Café Culture Café Culture Walking down the streets of Seoul, cafés are present nearly everywhere. There are wide varieties of cafés to choose from, and Korean people often frequent cafes at any time of the day. Rather than visiting cafés merely to get a coffee, Korean people frequent cafés to socialize, study, work, or relax. Such utilization of cafés as a sit-in environment has resulted in the creation of a plethora of different types of cafés to please the diverse demands out there, and cafés have become an integral part of many Korea people’s lives. Café culture is a relatively new but important aspect of modern Korean culture. Coffee was first introduced to Korea during the late 19th century when King Gojong first tried it and loved it enough to build a café at Deoksugung Palace. It wasn’t until the 1960s that instant coffee was introduced to Korea, which made coffee accessible to the general public due to its cheap price. Korean café culture was truly started when Starbucks entered the Korean market and introduced the idea of cafés as places to socialize, work, rest, etc. rather than just a place to get coffee. As Seoul became more urban and apartments became smaller, going elsewhere other than home to hang out with friends and spend time became more appealing. Thus, café culture began. As a result, cafés have become increasingly diverse. There are cafés to please nearly any desire, including animal cafes, board game cafes, study cafés, cafés based on characters or shows, cafés with unique and photogenic aesthetics, etc. However, with the rise of café culture there have been some downsides, such as Korea’s unusually high caffeine consumption and the growth of modern consumerism. Nevertheless, cafés remain a huge part of many Korean people’s lives, as they serve as a center for social interaction and daily life outside of home and work/school. History of Coffee and Cafés in Korea King Gojong was the first Korean person to drink coffee when he took refuge at the Russian Embassy in Seoul after Queen Myeongseong was brutally murdered by the Japanese at the end of the 19th century. The German sister-in-law of the Russian consul general, Antionette Sontag, introduced the King to coffee and later helped him open a coffee shop for foreign diplomats. During Japanese colonial rule, early cafés were turned into Japanese style tea houses frequented by Japanese people and social figures, while some Koreans opened up coffee houses which served as cultural and artistic spaces for the Korean elite. During the Korean War, coffee was scarce and cafés were often used as political meeting-places. In the 1960s, a company called Dongseo Foods began to produce instant coffee under license to Maxwell House Coffee. Before this, coffee was a luxury primarily enjoyed by the elite, but the introduction of instant coffee allowed the middle class to enjoy coffee as well, and instant coffee is still extremely popular in Korea due to the quickness and convenience of the instant coffee mix. Many Korean restaurants have instant coffee machines that will provide you with a small cup of hot coffee in seconds. First Coffee Drinker This video describes the first café of Korea, Jeonggwanheon, that was built by King Gojong at the foot of Deoksugung Palace. King Gojong built this café at the palace with a combination of western-style architecture and traditional Joseon patterns as well as symbols of the Korean Empire to serve as a symbol of his willingness to accept western culture and modernize Korea, while still protecting Korean culture and independence. First Café, “KaKaDu” This video describes brief history of Korean café. The first coffee shop made by a Korean person was called “Kakadu” (카카듀), named after a bar in a secret hideout used to hide from police during the French Revolution, though it is unknown whether this café was used as a place for anti-Japanese movements. First Instant Coffee, “Maxim” In the 1970s, Dongseo Food partnered with Maxwell House Coffee to begin manufacturing instant coffee in Korea. Dongseo food developed “coffee mix,” an instant coffee that includes coffee power, creamer, and sugar; allowing one to quickly drink prepared coffee simply by adding hot water. While previously coffee had been mainly consumed by the upper class and thought of as a luxury item, the invent of instant coffee mix allowed coffee to be consumed and enjoyed by average people. Diversity of Cafés Since the introduction of cafés to Korea, they have not only become extremely popular but there are now many types of cafés to meet nearly any need within Korea. There are cafés which sell many different types of coffees and teas as well as deserts and breads, so you can almost always find what you are craving. Cafés such as Paris Baguette offer a wide variety of pastries to pick from. Korea also has many animal cafés, with both domestic and exotic animals. These cafés allow visitors to destress by petting animals and provide the opportunity to pet exotic animals that you cannot find anywhere else. There are many themed cafés such as character cafés, art cafés, cartoon/anime/movie cafés, etc., which allow Korean people to meet others with similar interests and enjoy being in a space dedicated to something they love. There are even game cafés where they can play board games or computer games with friends, providing not only a place to meet but also games to have fun with. Cafés in Korea have evolved to meet nearly every possibly demand, and thus there are many diverse cafés to choose from. Animal Cafés The first animal café was a cat café named Cat Flower Garden created in