Question: What do Koreans consume more than rice and kimchi?
Koreans like drinking coffee very much. According to a survey by the Korea Centre for Disease Control, in 2013, on average a Korean consumes coffee 12.3 times a week, which is more than kimchi (11.8 times), multi-grain rice (9.5 times), white rice (7 times) and milk (2.7 times).
If you have been to Seoul, you might find it very easy to get a cup of coffee since there are many coffee shops in the streets and instant coffee vending machines in school and office buildings. You can also quickly make a cup of instant coffee using coffee sticks containing coffee, creamer and sugar sold at the convenience stores. Apart from big franchise coffee shop brands like Starbucks, Caffe Bene, Angel-in-us, Hollys, Tom N Toms and Twosome Place, there are also many small coffee shops operated by individual proprietors.
When compared to the coffee offered in the U.S., the coffee offered by the Korean coffee shops is sweeter and more creamy. One of the popular desserts offered by the coffee shops in South Korea is the honey bread which is a toast with caramel sauce, cinnamon powder and cream. There are different varieties of honey bread, for example, some with garlic, cheese and/or chocolate. I like it very much – it is very delicious and goes well with the coffee. However, as the size may be a bit large for one person, it is better to enjoy it with your friends.
To the Koreans, coffee shops are good venues for social gathering to hang out with friends for as long as people want. Many coffee shops open until 10 or 11 at night and some even open for 24 hours. Apart from coffee, coffee shops also offer other beverages like tea and various types of desserts. Some coffee shops even offer books for the customers to read. So, you may notice that during evenings or at weekends, coffee shops are packed with Koreans drinking coffee and chatting with their friends.
Given the popularity of coffee among Koreans, coffee shops present lucrative business opportunities. For example, Starbucks has over 700 coffee shops in South Korea. There are over 280 Starbucks coffee shops in Seoul only and this number is more than the number of Starbucks coffee shops located in New York City (277 shops), Shanghai (256 shops), London (202 shops) or Seattle (142 shops). Domestic brand, Caffe Bene, has nearly 1,000 coffee shops nationwide. Moreover, Koreans are paying more for coffee than customers in other countries. For example, for a cup of Americano, Starbucks’ customers in South Korea pay 4,100 won (vs. 3,000 won in Spain, 2,913 won in Taiwan, 2,660 won in Germany, 2,530 won in Canada and 2,477 won in the U.S.). However, when compared with other coffee shop brands in South Korea, Starbucks’ prices are at about similar level.
Next time, when you visit South Korea, don’t forget to drop in one of the coffee shops to enjoy the Korean coffee culture even though a cup of coffee in South Korea may be more expensive than in other countries!
Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 23 January 2015. Watch this space!
“Global consumer brands overcharge Koreans“, The Chosun Ilbo, 2015-01-13
Kwon Soa, “Korea’s coffee industry: where does it go from here?“, Arirang News, 2014-10-13
“Koreans consume more coffee than rice“, The Chosun Ilbo, 2014-09-23 – more detail on the survey by Korea Centre for Disease Control
Connie Kim, “Higher prices don’t dampen coffee craze in Korea“, Arirang News, 2014-08-27
鐘樂偉著，《韓瘋：讓世人瘋狂的韓國現象》，香港： 天窗出版社有限公司，2014年版, 92-99頁
Connie Lee, “Korea’s coffee culture: Coffee becomes social pastime“, Arirang News, 2012-11-28
“Korea falls in love with coffee“, Arirang News, 2011-03-11