Coffee in South Korea – A History of Coffee and Culture

South Korea is known for its passion for K-Pop and K-Drama. Among the many wonders discovered in South Korea is a love of coffee.

History of Coffee in South Korea


American diplomat Percival Lowell writes a sketchbook and journal entitled Chosun – Land of Morning Calm, which documents coffee in Korea for the first time.


British missionary William Richard Carless (1848-1929) recounts his experience drinking coffee with German Paul Georg von Mollendorff (1847-1901) during an anecdotal tour of the capital (조선풍물지).


Advertisement for “Java Coffee” in the English newspaper “The Independent”. It is almost certain that the first cup of coffee the Koreans drank was imported from Indonesia (later bought by Brazil).


An advertisement for one of the country’s first coffee shops, Gyeong Shik-dang (about 식당), is also published in “The Independent”.


Gojong (1852-1919), the last emperor of Korea, entertains foreign ambassadors over coffee at Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁).


Run by Marie Antoinette Sontag (1838-1922), Hotel Sontag (손한酒店) serves coffee to foreigners, diplomats and guests of King Gojong of Korea.

1910 – 1945

Japanese occupation of Korea and development of café culture; Places like Cacadew (카카벴) opened in 1927 and were popular with politicians, artists and students.

Cafes of this era were mostly concentrated in the Myeongdong (명동), Jongno (종로), and Chungmuro (충무로) districts of Seoul.


The US Army introduces instant coffee during the Korean War.


The number of coffee shops, or “dabang” (다방) as they are popularly called in Korea, reaches 3,000.


Dong Suh Foods Corporation (동서식품) launches a popular instant coffee blend, prepared with pre-mixed sugar and cream, that almost immediately surpasses American coffee in popularity.


Starbucks opens its first store near Eva University.

Korean coffee consumption

Koreans love their coffee! As a result, consumption has increased dramatically. According to the Korea Economic Research Institute (USA), Koreans drank an average of 12.3 cups of coffee per week in 2019. Per capita coffee consumption in South Korea is 2.3 kg.

In 2016/17, 2,316,000 60 kg sacks were consumed, in 2018/19 it was 2,484,000 sacks. South Korea has a 6% share of the coffee market in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Korean coffee market revenue is estimated at US$10.281 billion in 2020. In addition, annual growth of 10.9% is forecast.

The price of Korean coffee

Coffee is affordable for everyone today. In some stores, a cup of coffee sells for as little as 1,000 won (87 cents).

Korean coffee boom

Although coffee is not grown in South Korea, the country has become known for its unique coffee culture. Many cafes have their own coffee roasters.

The coffee culture that grew out of this drink has shaped modern Korean culture and has become a unique part of Korean identity.

With the growing interest in coffee, more and more cafes are springing up like mushrooms. It is estimated that there are 70,000 coffee shops in South Korea. Ediya Co., South Korea’s largest chain of coffee shops, has about 2,200 locations across the country.

Starbucks, on the other hand, has around 1,140 stores in 75 cities. This means that the city of Seoul has the most Starbucks stores in the world. Seoul is the coffee capital with 18,000 coffee shops (2016). This means that Seoul has more coffee shops per capita than any other country in the world.

Unique coffee culture

Thanks to the coffee boom, South Korea has created a coffee culture that is second to none. Over time, the coffee market became saturated and the owners came up with the most creative and unique concepts to stand out from the crowd. Visiting a café in Seoul is more than just a good cup of coffee, it is an “experience”.

There’s everything from cat, dog, or raccoon cafes to art cafes, board game cafes, virtual reality cafes, DJ cafes, K-pop cafes, and even flower shops and factory cafes.

This is not only due to the special atmosphere, but also to the drinks that are on the menu. In addition to the usual coffee variations, there are unique recipes such as Popcorn Latte or Jollypong Latte or creative drinks such as the Selfie Latte, in which your own picture is “printed” on the coffee.

In addition, Korean coffee shops also offer drinks other than coffee, e.g. B. Strawberry Matcha coffee or Chrysanthemum tea, a light, slightly sweet tea made with fresh flowers. Desserts and cakes also come in a variety of colors and cute designs, such as: B. animal donuts or rainbow cake.

We’ve written a blog about the ins and outs of Asian coffee shops if you want to dig a little deeper.

How much coffee is drunk in Korea?

In Korea, a cup of coffee is not just a drink, it is part of people’s culture. Despite the bitter taste, each cup of coffee means something different to each person. “One cup of coffee a day to maintain energy” can be applied to the coffee drinking habits of Koreans, especially university students.

According to the results of a survey of students at George Mason University in South Korea, the proportion of students who drink coffee as an energy source is 67.2%, which is more than half of the participants. When asked how often the students drink coffee, 52.4% answered that they drink coffee every day.

For Koreans, coffee has become an integral part of everyday life. Since coffee is so popular in Korea, a coffee festival called “Seoul International Coffee Expo” is held in Seoul every year to share people’s love of coffee culture. With people drinking coffee out of necessity or pleasure, South Korea’s coffee culture has evolved into one of the most unique in the world.

Iconic places of coffee culture in Korea

Paradise in the heart of An Mok

  • Staying on “Coffee Street” is made even more appealing by the coastal location of Anmok Beach. The beach is popular with surfers from June to August when the waves are perfect for the sport, but its specialty restaurants are popular year-round.
  • All are beautifully decorated and have fantastic sea views.
  • These places offer everything you could want from a beach: a magnificent sea view, blue sky, white sand and crystal-clear water. Spend the afternoon at Anmu Beach enjoying your favorite foods like squid, fresh seaweed and octopus at the local seafood restaurants.

The Street of Cafes

  • These cafes are not only hubs for unique and delicious coffee offerings, but also aesthetic spaces. Enjoy your coffee while watching the gentle waves.
  • Some of the best cafes are Terarosa Coffee, Bohemian Roasters, Holly’s Coffee, Cafe Lumiere, Pine Hill Cafe and Seowon Coffee Lab. Offering ample seating and a cozy ambiance, these cafes serve coffee perfectly paired with stunning views, themed interiors and fresh artisanal produce.

Gangneung, the capital of coffee

  • Gangneung, a city on South Korea’s east coast about 150 kilometers from the capital Seoul, has emerged as the country’s coffee hotspot.
  • There are several coffee-related facilities and attractions in Gangneung, such as; B. the Coffee Museum, the Coffee Street, the Coffee Factory and the Barista Academy.
  • The city is located in Gangwon -do, where Korea’s first coffee festival was held. All local cafes in Gangneung roast their own coffee beans.
  • The chain of 40 cafés offers a large selection of Arabica and specialty coffees from all over the world. Museum for coffee lovers.

Museum for coffee lovers

The Gangneung Coffee Museum is surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Gangneung Surrounded by Wangsan Valley. You can explore the entire coffee process in five exhibition halls and three experience centers.

Around 3,000 rare coffee products from all over the world are on display here. There is also a museum café serving some of the finest craft coffee.

offered on the coffee plantations at the foot of the Daegwallyeong Mountains. After touring the farm, visitors can try roasting and grinding coffee beans in the coffee shop, learning about the production and processing of coffee beans.

Korean Dalgona coffee

Korean whipped cream coffee is the region’s most popular coffee online and one of the most searched concoctions on tik tok in 2020.


Korea, as one of the rising economic powerhouses, could also be described as a “coffee culture powerhouse” because, as already mentioned, Koreans are practically “addicted” to coffee, if you will. It should be noted that Korea is one of the main countries importing coffee to Asia for roasting and processing.