Taiwan in 1998. Animal cafés became popularized in Japan in the 2000s, and eventually made their way to Korea. Animal cafés with cats, dogs, rabbits and other domestic animals allow visitors to experience the comfort of having a pet to play with and snuggle without the responsibility of pet ownership, which can be increasingly difficult especially in urban cities such as Seoul. Korea now has many cafés with exotic animals as well: racoons, meerkats, wallabies, foxes, goats, pigs, ferrets, and more. Exotic animal cafés have combined petting zoos with cafés to bring even exotic animals into the everyday lives of Korean people, as in this video. Themed Cafés There are many themed cafés in Korea. This video shows some of these themed cafés, including a Line café, One Piece Café, Hello Kitty Café, Moomin and Me Café, and a Majo & Sady Café. These cafés can be dedicated towards cartoon characters, anime, manga/manhwa, movies, characters made to represent a brand (Line Friends, Kakao Friends, Sanrio Characters), or even the more traditional routes of nature themed or Hanok (traditional Korean house) themed cafés. There are also cafés with more general themes such as unicorns and different artsy styles, and even some pretty weird cafés such as poop themed cafés. In addition, there are even official café events for K-pop groups where fans can meet, leave messages for the group, and get special photocards or cup sleeves of the group. There is truly a themed café for everyone to enjoy. Game Cafés Cafés where people can go to play games are also popular in Korea. There are many board game cafés where people can play board games with their friends. The cafés provide many board games to choose from, and this video shows someone who worked at a board game café revealing the most popular board games among customers. There are also many cafés known as PC Bangs where Korean people can go to play multiplayer computer games for an hourly fee, and these PC Bangs have become extremely popular. Game cafés provide a way for friends to easily meet up in public and play fun games together. Without game cafés, people would have to meet in their own homes and provide their own games, which is often much more inconvenient and costly than game cafés. What Cafés Mean to Korean People Cafés are more than just a place to get coffee for Korean people. Whereas in other countries cafés may be mainly frequented by older people or solely for the purpose of getting coffee, in Korea people of all ages, but especially young people, visit cafés regularly for a variety of reasons. When out with friends in Korea, going to a café is a very common activity as it is a good place to go to socialize, play games, study, etc. There are a wide variety of cafés to satisfy nearly every preference, so Korean people are able to find a café where they enjoy spending their time and feel most productive with the most optimal noise levels, openness, lighting, design, and so on. In addition, the quiet background noise and presence of other people in cafés can help Korean people focus on studying or working and get creative inspiration. Cafés also serve as a relatively stress-free environment where Korean people can meet new people with similar interests or socialize with friends. Overall, cafés provide a third space along with the home and work environment that is integral to many Korean people’s lives. Curated Space In this blog post, a Korean person described a café as “a time and a space” where they get energy not only from caffeine but from the environment of the café itself. They first described their experience speaking with foreign friends and studying abroad, and they noticed that young people from other countries do not flock to cafés like Korean people do. To Korean people, going to a café is not just about getting coffee, but it is about finding an environment where you are comfortable and feel energized to work. Korean people care about the interior design, openness, friendliness of staff, spacing of tables, loudness of other patrons, among many other factors when choosing a café. They do not go to cafés merely to get coffee, but to find a place where they are most content with their surroundings. Productive Environment Many Korean people visit cafés in order to work, study, or be creative. Rather than just being a place to grab a coffee or meet up with friends, Korean people view the café environment as a place to be productive and get stuff done. As this news video explains, Korean people prefer cafés over quiet libraries or their homes because quiet noise of a café increases their concentration. In addition, the people and environment of cafés can help spark creativity and being surrounded by productive people can help increase your own productivity and prevent distraction. The large number of people who go to cafés to study in Korea has even become a problem for cafés, as these people tend to take up tables all day while they study. Cafés are an environment that many Korean people choose over libraries or other spaces to study or work. Social Relations This article describes the increase in the frequenting of coffee shops as a thirst for a space to spend time together with people, or a desire for social relations. According to a survey published by Korea Economic Daily, 80% of Korean people visit cafés with friends, colleagues, or significant others, despite thinking the coffee is expensive. People visit coffee shops not for the coffee, but for the environment they provide that cultivates social relations. In addition, cafés are a place where Korean people are free from the