Coffee 101: Getting Your Caffeine Fix in Korean
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
When people think of Korea, a majority would not think of coffee. But to say that Koreans love coffee might be an understatement. While Korea was late to the coffee game compared to some countries, that did not stop them from becoming a prominent coffee-crazed country. Seoul alone has over 18,000 cafes, which makes it the city with the highest number of coffee shops per capita. Korea also boasts of being home to the 2019 World Barista champion, Jooyeon Jeon. In 2019, it is estimated Koreans will drink 300 cups per person annually, which is three times above the estimated global average. So why has coffee and cafes done so well?
Cafes and coffee shops have a different culture associated with them compared to a lot of other countries. In Seoul alone, it seems you can find a coffee shop around every corner, and sometimes there can be three of four within one block. In Korea, though, it is more than just drinking coffee. It is also about socializing and entertaining. Many Korean homes are in the private domain and small in comparison to North American standards and other countries where cities have spread out rather up. This means that hosting within your home is less common and rather people will go out to meet up with friends and family. Buying a drink is seen almost as short-term renting of space or an admission fee. For many South Koreans, coffee shops are places where friends meet, where you study, work on your laptop, socialize with co-workers, or even go on dates.
A strong focus of modern Korean coffee shops is creating a stunning atmosphere, or as some would deem "Instagram-worthy." Their drinks are beautifully crafted, and the interior can sometimes be downright jaw-dropping. These cafes are not just about drinking coffee, it is about the experience. Almost any well-known Korean coffee shop falls into this category and focuses significantly on its concept and aesthetics.
While brewed coffee and espresso are popular among the younger generations, the older generations have its own coffee culture and traditions. Those from the older generation tend to prefer the "original" coffee of Korea, mix coffee. Mix coffee is instant coffee mixed with milk powder and sugar and comes in a packet. Also, many older mom and pop's coffee shops may not have a modern-day vibe, but they are cozy and sometimes are cheaper as well. They tend to be filled with ahjusshis and ahjummas from the older generation.
While a lot of menus will have the items listed in Korean and English, not all do. Even if the menu is in English, that does not mean that the barista or your server speaks English well, or they might have a hard time understanding English.
So, without further ado, I present to you, my "cheat sheet" list of standard Korean drinks and desserts at cafes, and their English translation. Feel free to screenshot it. To use this cheat sheet though, you need to be able to read hangul. For those who cannot read hangul yet, you can scroll past the cheat sheet. I included past the hangul section, some keywords with romanization. I also added some key phrases commonly used at a coffee shop after the English to Korean hangul section.
*the word 따뜻한 actually means warm to the touch, but it translates better into a "hot drink" for English, as we usually don't say, we want a "warm drink" when we order.
*the Korean is not an exact translation of the English, but has the same meaning. Of course, there are always alternate ways to say this, but I tried to cover the most common ones. There may also be variations on the phrases used.
May I take your order?
Would you like it hot?
따뜻한 걸로 드릴까요?
Would you like it iced?
(차가운 걸로/아이스드로) 드릴까요?
What size do you want?
어떤 사이즈로 드릴까요?
Is it this to go?
테이크 아웃 인가요?
Will you be eating here?
드시고 가세요?/여기서 드시고 가세요?
Do you want your receipt?
영수증 드릴까요?/영수증 필요하세요?
Do you have a membership?
회원권이 있으요?/멤버쉽 있으세요?
Do you have a stamp card?
도장 쿠톤 있으세요?
Answers and Important Phrases:
I would like an iced americano, please.
아이스 아메리카노 주세요.
*underlined section can be changed to whichever drink you would like.
아이스드 주세요. /차가운 걸로 주세요.
따뜻한 걸로 주세요.
I will be eating/drinking here.
여기서 먹고 갈게요.
To go, please/I will do take out.
테이크 아웃이요./테이크 아웃으로 할게요.
Yes, please. (receipt)
No, thank you. (receipt)
Do you have WiFi?
What is the Wifi password?
와이파이 비밀번호가 뭐예요?
Where is the washroom/restroom?
화장실 어디 있나요?
*Remember, in South Korea if you have a plastic to-go cup given to you by the cafe, you cannot stay at the cafe, it is related to a more recent law to cut down on plastic waste. The staff may ask you to leave if you have a plastic to-go cup and sit down in the restaurant. So if you wish to stay, make sure that you tell the barista that it is "for here", so they can give you a mug or cup. Although, it is the law, not all cafes I have been to do this yet, even if they are supposed to. On the plus side, if you want to take your drink to go and have your own tumbler, most cafes will give you a small discount.
Roman Letter Pronunciation:
While learning hangul is relatively easy, it can take time to read smoothly and get out all of the kinks in the sounds. Believe me, I understand. I am a slow learner. For those who are beginners of learning hangul, or do not know hangul at all, here is a simple guide for ordering.
*I do not use the common Korean to English romanizaton correlation as sometimes the pronunciation can be mixed up with other English sounds.
The underlined section can be replaced with any drink you like.
I would like a hot americano, please. (dda-teun-han a-mae-ri-ka-no, choo-sae-yo).
따뜻한 아메리카노 주세요.
I would like an iced americano, please. (a-ee-seu a-mae-ri-ka-no choo-sae-yo).
아이스 아메리카노 주세요.
I would like two hot americanos, please. (dda-teun-han a-mae-ri-ka-no doo-jan choo-sae-yo)
따뜻한 아메리카노 두 잔 주세요.
I would like an iced americano and a chocolate cake, please. (a-ee-seu a-mae-ri-ka-no rang cho-ko-let kae-keu choo-sae-yo).
아이스 아메리카노랑 초코렛 케이크 추세요.
Common drinks in romanization:
Cafe Latte (ka-pae La-tae)
Vanilla Latte (ba-nil-la la-tae)
Caramel Macchiato (ka-ra-mel ma-kee-at-to)
Flat White (peul-lat hwa-ee-teu)
Dutch Coffee (dau-cheu kau-pee)
Lemon Tea (le-mon cha)
Citron Tea (yoo-ja cha)
Early Grey Tea (aul-geu-rae-ee cha)
Green Tea (noek cha)
Milk Tea (meel-keu tee)
Where is the washroom? (hwa-jeong-shil au-di it-na-yo?)
Hot please. (tta-tteun-han chu-sae-yo).
Cold/Iced please. (a-ee-seu-deu-ro chu-sae-yo)
To go/takeout. (tae-ee-keu a-oo-teu chu-sae-yo)
I will eat here. (yeo-gee-seo meok-ko kal-gae-yo)
Yes, please (give). (nae, chu-sae-yo).
I'm okay/I don't need it. (gwen-chan-a-yo/ pil-yo eob-seo-yo)
Did I miss anything? Did I cover your favourite Korean drink? Comment below.