The following post is part of a series that discusses the coffee industry landscape in a particular region of the world, and the opportunity for development of the Newbeans CTAPS (Coffee Tasting and Profiling System) there.

Through this series, we explore the viability of creating and developing a global web-based, green bean purchasing ecosystem, like the Newbeans CTAPS.

How Coffee Came to be in Korea

It was in the eve of the 1900s that Koreans were introduced to coffee. Then King Gojong was the first person to taste coffee in Korea, through Antoinette Sontag, the sister-in-law of a Russian ambassador, treated the king to a cup of coffee. Coffee was a beverage of wonder to Koreans, who were always curious about foreign cultures due largely to Korea’s homogenous culture. It was consumed as a symbol of westernization and modernization.

In mid-1900, “dabangs” or coffee shops continued to exist as a meeting place rather than as a place where people could drink coffee; however, it was not the time for ordinary citizens to consume coffee yet due to the high price.

Dabangs in general became more open to middle class citizens in 1960s; it became a popular dating place for young men and women. It provided a feeling of freedom to college students who could not express their political opinions openly in 1970s.

In 1990s, people thought that consumption, too, had a style so preferred cafés with a neater interior design and professionalism in coffee. And then there was a huge shift in Korean café culture’s history in 1999 when Starbucks, the first foreign franchise coffee shop in Korea, was established in Sinchon, Seoul.

Starbucks introduced Korea to a new café culture, such as take-out and self-service system without good-looking waitresses and staying at a café alone reading a book or doing homework. Since then, more foreign franchise coffee shops entered the market with a greater variety of coffee and atmospheres, and more local franchise cafés and small private-owned cafés appeared with their unique features.

Today, alongside foreign franchises, South Korea has very distinct coffee shops: interesting in a sense that they focus primarily on providing certain thematic activities rather than just selling beverages and desserts, and also have very “cute” or “agijagi” characteristics. Examples include comic book cafés, puzzle cafés, and multi-room cafés that offer many activity items – such as TV, computer, board games, and Wii – in one room.

On our following post, we explore what makes coffee the new drink of choice this side of Asia. Image courtesy of 

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