Caffeine Crazed: Increase in Coffee Consumption Reflects Cultural Changes in North Korea

2018-10-30
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A waitress works behind the counter at the Kumrung coffee shop in Pyongyang in 2016.
A waitress works behind the counter at the Kumrung coffee shop in Pyongyang in 2016.
AP

Coffee consumption is on the rise in North Korea as the introduction of market forces to the state-run economy leaves the country more open to foreign cultural influences.

Once reserved only for elites in the capital Pyongyang, having a cup of joe has become more commonplace for those out in the provinces in recent years.

This is indicative of a rapid change of consciousness brought on by the influx of foreign ideas, sources say.

Coffee – the new status symbol

“In the past, drinking coffee or tea was a cultural behavior of upper class [people in Pyongyang],” a source from North Hamgyong Province told RFA’s Korean Service on Oct 27. “Now it’s spread to other areas of the country. It was considered a luxury that only the rich could enjoy, but it’s now become common in other cities,” the source added.

“Ordinary people didn’t really show interest in coffee in the past because it’s so bitter. They didn’t understand why anyone would like it,” the source said. “Now they think that having coffee and tea makes them more cosmopolitan.”

According to the source, offering coffee to guests has now also become a standard practice.

“Factory executives will of course offer coffee or tea to visitors during a meeting.” The source said. “People will also offer coffee to guests in their home,” the source said.

Availability

“Single-serve instant coffee and bags of ground coffee can be found in the local markets” the source said. “You can even find coffee and tea stands there,” the source added.

“Since coffee is now cool, and more people are drinking it, there are more cafes opening up to satisfy their demand.”

Another source in Yanggang Province discussed what increasing consumption has meant for the markets, both legitimate and otherwise.

“As the number of people looking to get their fix is skyrocketing, demand is so high that some local markets don’t have enough supply on hand,” said the source.

“The most popular gift item that people bring back from trips to China were coffee and tea. More and more smugglers are also bringing in foreign coffee and tea, so it’s become a lot easier to find these days,” the source said.

Reported by Myung Chul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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