most countries and the US in particular.
It is an easy and convenient way for busy workers to get their daily coffee and also popular among college students who drink coffee to stay up late to study. Instant coffee is so prevalent that it can be found in workplaces and offices in South Korea, offered at restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, and even sold in vending machines. Korean instant coffee is offered in a variety of flavors and mostly as a combination of coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer. Usually all in one packet.
How They Drink Their Coffee in South Korea
Most Koreans (29.3%) drink coffee once a day and after instant coffee, the second most common coffee drink is the Italian Americano. Unlike the instant coffee, the Americano is usually ordered from a speciality coffee shop. It sometimes drank with foamed milk or milk substitutes paired with a fresh pastry. According to information published by the Korean Coffee Expo, the "number of coffee shops has more than doubled since 2005. The size of Korea’s coffee industry has grown more than 2.6 times in 5 years. And along with the increase of the size, the coffee franchise industry is getter bigger as well."
10 Most Unique Cafes in South Korea
1. Stylenanda Pink Pool Cafe (Hongdae, Seoul)
This cafe is pink galore and paradise for those of you who like the color pink. It features fancy pink decor, from pink walls to pink cushioned chairs at every table. It also has a mini indoor pool with a few tables and seats next to it and a few neon signs that make for great social media pictures.
2. YNG239-20 Cafe (Itaewon, Seoul)
This unique cafe makes you feel like you just walked into a cartoon. Everything from the furniture to the decorations on the walls look like they have been drawn. Even some of their drinks and cups feature that cartoon/hand drawn look. There is even a rooftop area with tables and bar-like seating where you can enjoy the fresh air, sunset, or string lights.
3. DB Story Cafe (Hongdae, Seoul)
This cafe features an activity you can participate in while enjoying your cup of coffee. Here you are able to customize your own phone case! There are plenty of different case options available for most phone types and a vast number of charms, decorations, beads, etc. you can choose from to fit your personality - all while drinking you favorite cup of coffee.
4. Cafe Sapoon Sapoon (Gangnam, Seoul)
This is a beach themed cafe where stressed out workers can escape to relax for a while. It features a sand patterned floor and even realistic blue beach tide coming in. Their high, white ceilings along with the seashell decorations and sand jars at the tables make for a relaxing, but aesthetic atmosphere.
5. Arriate Cafe (Hongdae, Seoul)
If you love florals of all kind, this is the cafe for you. Not only is the entrance constantly decorated with different kinds of flowers, but so is the inside of the cafe. Different parts of the cafe feature different color themed flowers and even have a collection of dried flowers hanging from the ceiling. They offer a variety of herbal and floral teas along with coffee drinks.
6. Ddo-Ong Cafe (Insadong, Seoul)
Cute or disgusting? Well we guess that depends on the eye of the beholder! This cafe features an interesting theme of poop. They not only have cute little poops as decor in the cafe, but the theme is continued with their desserts, food, and drinks. Coffee and food are served in a “toilet bowl” and decorated or shaped like poop.
7. On Ne Sait Jamais Cafe (Itaewon, Seoul)
The concept of this cafe is no concept, but up to the interpretation of the customers. It is decorated and furnished in a bathhouse-like concept with the tiled center. It also has a communal like seating, where everyone is faced together as if they are sitting in a large circle. The unique concept and layout of this cafe is worth checking out for the new experience.
8. Sikmulhak Cafe (Gangnam, Seoul)
This is a greenhouse lab themed cafe and is primarily made up of earthy colors like brown, green, and white. There are also a variety of plants found around the cafe and also smaller greens on the tables. Interestingly, the baristas and workers at the cafe wear white lab coats. Along with indoor seating, there is also an outdoor area with additional smaller tables and decorations. Its aesthetic and clean look are great for your coffee pictures!
9. Blind Alley Cafe (Yongsan, Seoul)
While South Korea has a variety of animal cafes, this is a unique one that features exclusively raccoons. Enjoy your cup of coffee with these friendly raccoons poking around curiously. You can also feed and interact with them!
10. C.Through Cafe (Itaewon, Seoul)
While the rest of the cafes on this list are featured for their aesthetic decorations or fun themes, this cafe is famous for their latte art. Both the barista and the owner make these beautiful and unique latte art that are just too perfect to drink!
Tune in to other World Coffee series posts coming up soon.