Coffee culture in Korea has embraced espresso bars

A rice cake and espresso is served in the Draw Espresso Bar in Seoul. A new trend in Coffee has been spotted in South Korea – espresso coffee bars, where customers can purchase small, strong espresso shots and variations. 


The coffee culture of Korea has taken to espresso bars. It’s the favored drink of the country, is Instagram-friendly, and less expensive than an Americano.

  • Espresso shots, which are shorter and more affordable than the Americano Koreans love – have been famous within South Korea in recent years with the help of social media.
  • At least one hundred coffee bars opened in Korea last year. Tens of thousands of Instagram posts have been tagged “espresso bar” in Korean.

Koreans consume 353 cups of tea each year, according to the most recent report from the Hyundai Research Institute. The number is a significant increase from 291 cups in 2015. It is also 2.7 times more than the global average of 130 cups.

People who love caffeine typically drink instant Coffee in pouches that look like sticks, referred to as “mix coffee” – or hot or cold Americanos.

But this trend is quickly changing, as evidenced by an increase in espresso bars selling small, powerful shots of Coffee.

More than 100 coffee shops have opened in the United States over the last year, according to data from the industry. Social media has also revealed an occurrence with more than 142,000 Instagram posts in mid-August – displaying images of empty cups set on top of one other, with an #espressobar “espresso bar” in Korean.

Large conglomerates of food and drink have also begun to profit from the trend.

Paik’s Coffee, a low-priced coffee chain run by the famous chef Paik Jong-won, introduced the espresso menu in March as coffee brand Pascucci launched an espresso bar close to its headquarters in Seoul. In the last year, convenience store GS25 also began offering espresso at 1,000 won (US 75 cents) in small cups.

The trend started just a few years ago, per Culture critic and former journalist Lim Hee-yun.

“Just some years back, Koreans weren’t drinking that many cups of espresso. We would joke about how backpackers could have ordered shots in the European bar and couldn’t take the uninspiring, bitter taste,” Lim says.

Lim said that Leesar was among the first coffee shops in Seoul in 2012. Then, in 2021, the business opened its second branch, and people started to note it. The low cost (1,500 won) and the sweeter tasting, sugary flavor enticed customers to have many glasses, beginning a trend of sharing photos of the cups lined on top of espresso bars.

Koreans who are known for getting things that can be done quickly and cheaply, as well as their interest in different cultures – are naturally attracted to the espresso culture in recent times, according to Lim and numerous baristas in the espresso bar.

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“People are growing more accustomed to short-form content and I think that grew to affect food culture,” Lim adds. “At espresso bars, visitors can quickly try many different flavours at relatively lower prices, which can be very attractive to trend-sensitive Koreans.”

Kim Myung-jin, a barista with more than 14 years of experience who launched Draw Espresso Bar in Seoul, echoes Lim’s views.

“Although Koreans weren’t very familiar with the concept of espresso at the time [in September 2021], we thought it would go well with the bustling lifestyles of Koreans,” Kim adds in a statement, adding that Seoul, with its growing specialty coffee shops, was quick to embrace the trend.

Ikseon-dong Street is where retro-style cafes and restaurant shops are crowded in Seoul. Photo: Shutterstock

Seoul’s coffee bars are unique due to the variety of their menus and locations.

To help those who have yet to become acquainted with the espresso drink, Kim and his colleague came up with a new version of the beverage. They’ve created Caffe Lito ( lieto means “delighted” in Italian), which includes a scoop of ice cream and olive oil that results in a refreshing and tart flavor.

The bar began mixing shots with rice cakes produced by a local mill in the neighborhood to give an element of local flavor, too, the bartender explains.

Customers can enjoy espresso at Molto Italian Espresso Bar near Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Photo: Molto Italian Espresso Bar

Also, Sorry Espresso Bar offers authentic Portuguese-style espresso and egg tarts and is now a must-visit location. Also, Molto Italian Espresso Bar, situated on the other side of Myeongdong Cathedral, offers breathtaking views of a historic landmark with its Italian-style espresso.

Experts claim that the popularity of espresso is increasing, and this trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing anytime soon.

“A time back, many people insisted to have Americano and were reluctant about making the plunge into espresso, but that isn’t the case anymore. We think that the consumption range is expanding,” Sorry Espresso Bar’s co-owner Simon declares.

This culture, he says, has become an everyday thing for many of his clients, with a rise in the number of office workers stopping to have a quick sip while they commute to work, just as the people in Europe.

Portuguese-style espresso and egg tarts are offered in Seoul’s Sorry Espresso Bar. Photo: Sorry Espresso Bar

“Espresso will never be able to replace the loved Americano. But, if a person drinks an espresso every throughout the day, they could think about drinking a few cups of espresso per each week.” Lee says.

“Considering the trendy and hip atmosphere of espresso bars and their price-competitiveness with a wide selection of menus, Koreans’ love for espresso will likely last for an extended period.


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