Peak Coffee consultant, Sean Edwards, was recently invited to visit Korea, where he presented at the Korea Café Show …
It was a trip into the unknown for me. I was personally feeling a little nervous about the project I had been asked to perform by my good friends from Taehwan Automation, who build the popular Proaster coffee roasters. Nevertheless, I was on my way to Korea to speak about emerging trends in the café marketplace in Australasia at the annual Café Show in Seoul. I did not know a lot about the café/coffee industry in Korea and had been told by associates it was very advanced and quite unique.
Arriving at the Seoul airport and driving into the city gave me a bit of an idea how a metropolis of over 20 million people looked. Every direction I turned, there were immense clusters of skyscrapers housing this huge population in South Korea.
It was late November, and the winter was starting to merge its way into this part of the world. The clumps of trees in the parkways were past autumn brown and leaves had fallen, as they prepared for snow cover. My host and interpreter, Hana Jang – International Sales Manager for Proaster, explained that it was always rush hour in Seoul, as many people owned cars.
My first night was at a traditional Korean BBQ house, where our hosts, the Kim family, showed me all the fine dining etiquettes of a cook your own meat fest, Korean style. The tasty food was well complemented by lots of local Hite beer combined with the local spirit, Suju, which is similar to vodka. I had my first taste that night of Kimchee, the favourite staple of Koreans, which is fermented white cabbage and shallot smothered in homemade chili paste. Kimchee is well known for its cancer treating qualities and has been a staple in Korean diets for over one thousand years. I found out later in the trip that Koreans love any food or beverage that has been specially fermented.
On day two, I miraculously found my meeting point with Hana, on the other side of the city, via the vast network of the extremely efficient subway systems. We were heading to the university suburb of Hapjeong, famous for its cool café scene. Seoul has thousands of cafés and like most Asian cities, is dominated by chain stores. In the Hapjeong District, the young crowd drove a very arty subculture that was full of great concepts and high quality coffee businesses.
My eyes widened when I had my first glimpse of an independently owned café. The structure was very cool, with an in-house 2 kg roaster and a great selection of single estate coffees on the menu, completing the state of the art espresso and grinding equipment. This was complemented with the right selection of passionate people working the café floor. What struck me immediately was that the business was built around coffee, not just an espresso system. Brew bars are the mainstay for all Korean café structures, and elaborate brew bars take centre stage in most café/bars. Straight away, I knew I had a major challenge ahead of me in my future conference presentation, as this coffee industry was in a very advanced state of coffee presentation and quality practices. I fell in love straight away with the hand drip concept, which makes up 80% of takeout coffee in cafés. Punters get a choice of coffee origins, then the barista skillfully grinds and brews each coffee to its temperature and infusion time profiles.
Cafés in Korea don’t tend to open before 10am, so coffee consumption goes late into the night. Koreans generally work long hours, so caffeine is a staple of most Koreans’ diet – and most coffees are consumed without milk. The choice of high quality was amazing, and most cafés had a good range of cup of excellence beans from all world origins.
The in-house roasting concept is very big in Seoul and is almost the norm for quality café structures. The level of passion and quest for knowledge is contagious amongst the cool coffee crowd, and Korean coffee professionals will comb the earth for high-end coffee education.
Day three was the first day of ‘Café Show’ at the Coex building in downtown Seoul. The expo consisted of two large halls filled with mainly coffee/café suppliers’ products and services. This was also my debut as an international presenter, and the lecture room was full. Much to my surprise, the crowd enjoyed my presentation on the Australian industry, and I answered many questions in regard to different techniques and practices in the café/coffee business that we take for granted. Like most people who travel, I am always learning, and I found the Korean coffee industry extremely interesting – and I liked many aspects of their approach to fresh coffee brewed simply. I think we have overcomplicated ourselves in Australi and have been led around a bit by espresso manufacturers with equipment trends. The idea of simple pour over filter coffee excited me for future movements in Australia.
I also enjoyed the fact that cafés trade well into the evening and night cafés were very popular, as a good alternative to going to a smokey bar.
Any country that enjoys beer, meat and coffee this much is a good place to visit. Look out for the Proaster roasting concept in Australian cafés; it is definitely the future of our industry. To see this roasting concept in action locally, visit us at Peak Coffee, where all of the brewing methods and roasting techniques mentioned above are on show, as well as a great range of world origins to try.