| South Korea

Intelligentsia Coffee set to make international debut in South Korea

The US specialty coffee roaster and café chain has already built strong brand recognition in South Korea following a nine-year packaged coffee and ready-to-drink partnership with MH Partners

Intelligentsia Coffee’s Wicker Park coffee bar | Photo credit: Intelligentsia Coffee / Intelligentsia Coffee


Intelligentsia Coffee is poised to open its first international store in South Korea in partnership with its long-term Seoul-based distributor MH Partners. 

The specialty coffee roaster and café chain, which currently operates 12 US stores, will open its first site in Seoul's Seochon neighbourhood on 23 February 2024. The brand is exploring opportunities for additional sites in the east Asian country. 

Intelligentsia’s packaged coffee and ready-to-drink (RTD) products have been available in premium coffee shops and via the Market Kurly e-commerce platform in South Korea since 2015 via MH Partners. 

As a local partner, the coffee import and distribution company has worked closely with JAB-Holding backed Intelligentsia on store design, menu development and barista training for its Seoul debut.  

“We are excited to further our commitment to the specialty community in South Korea where a growing number of coffee drinkers share our passion for extraordinary coffee. We believe coffee is a culinary experience. Our goal is to bring this perspective to South Korea and showcase the best we have to offer in premium specialty coffee experiences, hospitality, and service,” said James McLaughlin, CEO, Intelligentsia Coffee. 


Read related content: In a Class of Their Own: Celebrating 25 years of Intelligentsia Coffee 

South Korea has among the highest density of cafés per capita in the world and is the second largest branded coffee chain in East Asia with more than 31,100 stores.  

Although a significantly domestic-led market, South Korea has long been an attractive market for international operators, with brands such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ debuting in 1999 and Canada’s Tim Hortons opening its first store in the country in December 2023. 

Intelligentsia Coffee will be seeking to emulate the success of California-based Blue Bottle Coffee in developing South Korea’s thriving specialty coffee scene. Blue Bottle opened its first outlet in Seoul in 2019 and now operates 13 sites across the country, alongside stores in Japan, China and Hong Kong.  

Other international specialty operators in South Korea include Japan’s % Arabica, French-Japanese inspired coffee and dining concept Café Kitsuné and Germany’s The Barn

Intelligentsia Coffee was founded by Doug Zell and Emily Mange in 1995 and was acquired by Luxembourg-based conglomerate JAB Holding in October 2015. JAB Holding’s coffee portfolio also includes Peet’s Coffee, Keurig Dr Pepper, Pret A Manger, Espresso House, Krispy Kreme and Panera Brands – which comprises the Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels brands.   

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