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Coffee shops by Korean-American baristas are becoming the go-to-spots in LA

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Coffee shops run by Korean-American baristas are rapidly gaining popularity in Los Angeles.

On March 17, Korean-American barista Frank La won the U.S. Barista Championship, and three out of the six finalists were Korean Americans, earning recognition for their skills.

In Los Angeles, coffee shops operated by talented Korean-American baristas are also attracting attention. A search for “coffee shops” in the Los Angeles area on Yelp reveals that many of these establishments have received high ratings.

Korean-American-operated coffee shops are gaining popularity among coffee lovers. Maru coffee in Los Feliz [Image captured from Maru Coffee Instagram]

Tilt Coffee Bar (4.8 out of 5), Loquat Coffee (4.8), Smoking Tiger Coffee Lab (4.7), and Stereoscope Coffee (4.6) are among the favorites of many coffee lovers. Additionally, Damo, Memorylook, Yeems Coffee, RNY Coffee Studio, and Coffee MCO are highly popular spots in Koreatown neighborhoods.

Maru Coffee, with its interior design inspired by traditional Korean architecture, often sees long lines on weekends.

According to market research firm IBISWorld, California has the most coffee shops in the country, with 15,047 as of last year. Particularly, Los Angeles is one of the cities with the highest number of coffee shops in California, boasting more than 3,300 establishments.

Specialty coffee made with high-quality coffee beans has been gaining popularity, especially among Korean-American coffee shops.

Chagon Kim, CEO of Trinidad, a company that supplies green coffee beans to major hotels, remarked, “There used to be no specialty coffee, but nowadays, as competition in the coffee industry heats up, coffee beans themselves are becoming more expensive. As the general understanding of high-quality coffee increases, tastes are also becoming more refined. Many small Korean-American coffee shops also sell specialty coffees.”

Korean-American coffee shops attract customers with their unique, stylish designs and personalized service, according to industry insiders.

Stereoscope Coffee, with five locations in Los Angeles and Orange County, including Buena Park, is a popular coffee shop with more than 34,000 Instagram followers. It is set to open its sixth location in South LA this year. “We have 70 to 80 coffee shops in LA and OC that serve coffee made with our beans,” said Stereoscope Coffee.

“Some customers don’t know how to order coffee that fits their taste. In that sense, Korean-American coffee shops are more approachable. We have a lot of drinks familiar to Korean Americans rather than sophisticated menus, and the service is friendly. I guess that is why customers like us.”

The owner-operator approach of these coffee shops allows for deeper interaction with customers and more attention to detail, according to Steve Chang, owner of Copa Vida, which has 10 locations in Southern California.

Another characteristic of Korean-American coffee shops is their strong branding. They not only sell in-house roasted coffee beans but also retail and wholesale their brand-designed products such as mugs, tumblers, and apparel. Eye-catching website design and active communication through social media are also distinctive features.

“Branding is one of the strengths of Korean-American coffee shops,” explains Chang. “They differentiate themselves by selling brand products while offering similar coffee to others. They are selling the brand.”

BY SUAH JANG, HOONSIK WOO    [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]