#homecafe: ASMR coffee the South Korean way

Friday, 3 February, 2023

#homecafe  - Spine tinglingly great coffee experiences. 

There is an Instagram coffee trend in South Korea simply called “Home café”. It is a series of videos that features a person’s hand in-shot, making delectable and eye-catching drinks, to some chilled music and soft lighting, with the desired response of the viewer to achieve a tingly sensation, that runs through your scalp and through your body know to scientists as “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” Or ASMR.  It’s very satisfying! 

The trend started at a time when users were feeling a bit disillusioned with the advertising clutter on the app and a concept emerged around the idea of ‘small but certain happiness’.

Jenny Zhang of Eater describes its origins. “Influenced in part by the Danish “hygge” and an essay by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, “Afternoon in the Islets of Langerhans,” in which he describes the small happiness of “eating a freshly-baked loaf of bread with one’s hands, seeing neatly folded underwear in a drawer, wearing a new shirt that smells like clean cotton and letting a cat enter into a bed with a rustling sound. In a world that emphasizes the importance of chasing success and promotions, earning more money, and climbing up the career ladder into infinite heights, there’s comfort in pouring a single cup of beauty — and comfort in watching it be poured, too.”

This is a feeling you may well have encountered sitting in your local café. Imagine it for a second: It’s early afternoon, you’ve had a hell of a day, so you pop out for a quick coffee at your local café. It’s quiet inside. You sink into your favourite comfy spot on the couch (yay! It’s available!) and you breathe. It’s already the best you’ve felt all day. Your feet feel the weight move off them and you relish the idea of having half an hour all to yourself. The barista comes over, and quietly pops a glass of iced water on the low coffee table in front of you without you asking. She’s chilled, she smiles and turns away to make your usual order. You close your eyes and listen to the soft sounds of the music – island vibes and you close your eyes and think about the upcoming holidays at the coast and the whirring and clicking of the cafe sounds. The barista brings your beverage back a few minutes later, gently places it in front of you, and turns the saucer a fraction of a degree around, so the handle is perfectly placed for you to grab it. And, she’s placed a little complimentary biscuit on the side. 

Is your scalp tingling yet? 

The culture of coffee at home in South Africa is still taking off. If we had to define it, it would be to make café quality beverages at home – and there are a myriad of reasons for this: Covid-19, having exact control over your beverages, the ritual, the variations you can tweak…but perhaps we should be aiming for so much more? After all, though it is wonderful (and necessary!) to make your own great coffee in your home, the real joy is also in sharing this gift with others. Perhaps we should be blending in the Korean philosophy of fun and attention to details with the café service that we love and crave.

Having a good-looking and functional cafe set up in your home or office is a talking point, a way to connect and a way for you to serve your friends and family and perhaps very lucky clients, in a simple, but thoughtful manner.

I can think of so many wonderful coffee drinking experiences like this. One in particular that elicits this response. Long before even working for this magazine,  I can remember working in the surf industry and there was one particular marketing manager that had a bean to cup machine in his office (circa 2008, so let’s keep things in context!). We used to go “pop in” to see this particular person, without an appointment, and often with no business to discuss. The surfboards, re-sprayed as artworks hanging on the wall, the air-conditioner at just the right temperature (Durban summers are a killer!) the cool, screed concrete floors, the big red couch in the reception…and the coffee. It was a milky latte, served in matching red cups, with a little bit of cacao and a few crystals of sugar on the top. It was absolutely perfect, every time. 

Just thinking about it makes my scalp tingle! 

Perhaps one of the biggest limitations we have as South Africans is our view of what “Café” means is twofold : Firstly that café means hot drinks. And secondly that café means coffee. Let’s explore these a bit more broadly and then let’s put them into our homes. 

Café, and by extension, coffee in the comfort  of your home should mean an array of different options in the beverage (and food!) offerings that we see on menus. Yes, coffee, in its most popular guises as espresso, cappuccino, Americano or cortado is central to our idea of Café – but it should be so much more! 

Think about a sweltering Joburg Day, the heat making the pavements shimmer, the aircon on full blast as you sit in traffic, waiting to get to a meeting – you see a roadside café – you pop in, and the barista brings you a tall frozen glass, beads of condensation running down the sides, it’s white, streaked with dark brown, a sweet, puff of white goodness nestled on top and garnished with dark chocolate and mint leaf. Day made! 

You’re in Cape Town, Muizenburg side. The South Easter is threatening to blow you off your feet. It’s late afternoon. You’ve had 4 double shots of coffee today already and you’re stressing about the meeting you’re about to head to – the big pitch. The wind is unsettling, the caffeine if making you shake and you need calm. The barista brings you a short glass, it’s got a lump of ice cream (you see the vanilla specs in it) it’s got cold milk (it could be oat, macadamia or soy?)  it has a little jug of rooibos espresso next to it, a little bowl of ice and some tiny fresh vanilla pods on the top. Mmmmm. Calm. And cold. And no caffeine. 

The machine and the coffee gadget manufacturers are well aware that this trend is not going anywhere any time soon. Haven’t you noticed at your local cafe that the range of goodies for on the retail shelves has steadily grown over the years? 

Home Café can be whatever you want it to be – but don’t let it be narrow. You could be making cappuccinos for the parents at your toddlers birthday party in the garden at home. You could be serving iced affogatos after lunch as a post-dessert dessert, you could be making the worlds best coffee negroni at pre-drinks before you and the girls head out for a night on the town.  Aim for the scalp-tingling, warm fuzzies as your serve a creation of utmost wonder to them. And turn the teaspoon, just that tiny degree, to perfect.

When you look up #homecafe after reading this, you will have a little chuckle at the ceremony of creating these wild and wonderful drinks. You’ll also find yourself lulled into a hypnotic calm as video after video of disembodied hands gently make fascinating coffees. And couldn’t we all use a bit of calm these days.

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!