Korean Coffee vs American Coffee: South Korea Coffee Culture

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A teapot is being poured into a cup of tea, comparing Korean coffee to American coffee.
Table of Contents
A teapot is being poured into a cup of tea, comparing Korean coffee to American coffee.

Key Takeaways:

  • South Korea has one of the highest densities of coffee shops per capita, with Seoul being known for its vibrant coffee culture.
  • The most popular coffee choice in Korea is the Iced Americano, even during winter months.
  • Korean cafes are not just places to grab a quick cup of coffee, but also serve as spaces for socializing, work, and relaxation. They often have unique interior designs and offer a variety of seating options compared to American cafes.
  • Korean cafes prioritize exceptional customer service and go above and beyond to create a welcoming atmosphere for visitors.

Differences Between Korean Coffee vs American Coffee Culture

Korean coffee culture emphasizes convenience and unique flavor combinations, with a focus on trendy cafes and specialty drinks. American coffee culture tends to prioritize convenience as well, but also values large chain coffee shops and traditional drip or espresso-based beverages.

Ever wondered how coffee culture in South Korea differs from American coffee habits? Did you know that Seoul, the capital of Korea, holds the record for the highest density of coffee shops worldwide? This post gives a fascinating deep-dive comparison into Korean and American coffee cultures.

Let’s explore this journey together!

Differences in Coffee Drinks

The differences in coffee drinks between South Korea and America are notable. South Koreans favor the simple Iced Americano regardless of the weather, a stark contrast to American preferences where lattescappuccinos, and sweetened iced coffees often dominate the market. Below is an HTML table highlighting these disparities.

Coffee Drinks in KoreaCoffee Drinks in USA
Iced AmericanoLatte
Café LatteCappuccino
Café MochaIced Coffee (often sweetened)
Sweet Potato Latte (seasonal)Pumpkin Spice Latte (seasonal)

The table illuminates the cross-cultural differences in coffee drink preferences. Korea’s coffee scene is characterized by a preference for simplicity and drinks that are less sweet, while American coffee culture embraces variety and a penchant for sweetness.

Difference in Cafes & Restaurants

Cafes and restaurants in South Korea differ from their American counterparts in several ways. Korean cafes are not just places to grab a quick coffee; they serve as versatile spaces for various activities such as work, study, or socializing.

Unlike the primarily “grab-and-go” culture of American cafes, Korean cafes provide comfortable seating options and encourage customers to spend time inside. Korean cafes often have unique interior designs and play different types of music compared to cafes in the US. The friendly customer service at Korean cafes is another notable difference, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for visitors.

As for restaurants, they also have distinct characteristics such as varied opening hours that accommodate late-night dining preferences of Koreans. American restaurants generally operate within set hours throughout the day.

Both cafe and restaurant cultures in South Korea offer a more immersive experience than their American counterparts by prioritizing ambiance and utility alongside good food and beverages.

Role of Staff

Korean cafes are well known for their exceptional customer service, and the staff creates a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. From friendly greetings to attentive service, Korean cafe staff prioritize making each customer feel valued and taken care of.

They often go above and beyond to ensure that customers have an enjoyable experience by providing personalized recommendations based on individual tastes or offering complimentary treats with their coffee orders.

This high level of customer service is ingrained in Korean culture, where hospitality is highly regarded, making the role of staff in Korean cafes an integral part of the overall coffee culture experience.

Price of Coffee in Korea

Coffee prices in Korea can vary depending on the type of coffee and the establishment. On average, a cup of coffee in Korea can range from 3,000 to 7,500 Korean Won (approximately $2.50 to $6.30 USD).

Luxury or specialty coffees may be more expensive and cost up to 10,000 Korean Won (around $8.40 USD) or even higher. While these prices might seem relatively high compared to other countries, coffee is considered a popular and necessary beverage in Korean culture, making it worth the price for many Koreans.

Coffee Culture in South Korea

Korea has a unique coffee culture, with a rich history and a contemporary scene that showcases the love for coffee in the country.

History of Coffee in Korea

Korea’s love affair with coffee began during the mid-19th century when King Gojong first tasted it from Russian diplomats. Known for its heat-stimulating effects, coffee quickly gained popularity among Korean nobles and scholars who stayed up late studying Confucian classics.

By the 1920s and 1930s, modern-style cafes found their way to Seoul in areas now known as Myeongdong and Jongno – becoming hotspots for socializing intellectuals. It wasn’t until the Korean War that coffee became a more routine drink due to American soldiers introducing instant coffee mixes.

This convenience-driven trend remained popular even in recent decades because of busy lifestyles, making South Korea one of Nescafe’s largest markets worldwide. Today, you’ll find Seoul proudly owning the title of having the world’s highest density of coffee shops per capita.

