Saturday, August 6, 2011

커피! (Keopi!)

This was the first blog post I wrote for the WorknPlay website in South Korea. Yes, I spent a year and a half of my life drinking instant coffee, mainly at work and when offered a free cup after a restaurant meal. When in Seoul.... One packet is poured into a Dixie-sized cup with roughly 3 ounces of hot water, making for a really sweet shot of coffee. I'd usually add three times that amount of water when mixing it myself. 

It started out like any other day. I entered the office, put my stuff down at my desk and strolled over to the snack area. Then I noticed it: Only two tubes of coffee left!

Suddenly my morning mind spun into a mild panic. What if no one else noticed (except for the lucky soul taking the final packet) and we were left with an empty Maxim bag sitting on the table? It was 8:30 am and I needed some caffeine to kick my brain out of this irrational spiral.

I picked up one of the yellow tubes, poured its precious mixture of coffee crystals, sugar and milk powder into my mug, added steaming water and hoped for the best.

Later that afternoon, the Maxim bag was replaced with a similarly-colored bag of Maxwell House packets. Um, what is this??!

For those of you unfamiliar with this staple of Korean modern culture,, an LA-based retailer of Korean (and other Asian) goodies, provides the following description for Maxim Coffee Mix: Mocha Gold Mild:
Invigorate your day with a great tasting cup of MAXIM instant coffee. The rich roast flavor and aroma will give you the immediate confidence you need to take charge of the day. Made with a select blend of the best beans which are masterfully blended and freshly ground to perfection. The result, a quick cup of coffee that's brimming with the rich, full-bodied flavor of MAXIM.
Um, okay, you're talking about sugary instant coffee here!

Honestly, Taster's Choice scared me back in America. Coffee in a jar. The go-to brand for middle-aged Americans who want their morning joe cheap and in a hurry. Here in Korea, parent-company Nestlé has somehow elevated its instant brews in status, with Taster's Choice espresso bars and Nescafé sit-down establishments opening around the country.

And while instant brands have made their way into cafés in the East, the Western world is taking a step in the other direction. Starbucks is aiming to bring quality and class to the just-add-water coffee market with VIA, its single-serve coffee packets. Taster's Choice has responded by marketing their own packets as an alternative to the "pricey" coffee shop chain. But unlike their Korean coffee tubes, milk and sugar is not included.*

But we're not talking high-end instant coffee here; this is the basic stuff. Maxim has just become a part of my morning routine over the past year in Korea, and now they replace it with THIS? Inferior Maxwell House American crap!** Yeah, I think I've been here a bit too long….

The proper replacement (It says "Maxim" in Korean)

* I poked around the Internet last night and found out that Nescafé in the West does have an instant coffee mix that sounds similar to the coffee tubes in Korea. According to the webpage for Nescafé 3 in 1, "(e)ach single-serve sachet has the right balance of coffee, whitener and sugar...." Whitener?? Okay, that would be non-dairy creamer, but it sounds scary....

** I also discovered that Maxim was actually the original freeze-dried coffee in America and, from this blog post, that it was created by Maxwell House. Hmm.

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