There are many interesting things about living in South Korea that I have experienced in the several years I have called Busan and Gimhae my homes. Many of them are cultural. Many of them historical. One of them is a near-pathological talent for taking an already-established business model and running with it, sometimes into the ground.
But, don’t take my word for it. Here is a 2012 article from The Korea Times about the over-saturated coffee shop market (mentioning how it had gotten so bad in Seoul that the Fair Trade Commission had passed a law prohibiting new coffee shops from opening within 500 feet of an existing one), as well as a 2013 piece from Busan Haps, which highlights several recommended coffee shops in Korea’s second largest city (sadly, I can report several of these are already closed as of 2015).
But, this page, “All the Coffee in Korea,” is not for criticizing the rationale behind opening so many coffee shops in such a small country. It’s to log them all in one place. It’s to explore all the different names some of these independent places came up with. It’s to make as comprehensive a list as possible. Still, with small and big shops closing all the time, this is indeed a daunting task. Thankfully, I love coffee.
But, there’s coffee everywhere! How to choose? I have established some (arbitrary) rules for when a business gets on the list. There is no need to artificially inflate the numbers. As a commenter noted in a recent post: “I have never seen so many coffee shops in my life.”
1. If the business has coffee in its name, it goes in, sight-unseen.
2. If the business has cafe or caffe (or both!) in its name, it gets a better look at and often will go in. There are occasionally bars (called “hofs,” pronounced “hopeu” and taken from the German “hofbrauhaus”) that also are called cafes and thus are not included.
3. If the business is referred to as something else, like a “dessert cafe (a la the awkwardly-named “To the Different”),” it gets a cursory glance. If there are any prominent advertisements for coffee, it’s in. If there is a struggle to find coffee as a primary product, I’ll look further. If it’s still a struggle, I won’t include it.
4. No place will be included more than once. That means since I have already included “Gentle Coffee,” I won’t include it again if what I think is a stand-alone shop (although Korean companies both small and large have a tendency to fully-embrace a “chain store” aesthetic. Perhaps its believed to be a sign of strength and success?) gets another location somewhere else. I might reconsider revisiting a shop for a “Random Weekly Review” if something compels me (like a reader request, for instance).