Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Six or seven years ago, I used to complain about the situation of coffee shops in Korea.  Jinju didn't have too many proper coffee shops.  There were a few espresso bars that served the usual espresso drink without much love.  Americanos came with sugar syrup in them.  Brewed coffee couldn't be found anywhere except for McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts.  I always had to fight with the workers at Dunkin donuts, they had to be told not to add sugar to the coffee.  They also had to be told not to water it down.   There was also a period when McDonalds had some really great coffee for 1000 won.  It was a nice brewed coffee that had a balance of acid and bitterness.  That coffee lasted for only a few months.  Sometime in 2006 they changed to the Lavazza pod coffee that wasn't good at all.

I used to complain all of the time about the substandard coffee.   I compared it to the places back home where they roasted their own beans.   I compared it to my favorite college hangout the rocketstar cafe, a place that brewed great coffee, had a pool table, a pacman machine, a stained glass window that some local dude made, live bands, and to top it all off, local artist would hang their work on the walls for a few weeks.   That place was awesome.  It was owned by this one dude who was really into mopeds and coffee.  He used to work at another place that was run cooperative style called "The Space."  The Space got shut down because it had live music that pissed off a local urology clinic.  And of course you can't forget Kalamazoo's "Water Street Coffee Joint."  This was Kalamazoo's original hoity toity coffee place.  Located across the street from "Bells Brewery," "Waterstreet," eventually started roasting their own coffee and selling their brand in grocery stores.   Water street has been very successful in keeping Starbucks at bay.

Oh how I would bitch and moan about how terrible the coffee was. 

But these days coffee in Jinju has swung the opposite direction.  Around 2008 people really started to give a shit about coffee.   A place called the coffee flower opened.  Coffee Flower is a place where they roast their own beans.   My wife was interested in the place because they had a panini press.  We went there and ordered some coffee and paninis on time.  The coffee was okay, but we got a ham, cheese, strawberry, and kiwi panini.   Another place called August square opened.  They roast their own coffee too.  They had a prime spot in front of Gyeongsang University, but they moved over by MBCine.

These days in Jinju, coffee shops can be seen everywhere.  There are at least 4 barista training academies.  There is even a place that councils people on how to open a coffee shop.  I really don't think that the market can bear much more coffee.   I've been to a few places that somewhat angered me by how pretentious the lead barista has been.  Last Thursday I visited a coffee shop that had gotten some pretty high praise on the local facebook group.  

This place, the "Lee Dong Woo," coffee shop is for people who are absolutely serious about wanting to be seen as a coffee intellectual.  This is something that I have been absolutely guilty of in the past.  I wrote an 18 page research paper in college about the history of globalization and coffee.  I used to drink coffee from each country and continent and remark on the strengths and weaknesses of the brews.  Lee Dong Woo took it a step farther. 

I took a special trip to visit this place.  I took a 20 minute bus ride.  I walked for about ten minutes from the bus stop, and when I ordered a drip coffee to go I was told that I can't have one because the paper cup hurt the flavor or the coffee.  Eventually I convinced them that I was in a hurry, and had no time to sit thoughtfully and contemplate the unique flavor profile of my Guatemala Antigua.  I cared little that hints of apricot and black pepper could be detected in the aroma.  I took an hour out of my day to come and give them some money, the least they could do was pour some goddam hot water over some coffee grounds into a cup. 

At the end of that experience I found that the coffee was pretty good.  I don't know if I would go out of my way for it again, but the caffeine buzz I got off of it was pretty unique.   

I've had similar experiences other places as well.   Near by my house in Hadaedong, there is a place called the Advertist.  The head barista here has some certificates on the wall about him winning barista awards up in Seoul.  The interior of the place is nice.  There is a mural painting of some wings on the wall that you can get your picture taken in front of so that you can look like an angel.  But some aspects of the interior look a little cluttered.  A samurai action figure sits on top of a piano holds empty wine bottles. The espresso coffees are pretty good, while the prices are a little high. 

I went there one time last March to have some hand drip coffee.  The guy brought out some whole beans and a hand grinder.  I had to grind the beans myself. When it came time to make the coffee, I was forbidden to simply pour the water over the grounds...I had to do the little hand drip dance where you have to pour the water in a circle and lightly moisten the coffee.   Again, I don't like having to follow nit picky rules just to get a cup of coffee.

I also don't like all of the pretentiousness that goes into everything.  I know that coffee is great, and I know that it tastes different from different places, I just don't like it when people have to get all weird about things.  Jinju had some similar creepiness when it came to wine.  Back when I first got here, wine was hard to find.  Now it is quite easy and cheap to get.  Back in the day, I would get my wine fix from a local bar that served Franzia.  You know, box wine.  One day this Canadian dude walked in and ordered a glass of the stuff.  He saw the bartender walk over to the box and pour it into his glass, he new that that he wasn't getting any kind of high end stuff, but the dude still insisted on sticking his nose down the glass and then doing the whole wine guy slurp to find out how many "tannins," were in it.   This was completely unnecessary.  I really hoped for his sake that he got some kind of satisfaction out of being such a jackass.  My feeling towards wine people is that they are just alcoholics who like to say that everything tastes like black currents and chocolate.  But the same is true for pretentious coffee people as well.  You just have to say that something tastes like a fruit that nobody has ever tried, and people will think you know what you are talking about. 

A:  What do you think of this Ethiopian Sidamo? 
B:  Well it is obvious that the roaster was able to essentialize the choke cherry blossom arroma and marry it to the tart creamyness of ... of .. I want say paw paw, but then there is also that sweet service berry texture.
A: That is exactly what I was thinking.
B: I'm glad I found someone like you that I can share my coffee with.  I was just thinking about doing a piece for "Coffee and Edible Midwest Monthly."
A: Really that's amazing.  I loved their dandelion leaf salad and organic Timor pea berry vinaigrette. 
B: Don't make me salivate!!!


Gavin said...

You think where you are is pretentious... I believe strongly in good coffee, and go out of my way to get it, and try to learn where it comes from, how it is roasted, etc. but, I have yet to taste the notes of caramel and loganberries with lingering lemon, sage and fingerling potato afternotes when I drink.

3gyupsal said...

Where you live, a place would go out of business if it served $6 cups of drip coffee though. Here, that is the norm. Also drip coffee at specialty places is usually prepared to order so it usally takes about ten minutes to get coffee. No pump pots, it takes forever.