Time to Fall in Love with Busan Coffee

The first known record of coffee in Korea was in 1886, by American business- man and diplomat Percival Lowell (1855 – 1916). Coffee, then advertised as Java Coffee, was imported in the late 19th century from Indonesia and reportedly enjoyed by both foreign ambassadors and Korean royalty, namely the last emperor of Korea, Gojong (1852 – 1919).

Following the Korean War (1950 – 1953), the number of cafes or “Dabang” as they were colloquially known in Korea reached 3,000, predominantly focused in the country’s capital Seoul. Consumption of coffee increased exponentially in the de- cades that followed; as the economy transformed from one of the poorest countries in the world to the “Miracle on the Han River” in the 1990s, coffee became a part of everyday life. Landmark moments include the introduction of instant coffee in the 1970s by Dong Suh Foods Corporation, the launching of local instant coffee brands Maxim, Lotte, and Kanu in the 1980s, and the opening of Starbucks’ first branch in Seoul in 1999.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later, in 2015 that the “Third Wave” cafe boom really took off, with a rapid increase in local roasting companies, specialty coffee outlets, and the introduction of more overseas cafe brands like Blue Bottle (USA), Dukes Coffee (Australia), and The Barn (Germany). In 2018, the Hyundai Research Institute reported that average coffee consumption in South Korea was almost three times the global average, with the average person consuming 353 cups per year. The market has reached record levels with over 75,000 cafes across the country, or the equivalent of one per every 700 people.

In this article we pick five of Busan’s best coffee shops, from student hangouts, to minimal lounge spaces, and an industrial style roaster. South Korea is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant specialty coffee markets in the world, and we look forward to seeing the country garner more and more attention in the build up to May 2024’s World of Coffee and World Barista Championship festival.

WERK Roasters

Minimalist Coffee Workshop

115 Seojeon-ro 58 beon-gil (Jeonpo-dong), Busanjin-gu, Busan

Mon to Fri 10:00am – 6:30pm / Sat to Sun Closed

Jeonpo (Line 2, Exit 4)

Established in 2017, WERK (short for the German word for workshop, “Werkstatt”) is one of the biggest names in specialty coffee in Busan. Their Jeonpo branch features a basement service area, first floor office, and second floor seating area complete with church pews, vertical slit windows and minimalist lounge music. This is a great place to chill out and gather your thoughts as you embark on a tour of this exciting neighborhood.

WERK recently expanded their operation to house their growing range of roasters in a separate off-site workshop. The move signals the start of a new era for the company and an opportunity to expand on their growing range of single origin beans. Their impressive roasting set up includes two infrared Diedrich ma- chines with both a small batch IR-5 (5kg) and medium batch IR-12 (12kg). A third and even larger roaster, the CR-35 was produced specifically for WERK at Diedrich’s USA headquarters and proudly installed in Busan last year.

As well as buying through direct trade, WERK maintains a close relationship with green bean suppliers Namusairo, Coffee Libre, and Momos Coffee for a steady supply of premium beans. The range typically includes house blends Baby and Haus, alongside one seasonal blend and up to five different single origins at any one time. Find the beans on WERK’s online shop, or sample them at one of 100 partner cafes across the country.

For an all-round tasting experience, go for the Tasting Set. Sit back and enjoy a selection of two drinks from either espresso, americano or latte.

Blackup Coffee

First Generation Busan Cafe

41 Seojeon-ro 10 beon-gil (Bujeon-dong), Busan

Mon to Sun 10:00am – 10:00pm

Seomyeon (Line 1, Line 2, Exit 2)

Blackup Coffee was established in 2006 by roaster Kim Myeong-sik, and has been at the heart of Busan’s specialty coffee scene ever since. Starting in Seomyeon, the brand now includes ten branches and a burgeoning team of over 70 baristas, making it one of the largest specialty coffee brands not just in Busan, but the whole of South Korea.

The original branch, set over three floors, makes for the ideal pit stop to sit back with a fresh filter brew before setting out again into this sprawling coastal metropolis. Take a look on the first floor for some take-home treats too, including capsule coffee, handy coffee drip bags, and ready-to-drink Cold Brew. Choose from a seat at the first floor counter bar, or pick up a slice of homemade cheesecake and head to the ample lounge areas on floors two and three.

For the hand drip connoisseur, Blackup Coffee will not disappoint with a diverse seasonal single origin line-up that few other cafes in the city can match. From floral Panama Geisha to intense Ethiopian Uraga Raros, the line-up typically includes a selection of six different beans and one decaf option too.

Coffee Awake

Local Student Hangout

46-4 Busandaehak-ro 63 beon-gil (Jangjeon 2-dong), Geumjeong-gu, Busan

Mon to Sun 10:00am – 7:00pm

Pusan National University (Line 1, Exit 1)

Located in the bustling back-alleys of Pusan Nation- al University, owner Kim Ji-yong has been brewing coffee for locals and students since 2012. Located just 200m from the university’s front gate, regulars are drawn in by Coffee Awake’s wide range of seasonal single origins, smooth flat whites and affordable espressos. Renovated in 2019, the bright street facing interior has a sleek mod- ern vibe with white marble countertops, mahogany benches and wall-length windows flooding the cosy space with natural light.

