It makes a gurgling sound, and whenever a train passes, the coffee cup hits the saucer and makes a rattling sound. From floor to ceiling, it shook so loudly that I sometimes felt frightened. However, I soon realized that this regular sound of shaking the table and glasses was the biggest physical element filling the space. Perhaps because of this, City Coffee CEO Sohn Kyung-taek says that the sound of passing subways is no different from background music, so it is not quiet even without music.
I quickly adapted to the sound and looked around to see a customer dozing off while watching the news on the silent television. From time to time, the names of familiar politicians flowed from tables discussing domestic and international situations, and the smell of toast or bowl noodles that satiated the hunger of the hungry filled the silence until the noise of the next train. After a long discussion, the elders who got up from their seats fought over how to pay each other for a certain amount of coffee, which seemed to be a long-standing tradition here. CEO Sohn took charge of City Coffee as the second owner and has maintained this landscape without a single day off.
‘Bulldozer’ Kim Hyeon-ok built hundreds of sidewalk overpasses and elevated roundabouts while serving as the mayor of Seoul. In the Seoul he draws, cars should be able to run anywhere non-stop. Along with this, more than 10 underpasses were built to cover the development cost of Rapid Seoul as passageways for pedestrians who gave way to cars, and have become new living spaces for Seoul citizens. Beginning with the ‘New Seoul Underground Shopping Mall’ in Euljiro 1-ga in 1967, underground spaces were created throughout Seoul, and in 1983, with the opening of Subway Line 2, the ‘Euljiro Public Underground Pedestrian Road’ was opened for the purpose of air defense. City Coffee also opened in a long and complex underground city that stretches 2.8km from the ‘New Seoul Underground Shopping Center’ in front of City Hall to ‘Seoul Playground Station’.
In the 1970s, when the development of underground shopping malls was in full swing, at coffee shops in Seoul, cooks personally blended and extracted coffee and held a ‘coffee cooking competition’. Dongsuh Foods and Miju Industrial Development메이저놀이터, a coffee company now acquired by Daesang, waged a promotional war by naming their roasted coffees Roasted Coffee and Coffee Beans, respectively, to captivate the taste buds of cooks. Paradoxically, instant coffee was only popularized in earnest after Dongseo Foods introduced freeze-drying technology and improved quality in 1980. Instant coffee required a much more complicated process and technical skills than coffee beans, so the manufacturing cost was high. ‘Mix Coffee’, which is still sold by City Coffee, was first launched by Dongseo Foods in 1976, but only gained popularity in the 1980s.
The 1980s was the era of underground shopping malls and mixed coffee. In a fast-growing city, cars had to be a priority above all else, and mixed coffee quickly melted into urban workers who had to work without a break. In the heyday of Euljiro Underground Shopping Center, there were business card shops, flower shops, bakeries, and music stores. There was even a custom suit shop, so city office workers naturally had no choice but to find an underground shopping center. At that time, the monthly rent of a shopping mall with a good neck reached 2 million won at current prices, so the underground shopping center was always crowded with people. Mixed coffee, which quickly and sweetly replenishes caffeine, soothes the fatigue and heats up those who pass through the underground shopping center. The city breathed in its heat.
Over the years, the overpass that was ‘built while fighting’ quickly ran out of life and was demolished or turned into a park. Mixed coffee, which was drunk by those who thought about the growth of the country and company rather than health, is now changing to Americano with individual tastes. The scenery of Euljiro Underground Shopping Center is not much different. The record store, which used to play music loud enough to reverberate through the underpass every day, has been unable to find the next owner and has only put up a clearance sign for several years. Tailor shops, where clothes that were once the most fashionable, have been hanging for years, are growing old with the customers who visit them.
City Coffee is still offering a cup of coffee to those who have lost a place to lean on. The principle is self-service, where you bring and drink the coffee you ordered, but CEO Son often asks for the customers’ understanding and serves them to their seats. “Since it has been operated as a self-service for 30 years, there is no need to walk. You have to walk like this to exercise and get healthy.” Would it be an exaggeration to say that the history of a coffee shop that has preserved the times lies in its steps?