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Posted by on Dec 20, 2009 in Korean Culture, Korean Food | 5 comments

Koreans aren’t the only ones confused by the cant of coffee

Koreans aren’t the only ones confused by the cant of coffee

A recent Chosun Ilbo article, titled “Foreign Names Take Over the World of Food,” laments the domination of English coffee terminology in many Korean shops. This is despite the unique passion for coffee in the Land of the Morning Calm among all Asia, where tea usually reigns supreme.

An office worker in his 30s said, “When I order coffee, I wonder whether I’m in Korea or America, hearing all the words that are used mixing English and Korean.” One Internet portal even posted advice on how to avoid humiliation in coffee shops. “Just ask for ‘original’ coffee if the shop worker keeps using strange words,” one advice reads. At Starbucks in Korea, milk is the only item written in Korean on a menu listing around 50 different drinks.

The Sept. 30 article stirred passions in the Korean ex-pat blogosphere as well. Brian in Jeollanman-do wrote one of the more notable blog posts on the topic. His post “Brian in Jeollanam-do: Too much English in Korea? Yep, and don't look at us, it's not our fault.” and the ensuing comments about the advantages and disadvantages of Konglish is recommended reading for anyone considering teaching English in Korea.

The powers that be in Korea who complain about “too much English” in the coffee shop need to understand that many of those coffee shops actually use Italian — not English — to describe their menu items. Starbucks is a case in point with use of grande, vente, Americano, Cappucino, Espresso, etc.

This video illustrates how confusing it can be for Americans trying to order the same cup of coffee, especially before we’ve had our daily jolt of caffeine. Those struggling to learn English can feel comfortable in the knowledge that Americans have to struggle with “foreign words” in their daily interactions too.


  1. Thanks for the link! <br /><br />I&#39;ll admit that when I first took a liking to coffee (wasn&#39;t until I hit college) I was confused by all the coffee terms at Starbucks. Good thing I just stick to plain old coffee.

  2. Brian, when I read your post, I INSTANTLY remembered this youtube video and I couldn&#39;t help myself but combine the two in my own post! : )

  3. I refused to order a tall coffee from starbucks. Why can&#39;t they just name it &quot;small&quot; like others. But you&#39;re right about Italian language, not English. I also skip all those too. I call them medium large etc.:) And Starbucks staffs seem to understand what I ask for.

  4. I hate the silly terminology in the coffee shops like Starbucks. I&#39;ve always thought it should be Small Medium Large – and that&#39;s got a translation in any language! Great post – very informative!

  5. That video had me laughing. It&#39;s the primary reason Starbucks never got my business…..I could never get those terms to make any sense. I used to wonder if they had some need to make us (their customers) feel insecure.

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