Roasting in house on a pair of trusty Giesen W1 and W15 roasters, Kim handles an impressive five small batch single origins for hand brew and two house blends at any

one time. Choose from two house blends for espresso based drinks, including “Awaken” (Guatemala 50%, Ethi- opia 50%) and “Ordinary” (India 50%, Colombia 30%, Guatemala 20%).

Kim uses a Hario Switch for filter brews; similar to the Clever Dripper (Taiwan), the Hario Switch combines both percolation and immersion to extract coffee from the cone filter. While it looks similar to the original V60, the Switch Design includes a modified silicone rubber base and stainless steel blocker that prevents the flow of the coffee from seeping through immediately. After the brew- ing is complete, a simple switch is pressed allowing the liquid to pass through and collect in the beaker below.

Momos Coffee

Home of the 2019 WBC Champion

18-1 Osige-ro (Bugok-dong), Geumjeong-gu, Busan

Mon to Sun 8:00am – 6:00pm

Oncheonjang (Line 1, Exit 2)

From humble beginnings over 15 years ago, Momos Coffee has grown into one of the biggest specialty coffee brands in the country. Established in 2007 by Lee Hyeon-gi in a tiny 13m2 cafe, the operation now includes a barista academy, over 50 staff, a two storey bakery-cafe and a nationwide distribution business. Top it off, the barista team is led by 2019 World Barista Champion (WBC) and Busan local Jeon Joo–yeon.

The Momos Coffee brand now includes an addition- al cafe (opened 2021) in Yeongdo, the harbourside suburb of Bongnae-dong, built inside an existing warehouse. Head along to see their state-of-the-art bean storehouse, roast- ing production line and minimalist brew bar.

Roasting on a mighty Probat Probatone 25kg the roasting team produce seasonal blends, single origins and actively take part in all of the world’s premier auctions including Best of Panama, Cup of Excellence (CoE) and the QIMA Yemen Coffee auction. Following Jeon Joo-yeon’s success in the WBC an additional range was also

added under the name “Joo Yeon Selection”. If you can’t make your mind up when it comes to the menu, check out the chalkboard at the entrance gate for their “coffee of the day” recommendation.

Nicknamed the “Momos Village”, the sprawling cafe complex contains on-site bakery, roastery, barista training school and plenty of different seating options spread across two floors. In an otherwise mundane Korean residential suburb, Momos Coffee appears like a backyard oasis in a concrete jungle, complete with water features, a mini bamboo forest and an array of stone garden ornaments.

Momos Coffee has inspired a coffee revolution in the region, influencing a wave of other brands to enter the scene; early front runners Blackup Coffee and In Earth Coffee were shortly followed by Werk Roasters and Hytte Roastery. Busan specialty coffee, led by Momos, spurred the development of regional coffee revolutions, including Coffee Place in Gyeongju, Told a Story Coffee Roaster in Daejeon and later on Coffee Temple in Jeju.


Coffee Front

Rush Hour Specialty Coffee

Centum Leaders Mark Tower, 17 APEC-ro, U-Dong, Haeundae-gu, Busan

Mon to Fri: 8:00am – 7:00pm / Sat to Sun: 9:00am – 7:00pm

Centum City (Line 2, Exit 13)

Inspired by eight years living in San Francisco, owner and seasoned entrepreneur Gu Min-wook combines a wealth of experience in roasting, sensory, and barista skills for his latest venture in Busan’s vibrant commercial hub, Centum City.

Set discreetly on the ground floor of one of the area’s signature skyscrapers, the cafe boasts an overseas vibe with a central standing espresso bar, ideal to accommodate 8am “rush-hour” coffee crowds. In an area typically dominated by chain coffee shops, Coffee Front is changing the daily routine of local residents and office workers with its trendy menu of specialty blend espressos, signature lattes, and a distinctive recording studio style interior.

Using a simplified menu format, coffee is divided here into black (espresso and filter) and white (latte, flat white) options, similar in style to the coffee menus seen in Australia and New Zealand cafes. When it comes to milk options, Coffee Front has all the bases covered with three different choices available’ regular and low fat organic milk by premium label Bunsan Dairy Farm as well as the increasingly popular OATLY plant-based alternative milk.

Also run by Gu Min-wook, Strut Coffee (established in 2016) supplies all the beans for Coffee Front from their roasting lab and cafe in the western suburb of Gimhae. Using a pair of Giesen (Netherlands) and Diedrich (USA) roasters, the brand runs a successful OEM small batch coffee bean distribution business for a growing number of specialty cafes in Korea’s second largest city.

Located just a short drive away from both of Busan’s main beaches, Haeundae and Gwangalli, as well as the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), Coffee Front is the ideal place to explore the city from.


Story / Charles Costello

Photo/ Charles Costello, Shim Jae-beom, Cho Won-jin

Illustration / Yalan Zhang