King Gojong first Korean to sample bitter brewIt’s been a little over a century since coffee was introduced to the Korean Peninsula. Records show that the first coffee in Korea was served to King Gojong in 1895 while he was taking refuge at the Russian Legation.
A few years later, coffee was being sold at major hotels near the port of Incheon, a central spot for trade and diplomacy.
Today, reports show that the annual consumption of coffee for an average Korean is 300 cups. Indeed over the last century, coffee has become one of the nation’s most popular drinks.
The phenomenon is in stark contrast to the past, when coffee was used by Koreans after the war as a medicine for getting rid of roundworms. The story goes that after the Korean War, the locals drank buckets of hot coffee provided as military rations. When they subsequently suffered diarrhea, the Koreans believed that it was because roundworms were being killed in their stomachs.
In the recent publication of “Gojong Visits Starbucks,” a book which chronicles the history of coffee in Korea, the authors, Kang Jun-man and Oh Du-jin, explain that the popularity of coffee was largely connected to the desire of communicating with the West and the need to rely on trade as a critical sector of the nation’s economy.
“Coffee was a tool of communication rather than a drink,” the book states. “In Korea, modernity meant Westernization, and coffee was always a symbol of Westernization. For many Koreans, everything that was associated with coffee was related to ‘mood.’”
by Park Soo-mee