So off we went, Robert and I, almost as far from Norway as you can get, to another small, coffee loving country - just on the other side of the world. Invited by Momos of Busan, we visited the Café Show expo in Seoul, did the rounds and caught up with the coffee circuit regulars, and then created a little event all of our own: a presentation about the Collaborative, attended by the specialty coffee roasters of Korea and a cupping, presenting the best of Brazil (Minas Gerais) and Burundi. If you have ever visited Korea you will notice many things to be different from Norway, or indeed anywhere else in Europe. Bowing is a good start. Passing things with delicacy and grace (and receiving them with even more) is another. Drunken businessmen asleep at the dinner table while their colleagues continue to eat is particularly noteworthy cultural norm. Kimchi. Cooking your own pork belly. Feeling like your living in a futuristic movie. But we were there for Coffee, not Gangnam Style re-enactments under subway signs.
We visited the finest coffee establishments in the land, Coffee Gong Jang, Momos, Coffee Libre, to name a few. The variety of brewing methods was impressive, (‘dutch style’ being the trend of the moment), the coffee was great, (although of course more darkly roasted than up here in the arctic) and the locations were at the same time predictably well-designed and surprisingly large.
After a day whipping round the Café Show in Seoul, we headed down to Momos HQ in Busan, Korea’s coffee port. Here snuggly nestled in a traditional building is Momos: rising several floors and spreading across verdant courtyards and dappled terraces, this café is a distinct destination.
We held a cupping and presentation at Coffee Gong Jang; a multi-floored industrial/cosy red and white extravaganza of a coffee shop in downtown Busan. Busan is the speciality hub of Korea, and the city’s coffee roasters turned out in force. With the help of Momos’ beautiful in-house polyglot Ines, we were able to communicate the Collaborative vision of trading utopia to the good roasters of Korea.
Yet despite the substantial investment, size and design of the coffee shops we visited, and the overwhelming interest from the roasters and baristas we met, we conclude that the coffee scene here is delicately blossoming rather than booming. Most coffee chains continue to serve impressively low-grade coffees, although this does not seem to hamper their rapid growth. The majority of coffee shops are closed during what we would consider as the on-the-way-to-work rush hour in the morning. They prefer instead to start later and stay open until the wee hours, providing a sensory sanctuary for the alcohol averse.
Interestingly, many roasters here also run training academies (from whence they gain the majority of their revenue) comparting the delights of cupping to the bubbling masses of coffee enthusiasts willing to pay for these services. Thus as we speak a handful more dedicated Koreans have learnt to decipher a good dark roast from a toast, single origin from a blend, fresh as a daisy from baggy and old. And here lies the future my friends. For soon these zealous Disciples of the Bean will be spurning the mainstream, and jumping, salmon-like, against the flow of mediocrity to buy only the best, create their own cafés, and roast their own coffee. And with a population of forty nine million and rising, South Korea is one to watch.