K-CULTURE: A New Starbucks Experience in Korea

by Larissa Tsui

You can probably tell Koreans love their coffee with the free coffee offered at Korean restaurants and the high coffee consumption. Korea has many great coffee chains, but which is the top player in the coffee market? ☕️ Hint, it's green with a lady on it 😉 Yes, it's Starbucks! The first Starbucks opened in Korea in 1999. Now, Korea is ranked third with the largest number of Starbucks stores worldwide, with approximately 1,750 stores throughout Korea as of 2022. Yes, Starbucks is a coffee chain found worldwide, but Starbucks in Korea are on another level.


If you're a Starbucks regular, you would know about the Starbucks apps for convenient online ordering 📱 Did you know that the Starbucks mobile online ordering system was first invented and established in Korea? 🇰🇷 Korea boasts diverse creativity with its service and offers customers an elevated Starbucks experience. This system first started in Korea and then was benchmarked to the USA, Europe, and Asia creating the mobile online order system now.


The USA and Korea are the only Starbucks worldwide to have their own design teams, making Korea the only country with their own Starbucks design team outside the headquarters 👩‍🎨 They have previously collaborated with big brands such as Moleskin, PANTONE, Samsung, and BTS to create unique goods compared to other stationery and merch. The collaboration with BTS included limited edition BTS goods, purple star cupcakes and purple berry cheesecake with chocolate-engraved BTS logo on top. Starbucks Korea also develops and customises creative and limited-edition drinks and desserts to fit local customers. An example is the release of a latte and frappuccino featuring rice from Icheon, Gyeonggi Province 🍚 They also create limited edition menus only available for specific regions, such as Jeju Mugwort Cream Frappuccino, Jeju Hallabong Black Tea Blended, Busan Red on the Beach, and Busan Sandy Beach Cream Frappuccino.


Not only are their items localised, but so are the stores themselves. Some branches incorporate the beauty of Korean architecture and culture. One of the striking Korean-themed stores is one called Starbucks Hanok in Daegu. It is a Starbucks based in a hanok (한옥, traditional Korean houses). The exterior and interior of the store showcase the historic beauty and culture of Korea with the traditional housing structures and floor seatings, which were the traditional norm. 

Other branches worthy of mentioning are some of the most beautiful Starbucks stores you can find, such as Seoul Wave, Starbucks Yangpyeong, and Starbucks Famille Park. Seoul Wave is a Starbucks store in the Seoul Wave Art Centre that floats on Han River. It goes beyond the usual forest green and brown colour scheme and instead appears more like an art exhibition. Starbucks Yangpyeong is the largest Starbucks store in Korea. This store is a three-story building with rooftop seats and a stunning view of the Han River. It also boasts the first Starbucks in Korea to have an in-store bakery serving freshly baked goods pastries instead of the usual pre-baked ones! And to elevate customers' experience even more, it has a ‘drive-thru’ for convenience too. Starbucks Famille Park has a unique geometric glass dome structure. The interior is made up of wood and decorations that use eco-friendly materials. According to a Vogue Korea magazine article that I read, this Starbucks store was listed as one of the “Top 7 Most Beautiful Starbucks Stores in the World.” 😮


On top of these strikingly beautiful stores, Starbucks Korea also has Starbucks community stores. These stores focus on improving communities and creating partnerships with local non-profit organisations, and providing economic opportunities within their communities 🤝 Korea currently has five community stores, and the most recent one is called 'Kyungdong 1960', which features a theatre-inspired theme 🎟 This store pays tribute to the Kyungdong Theatre, originally built in the 1960s, which has been lost since its closure in 1994. This store preserves the architect and existing materials of the original theatre and is modified with touches of retro design elements. It is even said to bring cultural and musical performances by local artists on the store’s stage to enhance customers' experience. This store collects 300 won for every food or beverage sold to raise funds for the growth of Kyungdong Market.


Did reading about Starbucks in Korea just open your mind to the possibilities of Starbucks? It sure did for me! Starbucks branches in Korea offer more than just the usual branding they showcase worldwide but also present artistic, local, historic culture and vibes of Korea 🇰🇷🤍 With all the limited edition special beverages and merch, it would be hard to get bored with Starbucks in Korea! 

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