2013 Seoul Recap, Part 2: The ABWG

The reason I went to Seoul in the first place was to judge the Angel-in-us Barista World Grand Prix (ABWG). From first moment after I cleared customs in Seoul, Angel-in-us (sounds like “Angelina’s”) made me feel welcome. Despite the fact that my plane was nearly two hours late in arriving (we had a late start and some strong headwinds), my greeter met me with a smile at the airport. He did not complain (at least to me) when it took us two hours to get from the airport to downtown in rush hour traffic. (Travel note: My trip was long, but I had it much easier than some of the other participants. One of the baristas traveled more than 37 hours, from Chile to Seoul, via Atlanta. Two judges, traveling from Europe, spent an unplanned night in a hotel in Istanbul.)

When we finally did make it into Seoul, we skipped the hotel and went directly to the welcome dinner (most of which I missed), where the gathered judges and baristas went over the competition rules. The baristas also drew lots for the presentation order. After dinner, a short walk through Seoul’s Gangnam district to the hotel felt good, despite the cold weather. Seoul’s nighttime brilliance dulled the chill in the air.

The next morning, after a short sleep and a hearty breakfast, we reported to the massive Coex exhibition hall for a short calibration session prior to the start of the competition.

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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.

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Portland Coffee’s Got Seoul: The Korean-Portland Coffee Connection

At the beginning of October, I had the pleasure of hosting sixteen Korean coffee professionals for a tour of the Portland coffee scene. In two and a half days, we visited eight cafés, five roasteries, two coffee equipment stores, and attended three different educational events. The itinerary was probably a little too ambitious—by the end of each day, the everyone was floating around in a caffeinated haze. Jet lag contributed to their exhaustion, but so did the crammed schedule. It was the first time I had ever organized a group like this, and I wanted to show them as much of Portland coffee as I could in a short time  (mission accomplished). On the last day, we decided to skip several planned stops so everyone could go shopping (there is more to life than coffee, after all).

Even with the slightly-too-busy schedule, the group seemed to have a good time. We had perfect weather (something I look back upon fondly, watching the falling rain), several laughs, and some in-depth coffee discussions. The best part was exchanging a bit of each others’ cultures and connecting over coffee. Portland did a great job of hosting, and the passion of the city’s coffee people came through as they showed us their companies and explained what made them each unique.


Our group at Nossa Familia's roastery.

This week, it will be the Koreans’ turn to show me around. I will be in Seoul, South Korea, to participate in theAngel-in-us World Barista Grand Prix (AWBG) as a sensory judge. Angel-in-us is a café chain in Korea, owned by Lotte, a large food retail conglomerate founded in Japan, and long-established in Korea as well. For the past several years, Angel-in-us has sponsored barista competitions in Korea, but this will be the first time competitors (and judges) have come from outside Korea. The competition will be held during the Seoul Café Show, one of the biggest coffee trade shows in Asia.* COFFEE Monthly magazine, one of the main sponsors of the Korean-Portland coffee tour, is also a sponsor of the ABWG.

I can’t wait for the trip. I don’t know if the schedule will be quite as full as our tour in Portland, and I’m sure I won’t want to shop as much as some of my new friends did, but it should be a great week all the same.


* The ABWG is separate from the Korean Barista Championship (KBC), also taking place this week