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Korean coffee scene in my own words. Part I

I’ve been always curious about the coffee scene in Korea, since starting and working with coffee, I never had the opportunity to visit as a Barista. One way for me to learn about the culture was through Aaron’s website and through WBC footages, where Korea did well over the past 3 years.

Though my reason visiting this time isn’t about coffee, I’ve tried to make most out of time whilst I’m here. Thankfully, many people were willing to help me out, taking me to coffee shop touring, and also running around myself; trying to analyse and figure out the difference, similarities and things I can learn from.

(This post is strictly my oppionion, based on what I’ve seen, hear and taste so far)

One thing that surprised me was that, Korean people don’t drink coffee in the morning, coffee shops are quite empty until 3pm and gets mega busy from 4pm, back in London, alot of coffees are made in the morning, many people drink coffee to wake up, that seems not to be the case in here. In Seoul, coffee is something you drink when you meet people or after a meal.

In addition, things I’ve found weird is that, for an average lunch/dinner you are expected to pay £3 in Seoul, but price of a medium latte can vary between £3~3.5

In Seoul, in most cases, coffees are more expensive than food, yet, people are filling up the spaces and they are full till late at night.

There are so much coffee shops in Korea, I was gob smacked by the sheer number alone. In London, Oxford street, I would guess that there would be no more than 15 coffee shops or less; in Seoul, street similar size as Oxford street, 34 exist, majority of them are chains.

Plethora of independent shops exist, much more than London, one distinctive common similarities between these shops exist. Around 70% roast their own, on site. This seems appealing and in some angle very cool, roasting your own coffee, making your own blend. The problem is that, over 80% of these people learnt roasting by reading books, and had no coffee related back ground, I know this because their inexperience and lack of knowledge manifested in the cup massively.

Also, they place the roaster in the shop fronts, next to the windows. Korea is very humid, also temperature fluctuates massively throughout the day, with these condition, roaster should be kept down stairs or in a place where temperatures are more stable, these guys are placing roaster as part of a design, not for any other reason, it was pretty disappointing to see them selling the product for that ridiculous price to the customers.

Korean people are very ‘space’ orientated, we like to have big personal space, thus the design of the cafe changes. Cafe’s are noticeably bigger, with seat and table, nice lay out of the bar, good use of colour, light wood, many accessories, wi-fi and with air conditioner students take these space, tucked away in the corner, drinking coffee and studying or reading a book. In my oppinion, in London, the culture of drinking coffee is much more of; drink promptly or take away, it was quite surprising for me to see that, it is other way round in Seoul.

I’ve also noticed the highlight and over exaggeration of Cup of Excellence coffees around cafes in Seoul. I do agree that Cup of Excellence coffees are delicious, and they are pricey for a reason, as it shows the fact that the farmer have invested tremendous amount of time and effort to produce what he/she have harvested. But I disagree at the fact that Cup of Excellence coffees are ‘God’s coffee’ as described by a Cafe in Seoul, and also the fact that they can charge their customer twice the price when it is poorly roasted, and also poorly extracted. It makes me angry when I see this happening, the farmers have put all the effort and the roasters and baristas ruin it at the end and still charge customers £6~8 pounds per cup. I would be happy to pay the above price if that quality can be proven in the cup, but so far I’ve been disappointed with COE coffees in Korea, there should be more emphasis on microlot coffees, there are amazing microlot coffees being produced and they are not COE, they are cheaper than COE, which means you don’t have to bend your back to buy the green beans; and customers don’t have to feel uncomfortable paying ridiculous price.

This shows the Auction result of Cup of Excellence Costa Rica 2011, top 3 lots are bought from Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Not every people are like that in Korea, there are roasters and baristas trying to raise the bar to a higher standard. For example the coffees I’ve tasted in Coffee Libre in Seoul is so far, the best coffee I’ve tasted, they try to Direct trade with farmers, roast to a higher standard and most importantly, listening to customers and trying to match their needs. La caffe also, the owner, Mr Bang, has huge interests in machine tuning and machine maintenance, I’ve seen some of his amazing works and was gob smacked.

I’m hoping that I find more people like them in Korea, though I havn’t finished my time in Korea, I hope that when I write the post for Part II, I can write more positive things and write about things I’ve learnt.

                    (Part II coming soon)

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Nose temperature.

One of many things I love about coffee is the fact that, the flavors of coffee that can be discerned changes as it cools. So when we are served a pour over or a syphon, we wait until its quite cool. However, recently I’ve been wondering about our nose, I find the nose really interesting, because as nose contributes significant amount to what we taste; most of the time, what we smell will taste like it. For example when we drink a cup of coffee with our nose blocked, all we can feel in our mouth is the body of the coffee, not the flavor, so no nose, no taste.

So we know that coffee tastes better when its cool, but then when can we smell coffee better?

I decided to have an experiment- to see the difference when our nose is at different temperature, and how it affects how we smell things.

This is what I did:

1. Brew syphon of Costa Rican Santa Lucia from Square Mile, and separate them into 2 tumbler glass( The reason I chose the tumbler glass is because I was able to discern more flavors of coffee, more than latte glass or porcelain cups.)


