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Korea's coffee industry: where does it go from here? Updated: 2014-10-13 22:02:14 KST

In the five minutes I've been walking along this street in Seoul's Gangnam district, I've passed by 20 coffee shops.

"A recent survey revealed that Koreans drink coffee more often than they eat rice in one of the clearest examples yet of Koreans' love for coffee."

Breaking it down, the average Korean adult drinks more than 12 cups of coffee a week.
That's almost 2 a day.
And coffee imports are on the rise as well.
Last year's amount would be the equivalent of nearly 300 cups per person.

Korea's coffee market is estimated to be worth more than 6.1 trillion won or 5.7 billion U.S. dollars.
The industry got a big boost when Starbucks arrived in Korea back in 1999.
Soon after, domestic brands jumped on the bandwagon, to compete against foreign franchises and they rapidly expanded their business too.

"Korea's coffee industry is one of the fastest growing in the world.
One of the reasons is because Koreans are quick to adapt to new cultures. Also, trying different foods and drinks is a very important cultural activity in our daily lives."

However, with some brands, like Caffe Bene, edging close to one-thousand stores nationwide, industry observers say the market for branded coffee shops is saturated.
Now, an increasing number of consumers are opting for something special, that's not on every corner like at this independent coffee shop.

"The coffee tastes more unique than at franchises and I feel much cozier here, that's why I come here a lot."

"In the past, people put more importance on the spatial side of coffee shops, as they looked for a good place to chat, read, or surf the Internet. However, these days they are more interested in the actual taste of the coffee they buy. That's why I think more and more coffee shops will adopt specialty coffees, like we do."

Marang Coco's CEO focuses on satisfying the individual needs of his customers.
He says that, while big franchises have the upper hand when it comes to marketing, it takes them time to develop a new menu, whereas small stores can communicate with customers and get feedback right away.
And that's how menu items like Dutch cream beer, popovers, candypop latte, --to name just a few-- have been such a hit with their customers.
It remains to be seen though, whether Korean consumers' desire for something unique and more delicious is enough to break the steady dominance of the big name players.
Kwon Soa, Arirang News.
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