Korean Coffee Tour Group Coming to Portland

As it has for centuries, coffee continues to bring people together from all over the world, including here in Portland. The first weekend in October, a group of sixteen Korean coffee professionals is coming to Portland for a tour of the local coffee scene. Sponsored by COFFEE Magazine, based in Seoul, the group is coming to Portland to visit cafés, talk to coffee industry people, and look for ideas to take back to Korea. As I wrote last November, Seoul has one of the fastest-growing coffee cultures in the world, with cafés seemingly everywhere. This is Portland’s opportunity to influence how that culture develops.

(On a related note, today’s Oregonian has an article about the importance of trade with South Korea to the Oregon economy.)

One of my espressos in Seoul last yearThe idea for the tour came from Jinsu Lee, a friend of mine who spent several years in Portland before returning to Korea. He wanted to maintain some ties with Portland, so he approached Mr. Song-dae Hong, the owner and CEO of COFFEE magazine, with the idea of  putting a coffee tour together. The proposal received a great response, and sold out. I am in charge of organizing the Portland leg of the tour, which runs from tonight through Saturday. After visiting Portland, the group heads to Seattle to attend one day of Coffee Fest, before leaving for Seoul on Monday.

The group is sticking to a coffee-based agenda while they are in Portland. We have put together a long list of cafés and roasteries to visit in and around Portland, for both casual and educational visits. (If your café is on our casual stops list, I will give you a heads up at least one day before we visit, so you can pass the word on to your staff that a large group will be coming by.) The tour will be a great opportunity to share Portland with others, and should be a fun cultural exchange, too. If you’re sitting in your favorite café and a bus pulls up and unloads a large group of Korean tourists (and one six-foot-four American), come over and say hello!  

The Coffee Test (A cultural lesson on dating in Korea)

[Thanks to my friend, Ji-Yoon (Jade) Choi, another former Portlandian who moved back to Seoul, for telling me about this.]

One of the fun parts of traveling is that you get to learn about other cultures. Being in an unfamiliar place forces you to follow new patterns. If you are open-minded, you gain a better understanding of how other people see the world.

I learned several things that stretched my perspective while I was in Seoul (did I mention the lunch with squirming octopus chunks?). One interesting part of Korean culture I learned about is called the coffee test.

In Korea, coffee has become part of the dating ritual, at least among the younger generation. When young couples go out to dinner, they often follow up the meal with a trip to a café for coffee and/or dessert. When the pair goes out for the first time, this café visit can be a strong indicator of the future of the relationship.

Typically, the man pays for the couple’s dinner and the woman pays for the coffee. If the woman doesn’t like the man, however, she will make no move when it is time to pay for the coffee. When this happens, the man has failed the coffee test—he has the double misfortune of paying twice and of being rejected.

While this test is a rather indirect way of communicating lack of romantic interest, it is effective. Therefore, gentlemen, if you ever take a Korean woman out for coffee after dinner and she doesn’t pay the tab, you’re probably not the one she’s looking for.

You failed the coffee test.

Caffeinated Seoul

Last week, I went to Seoul, South Korea, to attend a friend’s wedding and participate in a reunion of sixteen present and former Portlandians (currently living in four different countries)—Gangnam style. The trip turned out to be a fantastic cultural, social and culinary experience. In between rounds of Korean barbecue, soju (a popular Korean spirit made from rice) and even some still-squirming raw octopus (not as bad as it sounds), I spent some time checking out the city’s coffee scene.

Compared to Portland, Seoul is huge. Actually, compared to most places, Seoul is huge. The city has more than ten million residents and the entire metro area has more than twice that. In most ways, Korea is as modern as the United States, and in some ways—the efficiency of its public transportation or its communication networks, for example—more developed. Seoul’s specialty coffee scene, though not quite as cutting edge as Portland’s, is growing rapidly, with more good coffee available to Koreans than ever before.

Korea is a very welcoming country, though the language barrier can sometimes be a challenge. My own Korean is limited to hello and thank you, but fortunately, I did not have to explore Seoul’s coffee on my own. Jinsu Lee, one of the team members who worked on our Caffe PDX project, organized the coffee tours. Cory Klatik, another team member, joined us for some of the coffee expeditions as well.

Prior to the trip, I knew coffee was very popular in Korea—this summer Reuters published an article that detailed how quickly the number of cafés has grown in Seoul. Regardless, the sheer volume of cafés shocked me. In some parts of the city, each block has three or four cafés. Sometimes they are literally next door or on top of one another.

One of Seoul's more interesting cafe iterations


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PDX Animal Art

Here are three examples of some animal art seen recently around PDX while looking for some coffee.

Does anyone besides me find this first one a little creepy? I don't know if it's the color of the owls or the manner in which they seem to be confronting the crow, but the whole scene is unsettling.

Have you seen Hitchcock's The Birds?

This toro was seen outside a Taquería on E. Burnside. 

Ferdinand, perhaps?Anyone a fan of George Orwell's Animal Farm? These were the pigs that were 'less equal than the others.' They eventually left the farm to go look for fortune elsewhere. They found it on NW 23rd (I don't really know that, but it makes a good story).

Insert humorous caption here