2. Just as they are decanted into 2 glasses, I go out side and start to inhale the cold air (It was 3 degrees celcius) for 1 minute so the temperature of the nose gets lower.


3. I come back in and straight away, swirl and smell one of the tumbler glass, then taste.

4. Then drink a glass of sparkling water, inhale the warm air indside(set for 27 degrees celcisus) for another minute.

5. Quickly smell the remaining tumbler and taste.

Because the experiment seemed not fair, in a sense that; I had to leave another tumbler 1 minute longer, I repeated the experiment but then did it other way round (Inhaling warm air first then the cold one).

The result was quite surprising, for me anyway,that when my nose temperature was lower, the aroma was much more defined and vivid than the aroma I could discern when my nose was warmer. I felt that, when I was inhaling at warmer condition, aroma felt muddy and as if something have diluted the aroma.

This started to make me think how roasters roast beans in their roastry, if they have a set temperature when they roast or cup the coffee, as one might roast the coffee and cup them in a quite humid, warm environment, they might not pick up the aroma they sought after.

Furthermore, how this affects baristas who lives in hot and humid countries, how their nose is adapted to smell in those conditions, and if they will notice the difference when smelling between summer and winter- if their country have high temp fluctuation at summer and winter.

Feedback would be nice to see if my nose was completely wrong and I should go and check in the hospital, or if any of you guys experienced same things as me!

My educated guess will be that, humdity or warmer air contains less oxygen but more particles( like dust) which blocks the receptors in the nose, which distrups our smell.

Who nose :) ?

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From Korea, with love.

As a Barista, i think communication is a vital skill. Not only between customers but with other Baristas. This can also be translated to networking, knowing other Baristas will lets you experience and learn other areas unexplored by ones self.

The reason i have mentioned this is because, i myself have gained many benifits from networking with other Baristas in London and around the world.

Recently, i had the chance to trade coffee(Square mile for Jong Hoon’s coffee)  with my other fellow Korean Barista: Jong Hoon Lee. Many of you might already know him. He was one of  finalist in WBC 2009, he has proven to the world of his talents and recently has decided to open a espresso bar in Seoul, Korea.

Jong Hoon roasts his own beans, making his own blend for espresso and cappucino, he does not hold back on the components used in his blends, he uses cup of excellence coffees as his components which is rare in Korea. Korean cafes tend to go for average quality beans to produce one of many mediocre blends.

Today at work( Taylor st Baristas, Bank site) , i dialled in the espresso blend Jong hoon sent over which arrived 2 days ago. The components of the blend are just below:

40% Brazil Fazenda Passagem Funda COE 2009 # 7

Variety: Catuai

Process: Pulped natural

50% Guatemala Alfonso Anzueto - Isnul COE 2009 # 13

Variety: Pacamara

Process: Sun and dryer

10% Kenya AA Peaberry Mchana Estate

Variety: Bourbon

Process: Fully washed and sun dried

As you can see it consists of 3 different types of beans. Honestly i thought it would be the same old case where, Brazilians giving body and sweetness, Guatemalans with balanced sweet acidity and Kenyan for the extra fruit and juciness. I was wrong( always the case) big time, this espresso blend was like no other. It was explosive in the mouth, gentle on the nose and so smooth and juicy on the pallates. I could taste and feel how much time and effort Jong hoon had put in.  I was able to  taste the love.

The blend was dialled in using a Synesso Hydra, this is what i did:

Dose: 20~21g

Temp: 95 C

Pre-infusion: Yes, 5 sec

Extraction time: 23 sec excluding P.I

Brew weight: 30g

Extraction yield: 66%

Aroma notes: Lemon tea with honey

Taste notes: Pleasent bright acidity upfront, notes of blood orange and red berries, hint of white grapes. Gives way to muscovado sugars and sweet chocolate finish, hint of 'Terry's chocolate orange' aftertaste.

Body and mouth feel: Extreamly juicy and light  body with almost silky, refreshing mouthfeel

It tasted brilliantly, everyone liked it, every single person told me how much they have enjoyed it. Also i decided that,all the money from selling espresso from this blend was going towards the charity 'Coffee kids'. It was pleasing to see people enjoying the coffee and doing good deeds towards the coffee industry.

I’m sure i’m not the only one networking with other Baristas oversea, i just wanted to tell you guys the benifit of having a blend from another country, sure UK has excellent choice of beans to chose from, but as a Barista, we should teach our customers about coffees outside of UK and how it differs between them, and learn how we can improve what we already have.

It was an honor having Jong Hoon’s blend in the hopper today, and i’m sure it won’t be the last. I also think Jong Hoon should get lots of credit for what he does in the Korean specialty coffee industry, he has improved the quality of coffee in Korea vastly, i believe. I’m sure his start on improving the quality, rather than quantity will act as a catalyst among the specialty coffee industry, and will continue further more.

Well done Barista Jong Hoon Lee, well done Republic of coffee.

Once again Jong Hoon, thank you for the lovely coffees from Korea, with love.

