This myth that coffee was first introduced to Korea through Antoinette Songtag (of the Sontag Hotel) has made its way into history books, movies and even on this blog and, to be honest, I am tired of it.
According to MBC America:
It was in 1896, when King Kojong was served coffee at the Russian Embassy for the first time by a woman named Sontak, who was the sister-in-law of Russian Ambassador Veber.
According to Joongang Daily (January 28, 2010):
Coffee was first introduced in Korea during the 19th century. Yoo Gil-jun, the first Korean student to study abroad, said in the book “Seoyugyunmun,” which he wrote in 1895 after traveling around America and Europe, “Westerners habitually drink coffee and juice like Koreans drink sungnyung every day,” referring to a traditional Korean beverage served after meals, made from cooked rice.
At least the Joongang doesn’t claim Kojong was the first:
The Joseon ruler Gojong (1852-1919) seems to have been one of the earliest Korean coffee lovers, according to records that say the king came to enjoy drinking coffee in 1896, while he sought refuge at the Russian Embassy from a cabinet that was friendly to Japan.
Many of you already know that I have done my best to debunk earlier “Firsts” in Korea including the first soccer game, bicycle, car, rickshaw, ice-skating and airplane, so it is only natural that this one would get my attention as well. The truth is – I can not say when King Kojong (Gojong) first began to drink coffee but I can say that coffee was served in the palace well before Kojong took up residence at the Russian legation.
In September 1886, Dr. Horace N. Allen and several visiting American naval officers were invited to a picnic just outside of Seoul on Pukhan Mountain. After a strenuous climb they arrived at “a great Buddhist temple and many surrounding buildings, one of which had been fitted up as a banquet hall for naval guests. Here a foreign meal was served by cooks trained in foreign service (sent from the king’s palace), and washed down with the beverage brewed at Milwaukee and the sparkling ‘Extra Dry’, while foreign cakes, nuts and cigars, with strong black coffee, wound up the feast, which then gave place to a quaint concert by a band of performers on stringed instruments. The wild, weird strains of the music, fitting in so aptly with the untamed surroundings, made our own presence and the modern nature of the feast we had just enjoyed contrast very strangely with all of us.”
You can read the rest of the article here – at Jeju Weekly.
Picture credit – My collection