Korea’s Exploding Interest in Specialty Coffee

By Kyonghee Shin, Freelance Writer, Apprentice Roaster at Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

In 2007, a serial-drama titled Coffee Prince hit Korean television screens; with 20 percent of Korean households tuning in weekly. The main character was a girl who pretends to be a guy in order to be hired as a barista at a café called “Coffee Prince.” While its cartoony love stories entertained viewers, the show also offered a lot of coffee-related eye candy, such as pour-over brewing and coffee roasting. At the end of the series the main character even comes back to lead a new café franchise named “Coffee Princess” after winning the World Barista Championship.

Fast-forward five years to 2012 and Coffee Princes and Princesses exist all over Korea. The number of coffee shops increased from approximately 1,200 in 2006 to 12,400 in 2011. About 300 separate coffee training institutes are currently registered with the Korea Coffee Education Society. Korea will even host the World Latté Art and World Coffee in Good Spirits Championships this November.

Coffee lovers who visit Korea will probably find three things surprising. The first would be the sheer density in number and size of coffee shops. Shops are not only close to each other, but they are each surprisingly spacious. The second would be the different ways people get their caffeine fix. It’s rare to see people lined up at a coffee shop in the morning; rather, it is common to find coffee shops packed with people sipping caffé americanos late at night. The third surprise would be the rapidly growing interest in specialty coffee. It is noticeable from the growing number of certified Q-graders in Korea – over 600 – and the most in the world according to the Coffee Quality Institute website. At the end of this article, you will find a list of specialty coffee roasters in Seoul.

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