November 9, 2016

Is Korea The Future of Specialty Coffee Technology?

Café Show Korea kicks off in just a few days, and we’ve spoken to some experts on the Korean coffee scene about what you can expect. The answer: not just rapid growth and keen coffee aficionados, but also technology, technology, and more technology.

Spanish Version: ¿Es Corea el Futuro de la Tecnología de Café de Especialidad?

A Nation of Tech-Loving Coffee-Drinkers

One of the world’s fastest internet speeds (according to The New York Times). Virtual Tesco shops in subway stations. Hyundai augmented reality apps for car maintenance (think Pokémon Go but with the aim is of change your oil, not catching ‘em all). It’s safe to say that South Korea, and especially Seoul, is a tech-loving place.

What’s more, between 2007 and 2013 the number of coffee shops in the country grew by 680% (according to The World Coffee Leaders Forum).

It should be no surprise that these two trends are coming together.

Beom Kyu Heo, CEO of Waveon Coffee, 2015-2016 Espresso Italiano Championship, Korea Official Sensory Judge, CQI Q-grader, and Trainer at the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, agrees. “I think Korea is very innovative,” he says. “We try hard to apply tech to coffee.”

I ask him if coffee is more of an art or a science in Korea. “Coffee is more like science,” he says. “We try to study the coffee science in depth.”

Coffee under the microscope at Cafe Show Korea

Looking through the microscope at coffee in Cafe Show’s Coffee Science Lab. Credit: i_am__charles

Korean Coffee Technology: Small But Ubiquitous

Beom tells me that Korean technology is good but, by necessity, small. He points to El Rocio, a local espresso machine brand. “[It’s a] one-group espresso machine but it has a dual-boiler 3PID, pressure profiling, temperature control, and touch display… That was the first developed commercial espresso machine in Korea.

“But the problem is that the Korean coffee-drinking population is getting bigger, but it’s not big enough to develop a large roaster or an eight-group espresso machine. We expect that, as long as the Korean coffee-drinking population keeps increasing, our machines and technology will be very helpful for developing new machines.”

He tells me that water composition is currently attracting lots of attention. “Fortunately, Korea doesn’t typically have hard water, but many people are starting to check it in their area. A recent example of technology is the Dr. Jung Jin Kit. It checks the pH/alkalinity, total chlorine, and TDS.”

Meanwhile, high-tech coffee machinery isn’t just appealing to die-hard aficionados. It’s also a pull for the casual consumer. Take CaFacé, a café that “prints” people’s selfies in colour on their coffees as latte art.

Latte art selfies at Cafe Show. Credit: xoxo_moon__

Apps: The Near Future of Korea’s Coffee Tech?

Companies see Korea as the perfect market for their high-tech offerings. Joe Behm of Behmor tells me, “It’s a high-tech hub: Samsung, LG, Hyundai… But there’s a void of affordable high-tech coffee equipment.”

Behmor has never been shy about using new technology. This is the company that has the Connected Brewer, an eight-cup SCAA-certified coffee machine that you can set to automatically make coffee with your smartphone, either right now or at a programmed time. And thanks to Amazon Alexa, voice control will soon be an option.

“We’ve made an affordably priced Korea-specific roaster with automatic control, smoke suppression, and more,” Joe says. “It’s great for the home roaster – it’s been used successfully in Honduras, Guatemala, Cameroon, and more. We’re launching it at the Behmor booth at Cafe Show.”

Apps are one of Behmor’s main focuses, however. “We’re working on a Connected Roaster that you can control with your smartphone. We think Korean home roasters will love that. And our Connected Brewer will be at the Anacafé booth and Behmor booth at Cafe Show.”

Korea’s already high smartphone penetration is only growing, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Beom informs me that apps such as Cropster are popular. Is app-controlled equipment the next step?

Behmor Connected Brewer

The app-controlled Behmor Connected Brewer. Credit: Williams Sonoma for Behmor

SEE ALSO: Smoking Hot: Why Is the Korean Home Roasting Scene Taking Off?

Will The Dwindling Human Population Lead to Robots?

I ask Beom what holes he thinks need to be filled by future technology. He considers it.

“I think technology will be needed to fill the reduction in human resources. The population will be getting smaller, and I think this should be filled with tech such as robots.”

While the world’s population increases, South Korea’s is decreasing. According to the Washington Post, the country currently has 50 million residents – yet by 2136, that figure is projected to be just 10 million.

I ask if a robot can make coffee as well as a human.

“I think that yes, it can,” he says. “Already an automatic tamping machine has come out in Korea, and it helps people to not suffer from bad wrists.”

Korea’s adoption of coffee is young. Yet in a country where science is king, and apps can do anything from order your food to help you fix your car, perhaps it will be the future of coffee tech.

I wonder how many years it will take before we start to see the first robot specialty barista. It might seem far-fetched, but when a voice-controlled SCAA-certified automatic coffee maker is already on the horizon, are we really that far away from it?

With thanks to Beom Kyu Heo of Waveon Coffee and Joe Behm of Behmor. Feature photo credit:  i_am__charles

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