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Gangnam styling in Seoul

Caffe Bene is that distinct Korean import of a coffee conglomerate that is as omnipresent in Koreanovela land as Coca-Cola.  

Imight have missed Psy’s performance in the heart of Seoul that very night, but what I experienced in the city goes beyond Gangnam and sexy ladies. Although we stayed across the street from where the chart-topping, record-breaking YouTube video was shot, this short and sweet Seoul trip was all about coffeeshop hopping, the Caffe Bene way. I cannot help but make comparisons between Psy’s hit song and the coffee brand, because both have broken boundaries and have proven that with the right skill, timing and determination to succeed, you too, can make it... big!

Caffe Bene is that distinct Korean import of a coffee conglomerate that is as omnipresent in Koreanovela land as Coca-Cola. If “Coffeeshop S” (yes, the one with a planner fixation) has 300 stores all over Korea, Caffe Bene has 800. That’s how much of a champion this brand is. Curious to find out the secret of this brand’s success, aside from its affiliation with Korean stars, we ventured out to the different spots within Seoul to see what brought it to the top of the Korean coffee chain, and pretty soon, the world.

To date, Caffe Bene has a chart-topping branch in New York’s Time Square. Manila just bore witness to the birth of the first two Caffe Bene stores (see related party story on the other page) and this is only the beginning. New stores are opening worldwide, from Beijing to LA to other parts of the Philippines, coming very soon.

Our first stop in Seoul was the Caffe Bene University, where Team Philippines, composed of yours truly, Meg’s Bianca Gonzalez, Pauline Juan of Preview, Metro’s Patrick Ty, Angela Ignacio of Super and Malou Rosal of the Bulletin learned how to make our own coffee. We had instant training on how to be a barista. Diane Chua, head of operations and owner of Caffe Bene Philippines, was there every step of the way, guiding us the same way she has guided other baristas that they sent to Seoul for training.

Those are the same baristas that are serving you at that Caffe Bene flagship store in Eastwood and a compact Caffe Bene in SMX, the two branches that they had just opened. Diane and siblings Desmond and Derrick Chua, are the moving forces behind Caffe Bene Philippines. I am seriously contemplating getting  a franchise.

Caffe bene hopping

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Team Philippines in Korea first visited a branch at the COEX by the Gangnam area, a sort of SMX venue where big exhibitions are held. In that particular Caffe Bene store, we noticed that a lot of people lingered, read books that were available everywhere, sipped their medium roast coffee (which we had earlier learned how to make), and had freshly made Liege waffle, Italian gelato, honey bread, misugaru (a grain-based drink), signature mocktails, yoghurt smoothies, teas, bingsu (a Korean iced parfait similar to our halo-halo) and complementing cakes and sandwiches. 

I guess this is what sets Caffe Bene apart from competition. Variety. They served everything that complements coffee. All the yummy stuff, plus the comfort of great company — may it be a good book or your closest friends. And, oh, free Wi-Fi helps, too.

Our next stop, at the posh area of Apgujeong, led us to a most interesting man, my new best friend and inspiration, Caffe Bene CEO Kim Sun Kwon, who at a very young age, has taken Korean coffee culture all over the world. We spoke with an interpreter, but through it all, nothing was lost in translation. He was very passionate and optimistic about the brands he was building. Among them are Blacksmith’s, a hip dining establishment, and Dec 24, a one-stop shop for cosmetics and more, a concept similar to Boots and Sephora. In between, we visited other Caffe Bene spots in Myeongdong, Star City and had dinner with Mr. CEO at Seoul’s tallest building, the Chomgdam Paragon.

We were all on a Caffe Bene high, laughing and bonding over stories from home and beyond. It was such a wonderful time catching up with colleagues and discovering new things about a culture I’ve always been fascinated by. Korea, coffee and great conversations — everything goes hand in hand, Caffe Bene Style!

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Gangnam and beyond at twitter.com/officialTIMYAP.

 

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