Koreans’ love of good coffee is getting even more intense

Drinking up.
Drinking up.
Image: Reuters/Han Jae-Ho
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

For a nation of historic tea drinkers, Koreans love their coffee. And they increasingly prefer the good stuff. The Korea Customs Service said 120,000 tons of coffee were imported into Korea in 2013, up 7% from the year before, making it the seventh-biggest importer in the world.

But the data also show imports of processed coffee—which includes instant coffee—fell last year, but imports of roasted and unroasted beans used to make fresh coffee at home and by chains such as Starbucks have surged. Last year, new crop imports rose 7% from the previous year and roasted coffee beans grew by almost 14%. But processed coffee imports fell by a huge 22%, the customs office says.

Earlier this year, Quartz reported that Koreans drank 0.329 cups of coffee a day, making the country the third-biggest drinker of coffee per capita in Asia, behind the Philippines and Singapore. (Northern Europeans are the biggest coffee addicts in the world, drinking more than a cup on average.)

It should be no surprise by now that the Koreans love their coffee. Seoul has 284 Starbucks—the most in the world and seven more than New York City’s 277. The US coffee company celebrated its 15th anniversary in Korea this week and in that time, has helped transform the habits of young people.

The whole of South Korea has 650 Starbucks stores serving 300,000 customers a day, its national president said. The country is also innovating in ways that is befitting a country whose capital is the world’s most wired city. Starbucks in Korea in March was the first in the world to introduce a smartphone ordering system, Siren Order, where customers can order and pay for coffee before coming to the store. Coffee is changing the culture as well. Korean staff members are using their English nicknames on their name tags instead of their employment rank.

“The strategy is that the taste of coffee is the same globally, but consumers can drink that coffee in an area where there’s a sense of Korean culture,” Starbucks’ Lee Seock-koo told Korea JoongAng Daily. So far, that strategy continues to pay off.