Korea's coffee imports surge to record highs in 2020 amid home café boom

Kim Jung-hwan and Cho Jeehyun 2021. 1. 20. 15:42
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[Photo by Lee Chung-woo]
South Korea’s coffee and espresso imports surged to record levels in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis drove up even higher demand in coffee-loving country due to remote working environment and social distancing.

Last year, Korea imported 176,648 tons of coffee, worth $737.8 million, according to the Korea Customs Services data published on Tuesday. The figures are up 5.4 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively, from the previous year. Both are the highest since 2000 when data tracking began.

The country’s coffee maker imports also jumped. Espresso machine imports amounted to $120.5 million, up 35 percent on year.

“While the coffee demand continued steady growth, the home café boom created even greater demand,” said an industry observer.

Monthly coffee exports, in fact, grew when the country underwent stricter social distancing practices. Coffee imports rose 19.7 percent on average compared to a year earlier in August and September when social restriction level was raised higher nationwide. The on-year growth had averaged at 6.4 percent in the previous months. The same pattern was seen in November when the public heath practice rule was again lifted upon virus resurgence, recording 36.9 percent on-year jump in coffee imports.

Overall coffee consumption is rising fast as the home café demand has not only absorbed the coffee demand lost at street cafés from declined foot traffic amid Covid-19 restrictions but further boosted the demand, said Professor Chang Sung-cheol of Sungshin Women's University.

Café chains and food companies are also moving quickly to ride on the coffee boom.

Starbucks, Twosome Place and other major café chains in Korea opened hundreds of new outlets last year. SPC Group, which operates the country’s largest bakery chain Paris Baguette, and other leading food companies also have been expanding their coffee product lineups.

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