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Coffee Shop Culture in Korea
Written by Dong Woo Lee | Published. 2020.11.24 18:10 | Count : 1148

Last Saturday, my best friend Seungho and I decided to meet up at a Starbucks in Jamwon, which is our regular hang-out place. Unsurprisingly, it was very difficult to find an empty table right after dinner time. It is somewhat typical for seats to not be readily available in cafes in Korea. I was suddenly reminded of my trip to America last year when I visited my aunt.

Being accustomed to seeing most coffee shops filled with a huge crowd in Korea, I was amazed and excited at how easy it was to find empty seats at Starbucks in Hollywood on Saturday night. My family grabbed a spot, and I noticed an unfamiliar situation unfolding in front of me: a family walked into the shop, placed their order, and walked out as soon as they were served several cups of coffee. I wondered why this family did not sit down when there were so many seats available. I wanted to find out what foreigners thought about Korea’s unique coffee shop culture and Korean cafes in general, so I conducted an interview with Josh Adams, an American English teacher who recently moved to Seoul from Michigan, United States.

I asked Josh about the differences he noticed between Korean and American coffee shops. He said, “I think the biggest difference is the number of coffee shops you can find on the street. In Korea, you can find coffee shops on literally every single block.” In the United States, Josh said that he often had to go to a mall to find coffee shops. He also talked about his excitement about the unique cafes (pet cafes, fishing cafes, perfume cafes, flower cafes, study cafes, etc) in Korea. Josh was amazed by the fact that he could make memorable experiences at such places while enjoying a cup of coffee.

I also asked Josh whether he thinks coffee shops are central to Korean culture. He said, “I definitely do. When I go out with my Korean friends, we usually meet at a coffee shop. Korean coffee shops are very unique in that they feel like more than just a place for drinking coffee.” Back in the United States, Josh would usually invite family and friends over to his house to enjoy snacks and spend time together. He said that coffee shops are usually seen as places for business meetings. About his experience in Korea, he said, “I have built meaningful relationships with my friends in Korea and we shared a lot of great memories in coffee shops.” He also said that he finds it interesting to see ajumma ( Korean word for a married, or middle-aged woman) conversing about their children during the daytime at coffee shops, along with businessmen having coffee after lunch. 

[Interview with Josh. Photo credit: Dong Woo Lee]

Recently, I had a chance to visit a meerkat cafe in Hongdae with my friends. We weren’t initially planning on going there but accidently found a sign that said “Meerkat Cafe” which captured our attention. We bravely walked in, not knowing what was in store for us. Upon entering the cafe, we ordered our drinks and grabbed a spot right next to the special room filled with meerkats. In Korea, it is difficult for families to have special types of pets such as meerkats, racoons or parrots, as most families live in apartment buildings. Through this experience, I was able to meet some exotic animals while enjoying my drink, without having to go to a zoo.

[Picture of me in Meerkat cafe. Photo credit: Dong Woo Lee]

Before traveling to America and other European countries, I did not realize how big coffee shop culture is in Korea. I was expecting coffee shops all over the world to have a similar atmosphere. However, in other countries, coffee shops were merely places selling coffee. As “home” is considered a very private place to many Korean families, coffee shops serve as hangout destination, dating spots and most importantly, secondary homes where you can deepen your relationship with friends and families. Why not try spending some time with your friends at a cafe today?






Dong Woo Lee
11th grade
The Learning Community International

Dong Woo Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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