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The past 6 month of my Barista life


I was ordinary. I was just another countless kid from far east Asia, from Korea to be exact, dreaming of success on foreign soil. A victim you could say, of a culture where it demanded you to study study study and have a nose bleed, become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer and make your parents happy; so they can talk about you to their freinds how successful i am.

For the past 12 Years i pursued something where, i couldn’t confidently say ‘I can do this all my life’. Until i came across coffee. Strictly it’s my 6th month of becoming a serious Barista, 6th month from where, i decided coffee will become part of my life and i will dedicate my time to coffee all my life. 

It has been a roller coaster ride (for me anyway) for the past 6 month, i have seen and experienced many things and most importantly met great people along the way and learnt incredible amounts of knowledge from these people.

I decided to write this post to take a step back; and see how far i came since 6 month ago, and how little i came until the point where i want to be. I just wanted to highlight the moments and people i have met, which changed the course of my Barista life and thank them for moulding me into what i am right now.

London School of Coffee, The espresso room and  Ben Townsend

At late March this year, i decided to take the VRQ Barista skill course in LSC. At that time i had no experience of using a tamper, did not know where coffee originated from and i thought you can extract coffee upto 35 sec. With my little skill on latte art, thats where i met Ben Townsend, i didn’t know anything about Ben, his backgrounds, his shop, practically everything. Ben amazed me every single day of that short 3 days course, i was dazed to be hit with so much interesting, yet challenging information about coffee, Ben changed me within 3 days of that course, i still remember when i had to serve Ben series of drinks and how nervous i was.

Luckily i passed both practical and theory exams and gained a merit, and i really wanted to learn more and more about coffee and asked Ben for a job, i still remember how desperate i was. I thought obviously, Ben will say no, he had the right to as i was so inexperienced, but Ben told me to come to his shop 2weeks later, and started my work at The espresso room.

I learnt so much when i worked with Ben at the shop, all my foundation was built up from which Ben has taught me, such as ‘Time to lean,time to clean’,  Ben isn’t a ordinary employer, he is a teacher and a freind, he made me settle quickly in a foreign environment, made my mind open up more and every moment was a joy.

If it wasn’t for Ben, i wouldn’t  be here writing this right now, it has been some time last time i worked for Ben, i always seem to miss him when i have the chance to see him, i miss The espresso room and i should make a visit real soon and work there once in a while. I have said this to Ben before but i will say it again, I love you Ben, you are a great inspiration!

Taylor St Baristas, Andrew, Nick and Laura Tolley

I remember meeting this bloke with a bike helmet and a jacket in The espresso room. Ben told me to make a shot of espresso for this guy and Ben introduced me to him, telling me he is one the Tolley’s who owns Taylor st Baristas, it was Nick.

I thought that would be it,  but 1 month later i got a call from Ben in the afternoon telling me to call Laura of Taylor st and meet her for a interview, i did that and few hours later i was at the Bank site, it was a struggle to find but i made it. I thought it would be an intense 30 min interview talking about coffee and myself, i remember taking a printed material about coffee and reading it until just i got into the shop and trying to memorise them. But it wasn’t a interview i thought of, there wasn’t any geeky questions about machines and origin of coffee, me and Laura just sat down and had a flat white, i remember telling Laura ‘ I just want to learn more and become better’.

After a nice relaxing chat, i was introduced to the staff, it was a complete different enviornment to The espresso room, the shop was big and very very busy, it was a new challenge for me, i realised 2 things. First it is going to be physically demanding to keep up with masses of order, second i had to maintain the quality of the coffee in a busy environment. With new challenge set, i thought i would do well honestly, but things were much different. I couldn’t keep up with the orders and i was so exhausted, in addition, i was also slightly intimidated as i was the only person with black hair, brown eyes and absence of OZ accent,and another great shock was that my knowledge on coffee was still paper thin, it fustrated me and motivated me to research more about coffee, study it and share things i learn with other people.

I didn’t meet Andrew until much later on after i started to work at Taylor st, i remember asking him if one of his brother taught at London school of Coffee, when it was actually Andrew who did. every time i worked with Andrew, he taught me great deals on coffee and skills. I found that Andrew and Ben had a similarity, they were both perfectionists. I learnt alot from Andrew just by watching him work, he is a great mentor, Andrew constantly feeds me with knowledge and news about coffee, he challenges the Baristas and his geekiness is praised among the staff, so much so that it is my mission to talk about coffee the most geekiest way with Andrew for atleast 30 minutes.

Without the help of Laura, Nick and Andrew, i would have given up after few days of work, i wouldn’t have fit in to Taylor St if the staff wasn’t welcoming and caring.

I feel really lucky to have met great people like Ben, Laura, Nick and Andrew in short space of time, and working for them is always a pleasure. This 6 month went past in a flash, i’m looking forward to the road ahead of me, the challenges i will face and people i will meet and learn from.

I thank everyone who has made me into a Barista i am right now. 

It is a long post…and boring one also.. i promise next time, i will write a post where you guys can read at least half of it before you fall alseep.

p.s sorry if i have mis spelt any word with crap punctuation, i should go back to studying english.