If there’s one thing that Korea knows, it’s coffee. Walk down any street and you will find an unimaginable number of cafés lining the boulevard. The love for this beverage even goes as far as to pair something most westerners think of as being strange: pizza with coffee. However, Korea’s fascination with that delicious nectar of the gods doesn’t end there. Most restaurants and gymswill have a Tea Time (티타임) machine installed for patrons to have a quick shot of mixed coffee after a meal or work out. That’s how deep the nation’s love for the beverage goes, so it should come as no surprise that Seoul’s COEX facility recently held the Coffee Expo from April 26-29, 2012.
This wasn’t the first time the COEX saw its exhibition halls filled with coffee. Normally in the fall the facility is home to the Café Show and this event saw many of the same vendors capitalizing on a focused market needing to upgrade their machines and beans. While buyers and members of the press can get into these expos for free, consumers can also attend the public days for 10,000원. That may sound like a lot of cash, but given the vendors are providing samples of their beans or how machines work, that fee is easily recouped when one thinks about the number of coffee beverages consumed..
One of the vendors on hand was Juno Coffee. The company has been importing coffee to Korea for more than 20 years and was selected as the official coffee for the 2012 World Barista Championships. While sitting at their booth, Kim Eu-jin prepared an espresso for me with the selected blend. It was easy to see why their coffee was chosen for the honor. The coffee was smooth and full of flavor. Ms. Kim said that many of their customers are large cafés in Korea and movie theaters and they were looking forward to promoting their blends to more shops at the Expo..
One of the more interesting vendors present was BLC Brothers. This Korean company manufactures Scarlet Tears. A highly specialized water-drip coffee that is a custom blend of five different beans eliciting a malty flavor with hints of chocolate. It can only be purchased currently via their website, but they have recently expanded into China. The unique taste is captured and stored in a fancy wine bottle. But when purchasing this beverage, be sure to drink it quickly. It only stays fresh for 30 days..
Walking the floor, it’s easy to find several powerful machines all designed to help make coffee at home or in a café easy and nearly automatic. Vendors such as Saeco displayed several different models. These ranged from the multimillion won category, which were suitable for big businesses, to other machines available for home use. Start-up Ecojun made this Expo their first stop in promoting their new coffee and tea cups made from recycled coffee grounds and corn syrup. This makes the beverage containers 100% biodegradable. Being able to talk with vendors like these is one aspect of the show most not in the industry will find interesting, as it provides a rare behind the scenes peek and what goes into running the businesses that they frequent..
The Coffee Expo is also a showcase for companies to test market their new products. I was fortunate enough to bump into Lee Changsoo from Lavazza. In addition to allowing us to sample their beans in a magnificent espresso, he took us to a special VIP zone and introduced three new products. First was coffee caviar. I know… strange! However, I will confess that this treat was amazing. Using a special device, espresso is paired with an edible plastic and formed into small “caviar” eggs. The treat is then paired with whipped cream and served on a spoon. Then we were treated to a pair of iced espresso drinks; however, the most amazing treat was a cream espresso. This chilled “beverage” is served in a small cup with a spoon and consumed much like a soft serve ice cream dessert. It truly was a treat.
While this year’s Coffee Expo has come to a close, those the Café Expo is slated for November 22, 2012.