Gangneung makes coffee its own asset

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Gangneung makes coffee its own asset

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I could not ask for anything more delicious than a bowl of rice mixed with spicy soybean paste and dried radish greens, complete with a glass of scorched rice water, at a diner in Jumunjin Harbor, Gangwon. But my friends from Gangneung nearby insisted that we have coffee. And I followed them through narrow alleys to a deserted field. There was Cafe Bohemian, run by one of the first-generation baristas. After having a 6,000-won ($5.37) meal, we drank 5,000-won coffee - Indian Arabica drip coffee. A local said, “Gangneung style is to pay 5,000 won for a meal and 7,000 won for coffee.”

People of Gangneung city are passionate about coffee. Their love for coffee goes beyond the famous cafe street in Anmok Beach. You can find more coffee shops than seafood restaurants. And most of these cafes roast their own beans. In Gangneung, you cannot easily boast your coffee-making skill. They are all masters in roasting, grinding, dripping, brewing and drinking.

The beans are not just roasted at cafes. Merchants, civil servants and homemakers have their own know-how to roast coffee beans in their apartment balconies or gardens to make coffee just as they like. Even monks roast beans and drink coffee instead of tea. “If Buddha were alive today, he would have drunk coffee.” People invent their own roasting devices, and there are countless classes teaching roasting and brewing.

The coffee battle began as the first-generation baristas settled in Gangneung, and mega-chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cannot compete. As hidden masters and sages present their secret skills, the city became more of a holy land of coffee than a battlefield. And outsiders began making pilgrimages there in search of a good cup of coffee. The deserted old downtown in Nammun-dong began to regain vitality, with a number of cafes and a theater opening. A municipal official said that coffee is bringing energy to the city’s economy.

I asked a local why the people of the conservative town are so fond of coffee, a foreign import. He said, “Beans may be imported, but we make unique Gangneung coffee you cannot find anywhere else in the world. Coffee is an integral part of our living culture as much as the soybean paste.” To the people of Gangneung, the various origins of coffee beans are not foreign, but enrich their coffee.

In fact, it may be unsophisticated to distinguish local from foreign in the era of globalization. No matter where it originates from, you can gain competitiveness in the global age if you can make a cultural product out of it. By truly enjoying coffee, people of Gangneung made coffee their own asset. If Koreans are inspired and excited, we can create a new culture without anyone asking for it.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny
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