Drink Of The Week: The Pour Over Coffee In 'Crash Landing On You'
So many layers of meaning in just one cup
Picture this: the soft light of early morning and Ri Jeong-hyuk (aka Hyun Bin) is hand roasting a small batch of coffee beans in an old pan over an outdoor flame. It's a slow process, this patient coaxing of flavor and fragrance from the tiny beans. The scene cuts to the dimly lit kitchen where he then proceeds to make pour over coffee with his tools laid out on the table: mortar and pestle, a cloth filter, and an old pour over kit acquired from another lifetime — when he was a pianist studying music in Switzerland, not a stoic soldier in North Korea. If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm describing one of my favorite scenes from the runaway hit series, Crash Landing On You.
By the time heroine Yoon Se-ri wakes up, Jeong-hyuk has ground the beans and so she watches his pour over technique. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee makes her close her eyes, and when she proclaims the coffee perfect, he is visibly pleased. She's so impressed with his brew that she makes a little "heart" sign with her fingers, and if this isn't a clear instance of good coffee triggering a great romance then I'll eat my hat. Hah!
One of the charms of Crash Landing On You (at least for me) are the glimpses into North Korean culture that's revealed as the story unfolds.
Coffee is a vehicle for a little cross cultural understanding. South Korean Se-ri wants freshly brewed coffee, like she enjoys in Seoul, but this is a challenge to find in North Korea. Jeong-hyuk has to go to some trouble just to acquire the beans. In an earlier scene has a senior army officer proudly offering Jeong-hyuk a sachet of Maxim, a popular South Korean brand of three-in-one instant coffee that is, of course, contraband north of the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea).
Korea is traditionally a tea-drinking society. Coffee was perceived as a dark, bitter drink symbolic of Westernization. For a time, drinking coffee was a privilege of the elite, and maybe this image combined with South Korea's prosperity partially explains why coffee in South Korea became so popular. So today, there's a thriving cafe culture in the south.
North Korea is another story. Business Insider reported that an unnamed "gourmet coffee shop" had opened in Pyongyang serving Third Wave coffee, but admitted that "the pour over was a bit off, the grind too coarse, and the beans slightly out of date... the espresso, however, was excellent, bursting with caramelly and nutty flavors." This was in 2015.
Four years later, the Korea Herald was proud to announce that ordinary North Koreans have "joined the elite in acquiring a taste for coffee." Coffee, once the symbol of capitalism, became more accessible following the launch of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, an industrial park located in the north, but jointly operated by the two Koreas. It's going to be fascinating to watch the evolution of their cafe culture, even from afar.
Let's not forget about pour over coffee as a brewing method. Sometimes called hand brewing or manual brewing, this is a straightforward technique for making delicious coffee — one simply pours hot water over coffee grounds in a filter, in a slow and steady motion, to extract flavor and aroma.
This method allows the hot water to extract the coffee oils, flavors and aromas on its own consistent time and pressure, rather than being forced out (as in a machine). Unlike a French press in which the coffee is immersed in hot water, the pour over's filter catches a lot of the oils, resulting in a clean tasting cup. The constant stream of fresh hot water brings out nuances in the coffee. The result is a richer, more interesting drink. Personally, I wouldn't mind waking up every morning to see Jeong-hyuk making me pour over coffee. I mean, wouldn't you?