Whether summer or winter, Iced Americanos capture hearts with their bitter yet refreshing taste – proving how deeply embedded is this drink in contemporary Korean life.

Contemporary Korean Coffee Culture

Contemporary Korean coffee culture is vibrant and thriving, with cafes playing a central role in the daily lives of Koreans. Coffee has become more than just a beverage; it is now an integral part of socializing, work life, and relaxation.

Cafes in South Korea are not only places to grab a quick cup of coffee but also serve as spaces for people to gather, study, work remotely or simply unwind. The popularity of coffee shops has led to a diverse range of them catering to different preferences – from trendy specialty cafes serving artisanal brews to themed cafes offering unique experiences.

With Seoul boasting one of the highest densities of coffee shops globally, it’s safe to say that coffee has firmly embedded itself into contemporary Korean culture.

Types of Cafes in Korea

  • There are various types of cafes in Korea catering to different preferences and interests.
  • Traditional Korean tea houses, known as “jeontong chatjip,” offer a unique cultural experience with traditional teas and snacks.
  • Themed cafes are popular in Korea, with cafes dedicated to topics such as cats, dogs, board games, books, and even Hello Kitty.
  • Dessert cafes focus on sweet treats like bingsu (shaved ice), pastries, and cakes.
  • Specialty coffee shops are gaining popularity in Korea, focusing on high-quality beans and expertly brewed coffee.
  • Instagram – worthy cafes with aesthetically pleasing interior designs and photogenic food and beverages are also prevalent in Korea.

Popularity of Coffee in Korea

Coffee has experienced a surge in popularity in South Korea, becoming an integral part of their culture. The most popular coffee choice among Koreans is the Iced Americano, even during the chilly winter months.

Despite its association with warmer weather in other countries, this refreshing drink remains a favorite throughout the year. Instant coffee mixes have gained immense popularity due to their convenience and ease of preparation.

Brewed coffee is also seen as a luxury and preferred by those who value a more refined and indulgent experience. With around 17,000 cafes in Seoul alone, it’s evident that coffee holds great importance in Korean society.

Going to Cafes and Restaurants in South Korea Vs. USA

Cafes and restaurants in South Korea have unique interior designs, play different types of music, and offer a variety of seating options compared to those in the United States.


Korean coffee culture emphasizes socializing and spending time with friends and coworkers in cafes. Unlike in the United States, where cafes are primarily visited for quick coffee breaks or business meetings, Korean cafes serve as communal spaces for people to gather and connect.

Cafes in Korea often have spacious seating arrangements and a relaxed atmosphere, allowing customers to comfortably chat and enjoy their time together. It is not uncommon for Koreans to spend hours socializing in cafes, making it an integral part of their daily routine.

Home Culture

In South Korea, cafes are not just a place to grab a quick coffee on the go, but they also serve as an extension of people’s homes. Koreans have a strong sense of community and enjoy spending time with friends and loved ones in cozy environments.

Cafes in Korea are designed to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere that resembles someone’s home. The interior design often features comfortable seating arrangements, soft lighting, and even bookshelves filled with novels for customers to enjoy while sipping their coffee.

Korean cafes are important in people’s everyday lives by providing spaces for relaxation, work or study, making them an integral part of the country’s vibrant coffee culture.

Opening Hours

In South Korea, cafes and restaurants have different opening hours compared to the United States. Unlike in America, where coffee shops tend to open early in the morning and close relatively early in the evening, Korean cafes often operate late into the night.

Many cafes in Korea are 24/7 establishments, catering to customers who want to enjoy a cup of coffee or study into the wee hours of the morning. This is due to the fact that Korea has a vibrant nightlife culture and people often socialize or work late into the night.

So if you find yourself needing a caffeine fix at odd hours in Korea, chances are you’ll be able to find a cafe that’s still open.


Korean cafes often have a unique atmosphere with different types of music playing compared to American cafes. In Korea, you can expect to hear a wide variety of genres, from K-pop and hip-hop to jazz and classical music.

The choice of music adds to the overall ambiance and experience in a Korean cafe, creating a vibrant and lively atmosphere for coffee lovers. Music helps set the mood and enhances the enjoyment of your coffee time in these trendy Korean cafes.

So if you’re looking for a change of pace in terms of music while enjoying your cup of joe, exploring the coffee scene in South Korea is definitely worth considering!

Interior Design

Korean cafes often have unique and eye-catching interior designs that set them apart from American coffee shops. From cozy and rustic themes to modern and minimalist aesthetics, the interior design of Korean cafes reflects the creativity and attention to detail that Koreans value in their coffee experiences.

