South Korea is full of surprises, and one of the more favourable ones is its spirited coffee culture. Serving more than just coffee, the cafes in Korea are an experience and a lifestyle choice. Once associated with the upper middle classes, going out for coffee was a stylish habit, which alluded to ideas of wealth and international sophistication.
As a tea drinking nation for thousands of years, the coffee culture of Korea is still young, especially in comparison to European countries; as it was introduced centuries afterwards and has only gained mainstream popularity in the last fifty years.
In 1896, Emperor Gojong was seeking refuge at the Russian Embassy and was offered a cup of coffee by Antoinette Sontag, the German sister-in-law of the Russian consul general at the time – needless to say, he was hooked. Later Emperor Gojong supported Antoinette Sontag in opening the first Korean dabang (coffee shop) in Seoul for foreign diplomats. Further down the line, during the Japanese occupation, the Japanese began to open further dabangs, bringing coffee to Korea’s elite and wealthy.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when coffee became further accessible in Korea. As dabangs were finally opening up to adult middle class citizens, along with the production and distribution of instant coffee.
By the 1990s there was an influx of foreign franchises, accelerating cafe competition and coffee consumption. Korea’s economic growth at this time meant the average household had more money to spend in terms of quality of life, enhancing the knowledge of international coffee culture, styles, roasts and preparations as well as being able to spend more time in cafes. fell in love with the drink. It became a symbol of Western culture and, as of such, status.
Today cafe culture in Korea still upholds aspects of this mentality, as they are prime spots for socialising and entertainment. Each cafe not only has its own carefully deliberated menu but a distinct style, leading us to believe that coffee isn’t the only cause of the trend, but a change in the landscape where design and quality are equally important.