familial stress of their home and from the work-related stress of their workspace. Cafés make up a third space important to Korean people’s lives where they can go to socialize with their friends, meet people with similar interests, find love or new friends, etc. Korean people don’t just go to cafés for coffee, they go to cafés to find something new. The Dual Effects of Korean Café Culture While cafés serve an integral part of Korean culture as a place for Korean people to go to socialize, work or study, meet people with similar interests, etc., there are also some downsides to café culture in Korea. One major side effects of the prevalence of cafés is the increased use of disposable cups that are hard to recycle. Because many Korean people get coffee while in a rush to work or on their lunch hour, many people tend to get the hard-to-recycle disposable to-go cups rather than sitting down with a mug, which is bad for the environment. In addition, many Korean people visit cafés regularly and purchase coffee despite it being overpriced due to the marketing strategies of café chain brands in Korea. It is not uncommon for a Korean person to spend more on coffee during their lunch hour than on lunch itself. Finally, Korean people have also become dependent on cafés as a place to study and get work done, leading to the decline in use of libraries and other workplaces. Korean people have also become dependent on coffee as a way to leisurely socialize with people, they rarely get coffee just for the sake of drinking it. The dependency on getting coffee as a way to socialize has led to Korea being one of the countries that drinks the most coffee in the world, which could lead to health problems. Non-Recyclable Coffee Cups One major problem with Korea’s café culture is the use of non-recyclable to-go coffee cups by café-goers. With the rise of Korean café culture, the number of Korean people who consume coffee multiple times a day has increased, and many Korean workers and students visit cafés in the morning or during lunch to pick up a cup of coffee. Most people get disposable coffee cups instead of reusable mugs, even if they stay to drink it in the café for a bit. Because of this, as of 2018 more than 6.1 billion disposable cups came from cafés in Korea, and only 8% of these were recyclable. This is because the cups used are usually paper cups coated with plastic that are very difficult to recycle. This has become such a problem that many cafés have started giving small discounts for those who bring a tumbler for their coffee. However, many Korean people think the small discount does not make up for the inconvenience of having to bring a tumbler. In addition, the plastic straws used with some disposable coffee cups are also hard to recycle and pose a problem for the environment. The article above advertises campaign that fight plastic pollution. Modern Consumerism The reason why café culture has become so popular in Korea is partly due to the introduction and expansion of Starbucks in the Korean market. Starbucks helped create a culture around cafés in Korea with the strategy of selling services, not coffee. At the time Starbucks was introduced to Korea, most Korean people preferred cheap and sweet instant coffee and didn’t like the expensive, bitter coffee of Starbucks. In response, Starbucks acted as a place where anyone could come to rest and meet people, with a comfortable atmosphere and free Wi-Fi, without even having to buy a drink. Thus, some argue that Starbucks is also responsible for introducing take-out coffee and disposable cups in Korea. Overall, café culture has become a prime example of consumerism in Korea, as many other café chains have spread throughout the country employing marketing strategies to get Korean people to come to cafés despite the expensive price of coffee. While cafés have become a huge part of Korean culture, much of their expansion was driven by capitalistic strategies to profit huge chain brands, with small private cafés rarely being able to survive the tough industry. Dependency on Cafés and Coffee Korean people have become dependent on cafés for many reasons. A 2017 study found that 87% of Korean people in their 20s study at cafés. They claim that it is more comfortable to study in cafés, as cafés have ambient background noise that makes it easier to concentrate and students don’t have to worry about being quiet while studying. This can cause problems for cafés, however, as students will fill up the tables and sometimes even leave their stuff at a table while they leave the café temporarily. This results in decreased business for cafés, as there is no space for new customers, as well as decreased use of libraries. In addition, Korean people rank as one of the countries that drink the most coffee in the world. Since drinking coffee is part of work-life culture, Korean people often drink multiple cups of coffee at odd hours of the day. This could potentially lead to health problems, as too much caffeine consumption can cause health problems such as high blood pressure and other side effects. It is clear café culture is here to stay in Korea, as Korea people continue frequenting cafés in their daily lives. The diversity of cafés will continue to expand to meet every demand in the market, and with it, Korean people’s dependency on cafés as a place to socialize and live their everyday lives will grow as well. It seems café culture has had a mainly positive effect on most Korean people’s lives, as cafés add a third place of living into Korean people’s lives away from the stress the home and work/school can entail.