Sunday, November 01, 2009

Korea and Ever Popular Instant Coffee

My academic focus is cultural history. Consumables are an aspect of this ongoing study. I follow Korea's coffee culture closely. This article in Chosun Ilbo shares why Instant Coffee is still so popular in Korea amid the widespread success of Starbucks and its rivals. I've added some commentary to the article below. BTW One point missed in the article was the rise of vending machines selling the instant mix, too.

Chosun Ilbo notes...
Without coffee mix, coffee would probably never have grown so popular in Korea. Coffee was first introduced to Korea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the country began to open its doors to the West. [The Russian legation is credited with offering coffee to Korean court officials]. Instant coffee was smuggled into marketplaces from U.S. military bases after the Korean War, but coffee remained an occasional treat, served when guests were invited. [Instant coffee were included in the rations issued to GIs, and, like chocolate, shared with locals]. But when Dongsuh Food launched its own instant coffee in 1970, coffee instantly became a national drink. Before then there were popular traditional beverages like sujeonggwa (fruit punch), sweet rice drink, barley tea and ginger tea, but none were so favored as a dessert drink the way coffee was.

In 1976, Dongsuh Food invented "coffee mix" -- a single-serving packet of coffee mixed with sugar and powdered milk --
for the first time in the world. Doctors warn that drinking too much of it can increase the likelihood of heart disease, but Koreans cannot seem to turn away from the convenience of coffee mix. Despite the burgeoning of fancy takeout coffee shops like Starbucks, which offer superior taste with freshly brewed coffee, instant coffee accounts for around 90 percent of all coffee consumed in Korea. [Most Korean offices have a supply of coffee mixes on hand, using the hot water from water coolers].

Emphasis is placed on speed rather than taste for instant ramen as well. Samyang Ramen was launched in 1963, the first of its kind in Korea. In 1998 the instant noodle market totaled W1 trillion, the first single item ever to reach that milestone, and in 2005 an average of 70 bags of ramen were consumed per person, the largest number for a single item in the world. [The instant ramen is a basic staple for students--cheap, fast, and convenient].

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