Korean Coffee Culture!

Korean Coffee Culture

My first experience of drinking coffee in Korea was after eating a welcome dinner on arrival. The Korean BBQ was impressive enough, but upon paying on the way out and shuffling to the entrance to find my shoes, I spied a couple in front of me pausing by a little machine, pressing a button, and an instant later removing a steaming little paper cup. I decided it was only right to follow suit, and I am glad I did. 

To my surprise, the super sweet coffee that presented itself topped off the dinner to perfection. I then came to see this coffee machine as the criteria for selecting a good restaurant, and would not eat in a place without it!

I always thought green tea was the go to drink, but I could not have been more wrong. Coffee is the beverage of choice in Korea. And the undisputed king of coffee would have to be the Americano. Chilled of course. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring; if you are not wandering the streets of Seoul clutching a plastic cup filled with ice and weak black coffee, then something is missing from your outfit. And what a cheap accessory it is! 

Due to the proliferation of coffee shops, the competition keeps the price low. In fact there are a lot of places where you can get your hands on a cup for 2000 won (a bit more than $2AUD). 

Dramas have been created in their honour (think ‘Coffee Prince), and even if not central to the story, there is always a character in every drama who owns a coffee shop. And then there is, in my opinion, the greatest song ever written, aptly named ‘Americano’. A stripped back tune featuring a neat little percussion section and some acoustic guitars, gets to the essence of the drink. Not only catchy, it is how I learned to order coffee. 

Being an Australian, saying “Flat White juseyo” would only bring a shrug of the shoulders. Although easy enough to switch to a latte (who can tell the difference really), it was the follow up questions that had me confused. I had to learn the words for hot and cold, and it did not help that I never had to consider this option before. Generally speaking, once you order a flat white in Melbourne, the barista gets to work straight away. In Korea, there is a bit more to it. So decoding the greatest song of all was not only an enjoyable experience, it allowed me to order the perfect coffee every time, even if I did seem a little strange humming to song lyrics until I found the phrase I was looking for. 

If you don’t have the time to memorise the lyrics to ‘Americano’, here are some useful words and phrases to help you get by ordering your favourite coffee in Korea….

아메리카노 한 잔 주세요. One Americano please.
아이스 아메리카노 한 잔 주세요. One iced Americano please.

시럽 빼고 주세요. No syrup please.
라떼 한 잔 주세요. A latte please.
카라멜 마키아또 한 잔 주세요. A caramel macchiato please.
한 잔 주세요. One please.

Written by Brett Allen

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