It has certainly been an amazing few years to be a coffee drinker, a café aficionado, a CaféSeaSeo, in Korea. Café culture has exploded, the number of cafés has risen exponentially, and the quality of coffee keeps increasing year by year.
So for today, here’s a series of articles noting the expansion of coffee drinking in Korea, a milestone for Starbucks, a list of exemplary cafés, and a few other random things that fall under the banner of coffee. ^^
My mom saved a lot of stuff. Well, I’ve saved a lot of stuff too. Don’t we all? Lol. Among her stuff I happened to find an old magazine brochure from an exhibition about China at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center in 1984.
Well, this blog is usually devoted to chronicling the myriad and multitude of cafés in and around Seoul from the viewpoint of a Seattleite, but once in a while I gotta have my little detours into developments in Seattle, no? A few days ago in this blog I visited Seattle, Seoul, and the Washington DC area with reminiscences about the rain. And now today I will pay a quick visit to the new temple, the new shrine to coffee, built by the giant mermaid herself. It was huge news in Seattle, it made the national news, and it made headlines around the world too. It’s a new café with a really long name, and a big space to go with it. Ready? It’s the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room!
A few days ago brought a period of heavy rains to the Seattle area. So I tried to think, what would be my favorite café to go to on a rainy day? Interestingly, it wasn’t one in Seattle or Seoul. I thought back to my days about a decade ago in Washington DC, when I lived in Arlington, just across the river from the capitol city. Not too far inland, er, into Virginia, two metro stops over the Potomac River on the Orange line, was a neighborhood called Courthouse. Yeah, not the most inspiring name, but it had its charms. Including an awesome independent café right at the border between the commercial and the residential areas of the Courthouse neighborhood. This café was The Java Shack.
But no, dear readers, it’s also a lifestyle, a profession, an art, a passion, and for many others, it’s a business. In ultra-competitive, hyper-capitalistic South Korea, it’s a huge business, as the coffee boom has gone on for over a decade. And there have been whispers of a plateau to this boom… a slowdown, a changing of tastes. Talk like this strikes fear in any profit-driven capitalistic coffee-chaebol wannabe. (South) Korea is a small country of 50 million people! (Actually, that’s quite a lot of people, especially for its small territory, but next to neighboring China’s 1.4 billion….. well). The big coffee chains, of which I’ve gently poked from time to time in my reviews, they have investors, or they are investors, so they are constantly looking for the next source of income, be it a from a new coffee product, new desserts to go with it, or the new development being constructed outside Seoul. But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes these investors see bigger ₩ signs. And with a lot of zeroes, mind you, as you need 1000 South Korean Won to equal 1 US Dollar. So where to look to get a googol ₩? Well, it’s a big world we live in. It’s time to become an international coffee-chaebol conglomerate!
So about a month ago I resolved to post more often this year… but obviously that didn’t happen, or at least hasn’t yet. But! I did go home to Seattle for a little over two weeks and enjoyed the warmer weather as well as the city’s excitement over the Seattle Seahawks (American football team), who went on to win the Super Bowl (the championship game) just after I came back to Korea! I of course also got to enjoy lots of good coffee, sometimes with parents or friends and sometimes alone. Here, then, is a little collage of many of those coffees. 🙂
(Click or touch to enlarge!) Counter-clockwise from the picture with my hand in it, these are:
Today, I’m getting back to my roots. I’m writing about a Seattle café chain from the first Korean branch of another Seattle café chain. I’m sitting in a café called Evansville. “Wait!” I hear all you astute Seattleites exclaim. “Dude, there’s no Seattle café chain called ‘Evansville’.” Good point! There isn’t. But they claim to be Caffé Vita of Korea (at least according to my attempted conversation in Korean), and use their logo, beans, and imagery all around the café. There are lots of shoutouts to Seattle too, including pictures and a traditional (green and yellow 1975-1995 logo) Seattle SuperSonics cap. But a Korean friend with connections to Seattle implied that they are using the Vita name illegally. Well, maybe not illegally because it’s a different country, but certainly without permission. I’ll try to find out more before I do the full review.
But today’s post is about Tully’s Coffee! Ah yes, Tully’s, the sad and difficult story of Tully’s. Tully’s, founded in Seattle around the time that Starbucks was booming there, desperately and unabashedly wanted to be the next Starbucks. Back in the mid-90’s, actually, I remember often hearing about Starbucks and Tully’s in the same sentence. Starbucks and Tully’s were very often seen across the street from each other all around town, a deliberate attempt by Tully’s to throw the gauntlet in the competition game, and also take advantage of Starbucks’s excellent choices for café locations. But, of course, we all know what happened to Tully’s Coffee’s aspirations. Obviously, Tully’s is not ubiquitous. If you’re from Seattle, you know of their recent woes and decline, including bankruptcy and recent salvation. If you’re not from Seattle, it’s not very likely you’ve ever heard of Tully’s unless you’re from Tokyo. And if you’re from Seoul, you might have seen Tully’s here or there, but you might have forgotten about it by now as their decline affected their Korean presence too. But here they once were, and to Tully’s I went, and so, therefore, here is my review.
Believe it or not, Starbucks is actually somewhat polarizing in Seattle. It’s a hometown favorite that has spread around the world, but its huge size is in conflict with the local/independent/liberal vibe that characterizes the unofficial capital of Cascadia aka Eco-topia aka the Pacific Northwest. Starbucks is a representation of multinational capitalism that many people want to tame. But many people also recognize the good that Starbucks does in the Seattle area and throughout their supply chain. They were a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility and constantly strive to improve their environmental and social record. But there is no escaping being the largest coffee chain in the world, no matter how progressive they are or try to be. So there are always haters, even in its hometown. Especially with the matter of the Seattle SuperSonics, our former NBA basketball team. But that’s another story. Another really long story.
So what’s my take on the green siren? Well here’s the thing. I started drinking coffee because of Starbucks. Back when I was in college, working on a final group project, we were getting ready to interview someone. A fellow group member was thoughtful enough to bring a bottled coffee drink called a Frappuccino for everybody. Me, I’d never really liked the few cups of (black drip) coffee that I’d tried before. But my group member insisted on giving the Frappuccino a try. And it was mocha flavored, so chocolate helps anything go down, right? I tried a sip or two and made a face. But a few minutes later and a few sips later, and I was getting the hang of it. Hey, this Frappuccino thing is pretty good! Wouldn’t you know it, in the next few months I was an addict, buying Frappuccino 4-packs in bulk and using them to fuel my last few quarters in college. I of course eventually tried the regular in-store Frappuccino, and then other drinks, and from there, the rest is history.
So, yeah… Obviously by now I’ve “graduated” beyond Starbucks and tend to go to a lot of the other independent shops and small chains in the Seattle area. But every so often, I will return to where it all began. So no hate from me. I complement the big with the small, the chains with the independents, the bitter with the sweet. The sea with the seo…