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Cafe-goers' bucketlist

Gangneung, South Korea’s coffee capital

Sep 30, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Wanna come to Gangneung for a sip of tasty coffee?

For some 20 years, Gangneung has been the city of coffee for many Koreans.

Located on the other side of the country from the capital Seoul, Gangneung’s relatively remote seaside location has long been an attractive destination for Koreans looking to get away from it all.

A couple of decades ago, Terarosa and Bohemian Roasters were just small, obscure coffee shops in Gangneung. Now they are landmark cafes on the bustling Anmok Beach coffee street, the spiritual home of coffee lovers not just from Korea but from abroad.

The number of cafes in South Korea averages 14 per 10,000 people, but in the city of Gangneung, 150 km northwest of Seoul, the corresponding figure is 25.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Gangneung, in Gangwon Province, is known as the birthplace of the country’s relatively new artisan coffee culture, with local cafes serving a global variation of Arabica and specialty coffee selections.

Along the East Sea’s coastline, there are some 1,200 cafes in Gangwon Province and 45% of them are in Gangneung, where hundreds of coffee shops serve visitors seeking a tasty cup of coffee freshly brewed by trained baristas.

Gangneung’s status as the country’s coffee capital has a historical background.

The city has had a strong tea heritage since the Silla Dynasty, owing to the clean water from the nearby town of Pyeongchang, which went on to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Many writers and thinkers attracted to the region nurtured the local tea culture, which led to the later blossoming of a coffee culture, according to some local history researchers.

Others claim that the city’s love affair with coffee began after one of Korea’s first-generation baristas, Park Yi-chu, moved to Gangneung from Seoul in the early 2000s. He opened up a cafe, which inspired others to learn the art of fine coffee roasting and brewing.

Bohemian Roasters, run by the coffee master, has become a must-visit for many cafe-goers on their pilgrimage to Gangneung.

Another cafe that contributed to the rise of the city as a coffee hub was Terarosa, which opened a coffee factory there in 2002. It started as a roasting facility to supply cafes and hotels with coffee, but with increasing visitors who wanted to taste its coffee, it opened cafes as well.

In 2009, Gangneung kicked off an annual coffee festival, the first of its kind in the country, helping it earn the nicknames, “the city of coffee” and the country’s “coffee capital.”

VENDING MACHINE STREET BECOMES CAFE MECCA

Those who spent their later youth in the 1980s remember Anmok Beach as a strip lined with instant coffee vending machines. Couples would go on dates along the beach with a can of Nescafe in their hands.

Back then, Gangneung radio stations would read out letters from listeners who engaged in a kind of "which canned coffee from which vending machines tastes best" debate, helping couples choose where best to enjoy a caffeine-fueled seaside stroll. 

Fast forward a few dozen years, and the half-kilometer stretch of road on the Anmok Beach is lined with dozens of chic trendy cafes, boasting panoramic ocean views and serving high-end pour overs freshly brewed by skilled baristas.


SINAMI MYEONGJU STREET

Sick of the Anmok Beach Coffee Street crowded with avid cafe-goers every weekend? If so, Sinami Myeongju Street is the place to go.

The street, named by combining the Meyongju-dong (administrative district) and Sinami, a word from the Gangwon Province dialect meaning “slowly,” has emerged as a trendy, but relatively quiet place for coffee lovers.

On the street, you can easily spot cafe-cum-gallery BonBon Roastery, which opened in 2011. Formerly an abandoned mill built in the 1940s, the roastery retains its vintage charm within a hip, cozy ambiance where coffee and culture co-exist.

Walking around a small alley on the street will take you to Owol Coffee, renovated from an ageing Japanese-style building. 7Coffee is another popular place, transformed from a former seven-room lodging house.

A trip to the bustling coffee capital of Gangneung from Seoul has become easier and faster with the launch of the KTX bullet train services ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

It takes slightly less than a couple of hours from Seoul Station to Gangneung Station. Before the bullet train, the journey took at least half a day.

Write to Bo-Ra Kim at destinybr@hankyung.com

Edited by In-Soo Nam




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