North Korea’s Growing Love of Coffee Shops in the Capital

Kim Jong Un North Korea Coffee Mug
Laughing Kim Jong Un coffee mug from We assume not available in Pyongyang.

If you happen to be in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, you’re not going to find a Starbucks, but you will find a city brimming over with independent coffee shops.

This according to Eric Talmadge, visiting cafes there for AP.

The small, dimly lit cafes have been around in the North Korean capital for years, but the drink’s popularity has surged in Pyongyang recently — enough so, in fact, that it’s sparking a competition among shop owners to provide more of an upscale ambiance and a variety of coffees that would almost put the ubiquitous American chain to shame.


“Over the past couple of years the number of people who really know good coffee has grown a lot, and they look around the city to find the best places,” said Ri Hyon A, a barista at a popular cafe who underwent training in China to learn the craft. “We have a lot of regulars.”

Talmadge writes that the burgeoning growth of coffee shops is indicative of a greater trend in the communist state.

While capitalism is still officially frowned upon and the economy remains centrally controlled and largely stagnant, grassroots entrepreneurialism is not only growing but has become a necessity for many North Koreans.

Until the famine years of the 1990s, the government provided most citizens with their basic necessities and jobs. The economic crisis caused by the famine taught North Koreans to fend for themselves, however, and forced a gradual opening to more capitalist-style activities.


Unlike their fellow Koreans to the south, who prefer a cup of Americano, North Koreans in Pyongyang love their cappuccinos.

“Cappuccino is popular with Koreans,” said Ri Hyon. “Personally, my favorite is our original hand-dripped coffee.”

We imagine Mr. Kim to be more the Frapuccino type –with extra whip cream.

Read the AP article here.


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