There are real people behind the many, many, many coffee shops that line the streets of South Korea.
Recently, I noticed the closure of a cafe owned by a friend and former associate of Wart’s here in Gimhae. I had planned to get a photo of it and even do one of these “RWR’s” for it because of its personal connection, as well as its Konglish-y name, (which I won’t mention here. Why kick the coffee cup when it’s empty?). Now, in place of yet another coffee shop, will be yet another barbecue restaurant (it seems). Hopefully, Wart’s friend did not lose a lot of money from the business venture. But, I have to imagine at least something was lost.
I thought about this when I popped into L’Revelry after work today.
On a street corner busy mostly with cars passing through, this shop specializes in coffee and cup cakes, which seem to be gaining momentum these days.
Walking inside after riding my bicycle in the humid, late-Korean-spring air, my sweaty, disgusting mass was greeted by a sweltering, stagnant cafe, as the lone person inside (perhaps the owner, I am not sure) did not have the air conditioner on for obviously awhile.
I was also met with… silence. No music played and it reminded me just how a part of our lives ambient sounds have become. It felt very strange to walk into a room and not hear any kind of music, be it K-Pop or smooth jazz, coming from a speaker off-stage.
After ordering my coffee, the man rectified both the air and sound issues. 3,500 won later, I was given a cup of Americano, with a requested two-shots (which I have recently realized is a must, since most Americanos here taste like coffee flavored water, and the cafe’s never seem to charge extra for the extra coffee).
I decided to also order a cupcake, since it is supposed to be this place’s specialty. Another 3,500 won later, a “Tiramisu” flavored treat came to my table.
It was fine. Good, even. Very sweet on its own, it paired well with the coffee, which tasted like it had come from quality beans. But, it definitely was not fresh. And for the price, I really hoped for a lot more than what I got.
About 20 minutes after I sat down, another couple walked in. The woman ordered an Iced Americano and sat down. I watched as the man behind the counter got to work making her drink, and thought about whether or not he was the owner, or just some underpaid schmuck trying to scrape by. Or both.
The number of coffee shops in South Korea is absurd. It’s unsustainable. It’s beyond overboard. A coffee shop closes. Despite this, two take its place. This has not appeared to slow down in the three continuous years I’ve called Korea home. I cannot help but wonder when or if these young business owners will decide that this location, or this business venture might not work and that it might be wise to consider other options. I shake my head.
But, it’s easy to pass judgement when there are no consequences. It’s interesting and fun for me to chronicle the absurdity, but it’s important to remember that behind the absurdity are people who are hoping more than one couple and a sweaty foreigner come into their coffee shop today.