▲ A man tries his hand at brewing a cup of hand-drip coffee. Photo by Ko Jae Kwon
A field of beans. Rho Jin Yi has discovered that if she builds it, people will come.
On Oct. 16, the first Jeju Coffee Festival was held in Samyang-dong at a 6,600 square-meter coffee plantation home to roughly 25,000 coffee plants. Rho, the owner of the farm, first started growing coffee trees here in 2007.
Walking through the outside entrance, the first of the festival’s exhibits to be seen was a world map depicting the coffee belt, the part of the world near the equator where climatic conditions allow for coffee plants. Here, you can see that Jeju is well over 1,000 kilometres north of the most northern border of the belt and the curious observer might glance over the map at the healthy and numerous coffee plants on the other side, perhaps wondering how such cultivation is possible this far north.
Next to the map is a barista show put on by the Olle Coffee Company, where people can learn about the functioning of espresso machines and the beverages it helps produce, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas. Coffee-drinking competitions were also held at this exhibit; folks gathered to guzzle down espresso-based drinks as quickly as possible with prizes awarded for consumption speed. It was here that I burned taste buds and took home a bag of cocoa powder for first place after drinking a hot cappuccino in about five frothy seconds.
Whereas the farm, its teachers and students specialize in hand-drip coffee, the Olle Coffee Company specializes in espresso-based coffee. Yoon Hye Won, the director of the Olle Coffee Company, said that her team were there to help out and bring awareness to Jeju’s coffee culture. They had “prepared 500 cups of coffee for consumption, many of which were for coffee drinking contests.” She expressed doubt that 500 would be enough.
▲ Coffee plants were displayed during the first Coffee Festival on Jeju. Photo by Ko Jae Kwon
A little beyond this, coffee-related informational and pictorial posters glared in the sunlight along a walkway leading to hand-drip coffee tasting tents while live music could be heard—a flute, keyboard and cello trio—emanating from the farm house. In another set of tents further up the path, people shook hand-held roasters full of coffee beans over the open flames of gas-ranges.
The organizers of the event were busy as if in a caffeinated frenzy trying to keep up with the number of visitors. “I thought it would be more of an internal festival between the students and the teachers,” said Rho, taking a precious moment from her hectic schedule to answer a few questions. “But people came, and since I wasn’t prepared [for this kind of turn out], I feel sorry people who left without having experienced all that the festival had to offer.”
Echoing this, local resident Hyun Ju Ryeong said, “I need caffeine, but the line is too long.”
Rho hopes that future coffee festivals take place with even greater turnouts and more people to prepare than just herself and her students.
Yang Yong Jin, a food expert in Jeju and student of Rho, also expressed surprise at the turn out. “We expected the festival to be celebrated mostly by the students of the coffee making school. But many others came from outside, so we’re very busy right now.”
He also revealed the main purpose behind the festival. “The coffee plantation at Samyang is not officially recognized as agriculture by the officials, so there is no government for the project. But coffee agriculture [on Jeju] gets expensive, especially during the wintertime. This is the financial side behind the purpose of the festival: to finance the growing of coffee.”
He explained that not only admission fees, but also all other sales of the festival went towards financing the growing of coffee in Jeju. Such sales included his baked goods, as well as coffee-dyed scarves, coffee-based soaps and other coffee-related paraphernalia.
Coffee cultivation requires a minimum of 15 degrees Celsius, explained Rho. Should the plants be exposed to temperatures below this, they will die. Thus on Jeju, artificial heating is necessary, which is pricey.
Because the farm is so young, she’s not thinking about the politics of getting her coffee plantation recognized as legitimate agriculture. She says that what she’s completely focusing on is growing the plants successfully in the belief that government recognition will follow such success.
The plantation is far from a financial success yet. But she’s happy with the festival, because the turnout was much greater than she expected.
Rho also sells her coffee, which is a blend of 10 percent Jeju grown and 90 percent other, to help pay the heating bills. This coffee costs 7,000 won per 100 grams.
Interpretation by Chris J. Park
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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