When I first visited Korea about a year ago, the difference of coffee shops, compared to those in my home country Germany, was shocking to me. Not only were there usually several coffee shops in one street, but they also seemed more modern than the ones in my home county. In Germany, coffee shops are rare, since coffee is usually consumed at home, at bakeries, or at street Cafes that are loud any lively. Only bigger cities, like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg really embrace the ‘coffee shop culture’, but those cities usually have a higher percentage of foreign citizens, and are thus influenced by foreign cultures.
Korea’s coffee shops, in my opinion, function rather as an expansion of one’s living room. It is a place for studying students, couples on their dates and even people using the WiFi to watch movies on their laptop or phones.
The reason why people in South Korea spend so much time in coffee shops could be due to the high housing prices and the very limited spaces they live in. Meeting friends is also not an activity they do at home, but in public places such like coffee shops, restaurants, Karaoke-Bars and others.
Many students study in coffee shops, especially in neighborhoods of big universities. Thus the functionality of them changes. The tables serve the purpose of studying well, which also includes notebook accessibility. Usually there are several sockets, mostly at every desk. Additionally there can be extension cords to allow people in the middle of the room access, too. The tables are mostly very spacious, fitting several books and folders, so studying can be achieved comfortably. There is usually also very good wireless internet which is either freely accessible or the password for it can be received on the receipt. Sometimes the password is written somewhere in the room, but is usually found easily.
The equipment-fee is paid by the customer in higher prices for coffee, but even including this fee (which isn’t separate but already added directly to the price of coffee) the drink prices are not overly expensive, I think.
The students usually stay for many hours although they have bought only one drink. Usually this is no problem, but sometimes one is expected to buy a second drink after about 2 hours at least or similar times. Times and rules vary at different locations, of course.
It is no rarity to see several coffee shops even next to each other on one street, only chain varying. Usually the citizens chose the coffee shop after having looked at prices, how many people are already in the shop or simply decide what looks best.
Most times there are special offers displayed at the front of the shop or at the counter, luring customers with new coffee specialties at low prices. Seasonal specials are also very common and different chains serve similar specials.
The aesthetics of the interior also plays a huge role in the overall appearance of coffee shops in South Korea. There are different styles using different materials, for example wood, large steel-constructions, the use of many flowers and potted plants, and the list goes on. Big window panes are integrated into the interior, creating the feeling of big open loft-like spaces. Breaking out of the simplistic aesthetics of most coffee-shops, there are also themed ones. These themes usually cover one special pop-culture item, creating a special interior (and even drinks and food) around it.