2013 Seoul Recap, Part 1

The trip to Korea was great fun, and highly exhausting. A week after returning to the States, my body still wondered what time zone it was in. Regardless, traveling to Seoul to judge in the Angel-in-us Barista World Grand Prix (ABWG) was worth every minute of the battle against fatigue. —WH

With around 26 million residents, the Seoul-Incheon metropolitan area has one of the largest agglomerations of people on the planet. Accordingly, the energy level you encounter when you visit the area is as lofty as the high-rise apartments lining the Han River running through downtown. Seoul has the air of a city racing toward the future, and if you visit, prepare yourself for being on the move the entire time.

Seoul’s residents are known for their long work hours and late nights, and fueling that work ethic are large quantities of coffee. Coffee is everywhere in Seoul. It might sound like an exaggeration, but in many parts of the city, every block has at least one café. Most have more. Sometimes, different cafés are stacked on top of each other in the same building! You can find cafés surrounding the busiest intersections, tucked into quiet corners on a hidden streets, inside designer clothing stores. Everywhere you turn, someone in Seoul is serving coffee at all hours, every day.

The Café Show

Since coffee is such a large (and quickly growing) part of Korean culture, it should have been no surprise that the Seoul Café Show was huge event. That said, the Café Show seemed enormous—much larger than the SCAA Event that came to Portland in 2012. Over four days, approximately 100,000 people came through the doors to try various coffees, conduct business, see the latest in coffee roasting, grinding, and brewing technology, and to look at anything you could possibly imagine related to running a coffee company.

Trade shows are fun events to attend, just to see the diversity of products and services that are available. Companies spend thousands of dollars, euros, and won to build elaborate booths and mini-cafés to attract and welcome visitors. Some hold live demonstrations to catch the crowds. They bring their most entertaining baristas to recreate scenes resembling something between a café setting and a Broadway show. Many use the “give free stuff” method of catching customers (in this regard, the chocolatiers’ booths were particularly popular). Others hire well-known baristas from around the world to demonstrate their products. Competition for attention is fierce, and companies go to great lengths to stand out from the crowd. Below are a few interesting things I saw while exploring the café show. 

Outside the exhibition hall

Long aisles of products

Including blenders, and espresso machines

Home coffee machines, dressed for the holidays

Syrups, too

Ch, ch, ch, chia! (It's good for the heart)

American processed food made an appearance

Sip your latte while Spot takes a bath...

Hopefully, this company is not targeting the English-speaking world

He must have lost the bet...