Why are there so few tea shops in Korea?


When I arrived in Korea seven years ago, there were many non-specialized coffee shops that served beer, soda, and not so great coffee. Today, it’s completely different story. There are great coffee shops on every corner. My little neighborhood has no less than 10 coffee shops within a 3 to 4 minute walk. Koreans prefer local food over foreign food but not for soft drinks.

Here’s why:

1. Tea is free – restaurants serve barley tea (or water) for free.

2. Korea has a fast-paced culture. People are in a hurry to do everything. Premium Tea is relaxing and meant to be enjoyed in a quiet place such as home.

3. Coffee is internationally popular and companies like Starbucks have created a demand for it; people see it as a premium product.

4. Tea shops simply haven’t been successful in Korea. You can find tea shops in Insadong and other parts of Seoul that cater to traditional ideas and culture. But elsewhere it’s coffee.

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