Growing coffee trees in South Korea A man pioneers the way

강진성 기자l승인2020.02.25l수정2020.02.25 16:51






▲ Korea Coffee Tree / Dr. Heungsuk Oh

South Korea has seen a remarkable growth in coffee industry for the last 10 years. Coffee for Koreans today has become as important as staple food. The sales of coffee have ranked No.3 after the US and China with yearly 15 tons of consumption, the 6th largest in the world. Last year alone, South Korea imported 15 trillion won ($12 billion) coffee. Brewing a thought of cultivating this huge amount of coffee in the homeland, a South Korean scholar Dr. Heungsuk Oh has carried on his research on coffee trees for 40 years. 

Coffee farmers needed

“In fact, I succeeded cultivating coffee in South Korea. What we need to do now is that there needs to be a considerable number of coffee farmers. By doing this, we can save a lot of money from importing 15 trillion won coffee a year from overseas” says Oh. People often called him crazy, nut job and even liar when he started growing coffee trees homeland. He was so stressed that he once got a colorectal cancer. He carried on nevertheless and eventually proved himself. “A coffee tree lasts 100 years and it could be a family business that can feed 3 generations. One of the drawbacks is that the coffee cultivated homeland is more expensive than the imported for now. But for the future, it will certainly have its competitiveness. Another one is that it takes 3 years for cultivation during which farmers should cover labor cost and utility bills. At this point, a government support is needed in a long term perspective.”

A gym teacher turned coffee doctor
Oh graduated from Kyung Hee University College of Physical Education. He obtained a doctor’s degree and served as a gym teacher. He opened his eye to a potential of coffee industry when he was invited to a luncheon with former president Youngsam Kim who showed great interest in coffee over tea. He flew to Scotland with government support and obtained a doctor of science and started research on coffee in earnest. He traveled around 90 countries in seeking and learning of coffee before finding the right coffee tree suitable for Korean land. And it was ‘mandheling’ of Nepal which endures under minus 4 degrees Celsius. The problem was how to bring it to homeland. He ate many of the fruit, flew home and took a laxative to let it out through feces. Sorting out the seeds, he made improvement of breed from 6 to 8 meter long tree up to 2 meters and succeeded cultivating in green house on Mountain Worak in North Chungcheong Province. The trees are grown in 4 to 5 degrees Celsius and it takes 7 to 8 months to cultivate the fruits. They are now being cultivated in Jeonju City, Jangsu County, Cheonan City and Nonsan City. 

Good things about coffee

Coffee is known to be good for anticancer and deodorization. At Korea Coffee Tree, the leaves of the trees are made into soap, drinks and shampoo for which the company has obtained patents. The company also is in working with local governments and the Agricultural Technology Center for improvement of breed and for better scent, quality and productivity. When the research is successful, Oh says, people can grow a coffee tree in their home. “It is regretful, however, that the business of selling coffee tree from us is regarded as ‘pseudo-receiving act’ as credit card companies suspect a tree being sold at 1 million won ($843) to 2 million won as a possible illegal cash-back. I’ve explained everything to the Financial Supervisory Service already but things have not changed much.” This is the point where the responsible public institutions make things right and clear. 


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