The local three-in-one coffee was tailor-made for Koreans by instant coffee brand Dongsuh Foods in 1976. The coffee sachet has been beloved by many Koreans because of its unique taste and flavor.
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Kim Bong-young, a middle-class stay-at-home mother of two children, can barely recollect her first year in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2001 without thinking of what she called intense ``coffee-sick.''
``In retrospect, I deeply missed the flavor and taste that was unique in the local instant coffee brand at the time,'' she told The Korea Times.
Kim was referring to so-called ``coffee mix,'' in which powder cream, sugar and instant coffee are mixed in a small sachet.
``Many of us didn't feel great about the brewed coffee there, mainly because they were so accustomed to the delightfully sweet taste of the coffee,'' she recalled.
Kim, who lived in Florida for five years from 2001 for her husband's doctoral studies in education at a state university, commented espresso or other brewed coffees she had in the States were too strong and too intense for her.
She then realized that she and her friends were addicted to the local three-in-one coffee that was tailor-made for Koreans by local instant coffee brand Dongsuh Foods back in 1976.
Researchers at Dongsuh were on a quest to create tailor-made instant coffee for Korean consumers' taste. They looked into ways to help local consumers enjoy coffee any time and anywhere. Their years of endeavors led to the three-in-one coffee sachet, which has been a big hit among Koreans.
Combined sales of Dongsuh Coffee mix products account for approximately 80 percent of the market share here.
Foreigners who've tried the coffee expressed mixed reactions but echoed that the Koreans' favorite is definitely not their first choice.
Bryan Kay, a freelance journalist based in Seoul, told The Korea Times that the coffee made him feel ``awful.''
``The initial caffeine hit is ok, if a little weak. But then after a little while, I often feel worse than I did before I drank it. I feel tired, lethargic and sometimes have a slightly sore stomach. That's why I stopped drinking them,'' he said.
``I'd rather pay for a properly brewed coffee," he added.
John Redmond from Britain said he drinks the instant coffee at work because he has no other option.
``At home I drink only fresh ground coffee. As far as drinking sachet coffee at work is concerned, I only do it to occasionally. I don't like instant anything. It messes with my stomach a lot,'' he said.
Instant vs. Brewed Coffee
Data shows that average Koreans drink about 300 cups of coffee per year.
According to AC Nielsen, the total sales record of coffees in Korea last year marked 1.2 trillion won. Industry experts forecast that the total sales will grow by approximately 30 percent this year.
They say coffee mix products account for approximately 25 percent of total sales.
Sales in espresso coffee shops, meanwhile, account for about 30 percent of the sales, and experts say they've continued to grow year by year.
As the brewed coffee industry grows quickly, conglomerates such as Lotte and Hanhwa have jumped in the market.
Experts say an increasing number of consumers have preferred brewed coffee over instant as time went on.
Despite the trend, instant coffee still accounts for approximately 78 percent of total sales in local market as of 2008, in contrast with what has happened in Europe and North America. Experts say that the portion of brewed coffee in the entire coffee market in Western Europe and the United States takes about 80 percent.
The domination of instant coffee in local coffee market creates a unique landscape: sipping a cup of espresso coffee at a nearby Starbucks coffee shop once or twice a week has become a culture for Koreans, while drinking a three-in-one instant coffee is part of their life.