Whether it’s a vintage-inspired cafe adorned with antique furniture or a sleek and futuristic space with contemporary artwork, the interior design adds an extra layer of charm to the coffee-drinking experience in Korea.


Korean cafes not only serve as a place to enjoy coffee but also as a unique theme experience. Unlike American cafes which focus mainly on the quality and taste of coffee, Korean cafes often have specific themes that create a distinctive ambiance for customers.

These themes can range from cute and whimsical to elegant and sophisticated, catering to various interests and preferences. From flower-themed cafes adorned with beautiful arrangements to animal-themed cafes where customers can interact with furry friends, the theme of Korean cafes adds an extra element of enjoyment beyond just drinking coffee.

This attention to detail in creating immersive environments is one of the reasons why the cafe culture in Korea is so popular and well-loved by locals and tourists alike.

Role of Staff

The role of staff in Korean coffee culture is highly regarded and creates a welcoming atmosphere. Korean cafes are known for their exceptional customer service, with staff members often going above and beyond to provide a positive experience for customers.

They are attentive, polite, and efficient, ensuring that orders are taken promptly and accurately. The friendly nature of the staff creates a comfortable environment for customers to relax and enjoy their coffee.

This emphasis on excellent customer service adds to the overall enjoyment of visiting cafes in Korea.


Korean cafes and American coffee shops also differ in their seating arrangements. In Korea, it is common to see a mix of both traditional low tables with floor cushions and modern chairs and tables.

This allows customers to choose the seating arrangement that suits their preference or mood. American coffee shops predominantly have standard tables and chairs for customers to sit comfortably while enjoying their beverages.

The seating options in Korean cafes reflect the country’s emphasis on creating a cozy and relaxed atmosphere where people can feel at home while sipping their coffee.

Silverware, glasses, etc.

Utensils and silverware, such as spoons and forks, are typically provided at cafes and restaurants in both Korean and American coffee cultures. In American coffee culture, glasses are commonly used for serving iced coffee or cold brews.

In Korean coffee culture, glasses are also used for serving drinks like iced Americano or iced lattes. In Korea, it is common to see plastic cups being used for takeaway drinks or disposable paper cups for hot beverages.

In America, ceramic mugs are often used for both dine-in and takeaway drinks. Some specialty cafes in both countries may use unique glassware or mugs with their own branding or design. The use of silverware and glasses may vary slightly between Korean and American coffee cultures but ultimately serve the same purpose of enjoying a cup of coffee.


Comparing the coffee cultures of Korea and America reveals interesting differences in coffee drinks, cafes, and dining culture. Korean coffee culture is deeply rooted in history and has evolved into a vibrant scene with unique types of cafes.

The popularity of Iced Americano in Korea showcases their love for strong flavors. Exploring the diverse coffee cultures of different countries can provide valuable insights into how coffee is enjoyed and appreciated around the world.


What is the history of coffee in Korea?

Coffee was first introduced to Korea in the late 19th century during the reign of King Gojong. The drink gained popularity over time and became more widespread in the 20th century with the influx of Western culture.

What types of coffee drinks are popular in Korea?

In Korea, various types of coffee drinks are popular, including lattes, espressos, and traditional Korean coffee such as “dalgona” coffee. Koreans also enjoy iced coffee, frappuccinos, and other specialty coffee beverages.

Is instant coffee very popular in Korea?

Yes, instant coffee is very popular in Korea. It is convenient and widely consumed by Koreans both at home and in the workplace.

What are some famous coffee brands in Korea?

Some famous coffee brands in Korea include Starbucks, Maxim, and Dunkin’ Donuts. These brands have a significant presence in the Korean coffee market.

How many cups of coffee do Koreans drink on average?

Koreans are growing consumers of coffee, and on average, they drink several cups of coffee per day.

How do Koreans make instant coffee?

Koreans typically make instant coffee by mixing the coffee powder with hot water. They often add sugar or milk to suit their taste preferences.

Do coffee vending machines exist in Korea?

Yes, coffee vending machines are prevalent in Korea. They offer a quick and convenient way to purchase coffee on the go.

What role do coffee shops serve in Korean Coffee Culture?

Coffee shops in Korea play a significant role in the coffee culture. They serve as social spaces where friends meet, couples go on dates, and individuals relax while enjoying a cup of coffee.

About the Author:
Emily Thompson is an enthusiastic guide in the world of coffee, sharing her expertise in flavors, brewing techniques, and cultural significance. Her journey, fueled by a deep love for coffee, involves educating coffee enthusiasts of all levels to enhance their coffee experiences. Emily's content spans from brewing guides to the cultural importance of coffee, emphasizing ethical sourcing and sustainability.