The Korean godfather of charcoal-roasted coffee

The Korean godfather of charcoal-roasted coffee

Meet the man exporting his aromatic beans from Heyri Art Village to all over the world
charcoal roasted coffee
Kaldi Coffee owner Seo Duk-sik has been in the coffee business for more than three decades.

Located on the outskirts of the quirky Heyri Art Village in the Gyeonggi province, Kaldi Coffee features the high ceilings, beautiful hand-carved wooden tables and chairs and rows of delicate glass siphon coffeemakers at the bar that would make it seem like the perfect coffee shop to spend a rainy day.

But when passers-by -- most of whom made the trip to see the various art galleries in the village -- walk in to order some coffee, they tend to be met with surprise, rather than the briskly efficient order-taking characteristic of most coffeeshops.

Also on CNNGo: Heyri Art Village: Korea's melting pot of creativity

Despite its appearance, Kaldi Coffee is not really a coffeeshop. In the coffee-obsessed Korean foodie blogosphere, it is known as “the factory,” and the origin of charcoal-roasted coffee in the country.

“The taste is quite different than coffee made from beans roasted over gas fire,” says owner Seo Duk-sik, 54, of the unique method of roasting beans over charcoal. “It’s subtler, and much more aromatic.”

"Drinking Mr. Seo's coffee is like discovering a new world," says documentary director Lee Hong-suk, who is a frequent patron of Kaldi Coffee. "It's very addictive, and every other coffee tastes completely flat and bland after trying the charcoal-roast."

kaldi coffee Kaldi Coffee also offers coffee made from intricate siphon coffeemakers. Having been in the coffee business for more than 30 years, Seo opened the Heyri branch of Kaldi Coffee two years ago after the success of his first shop --also called Kaldi Coffee -- in the trendy Hongdae neighborhood.

“Of course, back then when I first began learning about coffee, the term ‘barista’ didn’t exist,” says Seo. “We were just called cooks.”

A new chapter 

After attending "coffee school" in Japan in the 1970s, Seo was especially taken with the difference in flavor of the charcoal-roasted coffee, and introduced it to Korea when he returned.

Now, Kaldi Coffee distributes its beans to coffeeshops and hotels around the country, and also exports overseas to China, Australia, the United States and, ironically, to Japan.

“Only the older generation of Japanese baristas know the proper method and it’s quite unknown among the younger crowd in Japan,” says Seo, on why his beans are sought-after in the country that originally invented the charcoal roast.

Kaldi Coffee houses four charcoal-roasting machines of various sizes that were customized to Seo’s personal tastes.

“When he takes the beans out of the machine after they’ve been roasted, the aroma is incredible,” says Kaldi Coffee’s next door neighbor Yoo-in Lee. “It envelops the whole village, and everyone is scrambling to open their windows to smell it.”

Kaldi Coffee, Heyri Art Village, 1652-337 Beopheung-ri, Tanhyeon-myeon, Paju-si, Gyeonggido  (경기도 파주시 탄현면 법흥리 1652-337); +82 31 945 7703;

Also on CNNGo: Kopi Joss: Charcoal coffee in Yogyakarta

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


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