Here it is. Soak it up, drink it down. After almost one year and three months, the wait is finally over.
Behold: Coffee shop number 100.
Located on the main platform of the Jangjeon subway station (Sinpyeong side) in Busan, this shop serves both hot and cold bevvies, including sweetened and unsweetened coffees, hot chocolates and green tea.
And, so cheap, too! Those 1,500 won monster sized coffees from places like The Venti and 1 Liter might be all the rage these days, but this is the O.G. for discount coffee. Expect to pay between 300 and 400 won a cup. BARGAIN.
I chose a classic blend of sugar and powdered milk for my coffee, which was served to me in less than 15 seconds. And you thought Starbucks was fast!
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. That is pure joy right there, friends.
I have to give credit to Jen Jones for suggesting coffee shop 100. We had just visited a random place across from the subway station and, 4,500 won a cup each later, were left somewhat disappointed. I had wanted to just go for something random because I had not posted on this site in over a year. In my mind, better to get something now rather than overthink the location and then lose interest again.
I am pretty sure she was mostly joking. Nonetheless, whenever I “order” a cup of Korean jet fuel from a random machine, I am instantly teleported 11 years in the past, when I first arrived in South Korea, in Jinju, several years before Korea’s coffee obsession took hold.
In humble Jinju, the only coffee (as far as I knew at the time; I only stayed that time for 6 weeks) was Holly’s Coffee (which came in far smaller cups than what one can now feed their need for caffeine) and the ubiquitous powdered coffee machines that were in far greater quantities then than they are today. While there were other, small independent coffee shops in Korea long before the chains took over, I never visited them.
The vending machines are by no means extinct. But, there are less. Why should there be any, one might think, when there are so, so, so many coffee shops on every street in every city in this small country? But, the vending machines remain. Why? Convenience? Taste? Maybe for some, it too is nostalgia. Whenever I take a whiff, even just a little sniff of this coffee, piping hot, I am 26 years old again, living in a foreign country for the first time, freaking out because everything is different, I have no idea what I’m doing in the classroom and Skype and Facebook haven’t gone mainstream yet.
Smelling a hot cup of sweetened powdered coffee puts me in a time machine every time, much like how smelling a certain kind of rubber transports me back to Christmas 1984, when a five-year-old version of myself was getting his first Transformers toys, and life was simpler.
Life in Korea 2005 was simpler, too, if only because I had not lived here long enough to develop any real connection to it beyond the mystical. And so, whenever my nasal chambers fill up with the powerful scent of vending machine coffee, I’m no longer in the super familiar Korea I’ve lived in and drank a sea of coffee in for almost four years, it’s that other Korea, the one where you could still smoke in the P.C. Bang, where gimbap can still cost 1,000 won and where it seemed like there was a coffee vending machine on practically every corner, the odd-ball Korea of my imagination.
Directions: go to Jangjeon subway station (stop 129), heading toward Nopo-dong, exit the train and look for the machine. Or, just look around anywhere. Recommended brew: the one with milk and sugar. Even I can’t stomach that powder without stuff to cover up its actual taste.
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.