In South Korea, coffee has become more than just a beverage; it’s a cultural phenomenon. Among the various coffee options available, one particular drink has captured the hearts and taste buds of the nation: Korean iced Americano. This humble concoction, featuring shots of espresso poured over ice and topped up with water, has gained a remarkable following. Outselling its hot counterpart even during the coldest winter months.
South Koreans’ dedication to consuming iced Americano year-round has even given rise to a new proverb: “Even if I freeze to death, iced Americano!” This phrase exemplifies the passion and commitment of the drink’s enthusiasts, who are affectionately called “Eoljuka.” Their unwavering loyalty to iced Americano is a testament to the drink’s popularity and appeal.
One might wonder why South Korean people choose to sip iced Americano despite freezing temperatures. For office worker Lee Ju-eun, it’s all about taste and convenience. She believes that iced Americano is not only easier to drink but also more enjoyable, even in winter. Clutching her frozen plastic cup on a particularly cold day, she braves the cold to savour her beloved drink. Similarly, accountant Lee Dae-hee opts for iced Americanos due to their quick and efficient caffeine boost. Essential in South Korea’s fast-paced work culture known as “ppalli-ppalli.”
Coffee holds a special place in South Korean society, with the average person consuming 353 cups per year—more than double the global average. The coffee culture has even spawned its own language. Iced Americano is affectionately referred to as “Ah-Ah,” and its die-hard fans proudly identify as “Eoljuka.” Starbucks Korea, recognizing the trend, ran an “ice challenge” promotion during a cold snap. Rewarding “Eoljuka” with a free size upgrade for their unwavering commitment to iced Americano.
Data from Starbucks Korea reveals that iced drinks accounted for a staggering 76 percent of total sales in 2022, with even the frigid month of January seeing more iced Americanos (54 percent) sold than their hot counterparts. Independent coffee shops report similar findings, with around half of their coffee sales comprising iced Americanos throughout the year.
Curiously, South Korea’s fondness for iced Americano may be linked to its culinary traditions. The country’s cuisine includes dishes like naengmyeon and cold noodles served with ice cubes in the broth. This unique food culture may have influenced South Koreans’ preference for cool beverages, even in winter.
Favourite of K-Pop
Beyond its local popularity, iced Americano has also found a place in the hands of K-pop stars. The likes of Suga from BTS and NCT Dream’s Jaemin have been spotted with iced Americanos, becoming trendsetters for their fans around the world.
For travellers exploring South Korea, immersing oneself in the local coffee culture is a must. Cafes across the country offer a wide range of coffee options, but indulging in an iced Americano provides a glimpse into the nation’s love affair with this refreshing and invigorating drink. So, whether you find yourself in a bustling Seoul office or strolling through the vibrant streets of Busan, don’t be surprised to see locals braving the cold with a cup of iced Americano in hand. Embrace the “Ah-Ah” addiction and experience South Korea’s unique coffee culture for yourself.