A year has passed since South Korea’s first Blue Bottle Coffee shop opened in Seoul’s eastern Seongsu neighbourhood – a trendy hangout spot where young artists and designers renovated existing buildings into art spaces, fine restaurants and cafes to woo customers.
What impact has this American coffee franchise had on the coffee industry in South Korea?
Blue Bottle Coffee now runs five shops, located in Seongsu-dong, Samcheong, Yeoksam, Apgujeong and Hannam.
Among coffee industry analysts, opinions are mixed. Some believe that the newcomer’s focus on specialty coffee has contributed to the expansion of the high-end coffee market, while others say that the company’s influence has been minimal.
The coffee industry believes that Blue Bottle contributed to the popularisation of specialty coffees, once popular only among coffee enthusiasts, arguing that the market expanded when Blue Bottle opened for business.
“Blue Bottle made a significant contribution to starting a new era for the South Korean coffee market, spreading the culture of specialty coffee far and wide,” an industry source said.
“The company will continue to attract more popular interest towards specialty coffee.”
There are others, however, who believe that Blue Bottle’s influence in South Korea has been minimal.
A limited number of vendors and its operational focus on Seoul has led Blue Bottle to be tied up regionally, and most of the customers are hard-core coffee enthusiasts who have limited influence in the popularisation of specialty coffee, they say.
In addition, Blue Bottle’s shops don’t provide free wireless internet and other convenience facilities normally found in other coffee shops, breaking with tradition as South Koreans commonly visit coffee shops to meet with others.
“Blue Bottle gained attention when the first shop opened. Now, it struggles to win the heart of South Korean customers,” another industry source said.
“They should have entered the South Korean market with a better understanding of South Korean customers.”
H. M. Kang writes for Korea Bizwire