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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Bean Stock Coffee

I love a good play on words. Bean Stock, however, is no laughing matter. This coffeeshop-cum-speciality bean store is true to its name and is as serious about coffee as one can get.

Although it once was a coffee shop, complete with comfortable chairs, excellent sound system and countless CDs and vinyl albums of classical music and jazz, it now is a coffee bean supply store where one can purchase the finest of beans prepared with a master’s loving care.

Bean stock is only open from 10am to 3pm daily. The shop is tucked away in a non-descript building near SaveZone on the 2nd floor with nothing but a small weather-worn sign to announce it’s presence. But don’t let those facts dissuade you. The store has been in business since 1996 and that longevity, despite the lack of advertising and brief daily business hours is a testament to the enormous success of the proprietor and the power of word of mouth.

Barrels of raw coffee beans from around the world

From the moment we entered Bean Stock, my senses were awash in coffee par excellence. The aroma of freshly roasting beans permeates the air while barrels of raw beans fill a corner of the shop. Along one wall, a vast library of music still exists to provide soothing sounds for the multitude of customers sipping coffee and chatting, now no more than ghosts and  faded memories. Another wall is littered with art, art books, antique coffee cups, pots, spoons and other accoutrements of a by-gone age.  Thick cushioned chairs and wide comfortable tables that once filled the room are pushed to one side as if moving day were approaching. This was once a stylish coffee shop with none of the chrome and glass and hurried barristas of today’s modern coffee houses. Instead, Bean Stock is place to buy beans for your own cup at home.  Ah, but if that were all it was, I’d be doing the shop a great disservice.

Bean Stock is one man’s tribute to the art of fine coffee.

Having found that there is a market in Ulsan for the raw materials for home brew, the owner, henceforth known as “The Coffee Guru,” has scaled back his enterprise to simply importing beans from around the world, roasting them in his hand-made roaster and either selling them over the counter or via home delivery.  But like any true artist, he delights in explaining how he creates his work. Moreover, he’ll offer free cups of coffee to prospective customers, detailing the steps in preparation, the origin of the beans and qualities one should consider in tasting the various varieties. In fact, if you wish to learn to be a barrista yourself, he offers free lessons, although you should have a basic understanding of Korean. He can write and speak English but explaining the finer points will be best in Korean.

The Coffee Guru scrutinizes each batch of roasted beans by hand

Defective beans, which are flat or damaged are removed. Peaberries, the less flavorful beans from the outer limb of the tree are also discarded.

My friend, Jared, and I drank a couple of cups of coffee while he went about his business of roasting, labelling and prepping his deliveries. I was astounded at the level of attention and care he gives, painstakingly inspecting by hand a sifter of roasted beans for imperfections and undesirable beans. This is not a high volume shop, I realized, but one in which each purchase contains the absolute best product, lovingly prepared and packaged.

The Coffee Guru prepares cups of coffee for us - paper filters are no good, he explains. Ladies nylons are best for filtering

While making the cups for Jared and myself, I was struck by the beauty of being able to work at an unhurried pace in order to produce the best possible cup of joe. This man’s world provided an alluring glimpse of a slower time in comparison to my own world, so often tempered by rapid fire agendas, cluttered with instant messages, emails and the entire internet in the palm of my hand.

In between cups, he changed bean varieties, carefully rinsing and drying his nylon filter and  washing his drip pot. He even checked the mineral level in his filtered water, insuring that our cups held the finest possible taste – no, that’s wrong. It was beyond mere taste – it was experience.  In fact, I had some trouble in categorizing this shop. I questioned myself as to whether this article belonged in our restaurant guide, for it is surely no restaurant, or even a coffee shop. Should I place it in the Culture section? For this is truly as much about the Art of Coffee and one man’s Quest for Excellence as it is about consuming coffee. In the end, the restaurant guide won out, because, like Foreigner Town, sometimes the best restaurant is your very own kitchen.

The handmade gas-fired roaster slowly turned while we sipped.

I have to admit my surprise, when after several years in a land where instant give-it-to-me-now coffee is nearly everywhere, that there is a place for coffee aficionados who want to brew their own cup at home. My only previous experience with Korean stores and beans was at the expensive departments stores with mass-produced brands. Even Costco, which has a larger selection of real coffee than I’d seen in stores is mostly Starbucks corporate McCoffee.

Bean Stock carries coffee from nearly two dozen regions around the world. Here one can find Ethiopian Sidamo, organic Kenyan, Tanzanian, Sulawesi Toraja, organic Bali, Colombian, organic Mexican and many others.   When you buy, he’ll give you a sealed pack with the origin of the beans, the roasting level (dark, french, etc.) and the roast date.   I bought a pack of the Sumatran Mandheling and it’s fabulous. It won’t be my last purchase.

To find Bean Stock, make your way to SaveZone department store in Samsandong. If you stand in front of SaveZone turn 180 degrees and walk one block south. Take the next left and Bean Stock will be on the 2nd floor on your left in a no-name building, hiding where only those in-the-know can find it.