When anyone opens a coffeeshop in Pyongyang, we're grateful; when its a CE workshop alum, testing out ideas learned in our programs, we get even more excited.
We recently got the chance to check out Gum Rung coffeeshop, located in a leisure complex just next to Pyongyang's bowling alley. Overall, we were impressed: the ambiance is by far the most similar to cafes in other Asian cities with thriving coffee scenes. The decor is relaxing and lighting creates a pleasant mood. The equipment is top-notch, and includes an advanced water filtration system.
Moreover, the head barista trained in China and she clearly knows what she's doing in a way that most baristas at other fancy places around Pyongyang do not.
Does that justify the extremely high prices of $4 to $8 per drink? It's a tough sell. We'd politely ordered and shelled out the bucks on the first visit, but on our second visit, we (hopefully equally) politely let them know that even for a group of "wealthy foreigners", the price was too high.
They explained that they had to import many of their ingredients by air and we said we hoped they could find a cheaper way so that they could reduce the end price but still maintain a healthy margin. We'll be interested to see what adjustments they make either to price or product in the coming months.
In the end, though, there has yet to be a cafe that can survive on its own in Pyongyang: simply, the city lacks a base of customers who think several dollars for a cup is worth it and most Pyongyangers who could afford the high prices are still choosing other things on which to spend their disposable income. This cafe will likely survive as it is part of a bigger recreation complex that offers squash courts, table-tennis, a decent gym and even yoga classes. As yet, an espresso machine in your restaurant/hotel/sports center/water park is mainly a signifier that your institution is classy. It's a marketing tool as much as anything else. In most cafes, the number of daily cups sold remains quite low and probably will for some time yet.