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Six Great Seoul Cafes

Recent Posts, Posted by Matt in ALL DESTINATIONS,Best of DK,Food & Drink,Seoul,Video, 20 Comments

Six Great Seoul Cafes



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Many may assume that Korea is a tea-based culture. Indeed, Korea has an indigenous tea culture that goes back centuries. But ever since King Gojong became the nation’s best-known coffee lover in the late 1800’s, java has taken the nation by storm. More recently, the wildly popular TV drama, “Coffee Prince” captured Korea’s love of coffee. Today, global giant Starbucks competes with local brands like Holly’s, Ediya and Café Pascucci. But while you can get a decent cup of joe at any of these places, paying 5,000-won or more is a small extravagance. So, why not enjoy your bitter brew at one of these six great Seoul cafes?
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Rousseau & Rousseau

Seoul's Best CafesLet’s start our cafe tour in the bonafide “Cafe District” of  Samcheong-dong (삼청동). While there are many places around the world named after either the Genevan writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau or the French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau – a quick Internet search revealed a Fresno, California restaurant and a Quebec City café to name just two – I think Samcheong-dong can lay claim to being the only place that’s named after both great men.

Rousseau and Rousseau is located just off the busy main street in the popular northern Seoul hamlet. The coffee house is ridiculously comfy, while conveying a masculinity that evades the typically frilly Seoul cafe. That said, the shelves covered in random trinkets remain, but here it tends to be a toy airplane or a vintage typewriter instead of dolls and stuffed animals. This aesthetic choice reflects the owner, Kim Ju-sam, who brings a calm and understated presence to the place. Thankfully, he doesn’t take coffee prep lightly. In my experience, Rousseau & Rousseau prepares one of Seoul’s most delicious cups of espresso, hand-crafted with the utmost precision.

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13:00-22:00, Closed HolidaysCoffee Beverages: ₩4,000+, Latte: ₩5,00002-733-1020
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Seoul Jongno-gu Hwa-dong 50Anguk Station (#328) on Line 3, Exit 1 
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sticker-best.Club Espresso

Seoul's Best CafesSeoul's Best CafesLocated between two mountains atop northern Seoul, Buam-dong (부암동) moves at a refreshingly slower pace than most of Korea’s capital. Beside the neighborhood’s lone traffic light is Club Espresso. Since 1990, they’ve operated under the mantra, “the art of coffee,” roasting 22 types of single origin beans, from Ugandan Bugisu Organic to a Brazil Lazaro Libeiro Oliveira Farm variety. Prices range in the 7,000 to 13,000 won range for 500 grams. The outlier is the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe washed beans, which will run you a cool 22,000 won – a small price to pay for the true coffee buff. True java addicts can splurge on a 10-kilo bag of the Club’s signature blend for ₩390,000.

Despite being a short haul from downtown Jongno, the spacious café’s rustic setting feels akin to a mountain lodge, and it’s a worthwhile destination. Bring along some work, spread it out atop the large tables and enjoy a mug of a house specialty, Hawaiian Milk Coffee, made from an espresso, chocolate powder, milk and whipped cream. Best of all, the people at Club Espresso are lovely, from the owner to the staff. It’s simply nice to be in a place where you’re surrounded by people who love what they’re doing!

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10:00-23:00Double Espresso: ₩5,00002-764-8719
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Seoul Jongno-gu Buam-dong 257-1Gyeongbokgung Station (#327) on Line 3, Exit 3, then take bus #1020, 7022 or 7212 to Changuimun Gate. website
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Coffee Han Jan (커피한잔)

Seoul's Best CafesSeoul's Best CafesJust west of Gyeongbokgung palace in old Seoul’s Sajik-dong (사직동) neighborhood is Coffee Han Jan, a coffee spot that feels a bit like a rustic shed. Inside, bric-a-brac covers the walls, along with a considerable collection of vinyl records. About half the space is dedicated to hawking handmade bags, wallets and aprons from Tibet and, ostensibly, coffee-growing regions of the world.

Beyond the shop is one dozen options for excellent hand-drip coffee. After all, their name translates simply as “A Cup of Coffee.” Beyond java, an eclectic beverage menu includes a special winter menu of Apple Cinnamon tea and Badam Milk and three kinds of chai tea. Delightfully spicy, my favorite is their Masala variety. On warmer days, drink their delicious yogurt lassi from a metal cup topped with chopped nuts. Finally, should you have a hankering for some solid food, Coffee Han Jan‘s limited eating menu features a Veggie Curry for 7,000.

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12:00-20:00 (Tue-Sun), Closed MondaysHand-drip coffee: ₩5,000; “Cup of Excellence”: ₩8,000; Masala Chai Tea: ₩4,000; Veggie Curry: ₩7,000 
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Seoul Jongno-gu Sajik-dong 1-7Gyeongbokgung Station (#327) on Line 3, Exit 1 
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Anthracite Coffee Roasters

Seoul's Best CafesSeoul's Best CafesLeave it to hip ol’ Hongdae to open a cafe that takes industrial design to the extreme. Located off the neighborhood’s main streets, Anthracite Coffee Roasters features corrugated steel roofing atop exposed wooden ceiling beams and cinder block walls punctuated with large holes of dubious vintage. Add to this bomb shelter-chic some jazz, colorful paintings and a hodge podge of plush chairs, large couches and frilly pillows, and you’ll have Seoul’s answer to what’s currently cool.

To be honest, I think this trend has played itself out in Seoul, but then again, what says G-20 more than paying a premium to sit with drink in a recast old factory? Affectations aside, Anthracite does come through where it counts, by serving up great hand-drip coffee, pleasant no-frills service and a resident shaggy dog. While the dimly lit environs aren’t conducive to work or study, where else can you enjoy an iced Americano in a chemistry set flask?

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10:00-24:00 (Mon-Sat), 10:00-23:00 (Sun)Cappuccino: ₩5,000, Peppermint Rooibos Tea: ₩7,000, Guinness Draft (390ml): ₩7,000, Ice Milk Tea: ₩7,00002-763-3142, 02-322-0009
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Seoul Mapo-gu Hapjeong-dong 357-6Sangsu Station (#623) on Line 6, Exit 4. Turn left after 7-Eleven. Turn right at road end. Turn right before UNI Art Hall. website
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sticker-best.Ilya Espresso

Seoul's Best CafesSeoul's Best CafesWhen my mother visited a few months back, we took refuge in Ilya Espresso on a rainy afternoon. The cafe is a rare example of great coffee, service and attractive décor, a mix made all the more surprising given its location on an uninspired strip off Mapo Station.What’s more, the coffee shop’s huge square tables, sumptuous chairs and dark wood floors all lend a warmth and feeling of ample personal space in a big city not known for it.

Ilya Espresso‘s true passion, however, is its coffee. Truly among the most delicious cups of joe that I’ve enjoyed in coffee-crazy Korea, their many varieties include a yummy fair trade hand-drip blend that’s well worth the modest wait. To complement your coffee, you can choose from a few dessert options, like a small slice of yummy pecan pie. Given the great coffee and tasty snacks, on my next visit, I think I’ll come with a fair amount of work in-tow. Ilya Espresso is a perfect place to spend many future rainy afternoons.

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11:00-23:00, Closed SundaysHand-drip Ethiopia Yirgacheffe: ₩5,000, Peppermint Tea: ₩5,000, Americano: ₩5,000, Pecan Pie: ₩5,00002-715-2500
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Seoul Mapo-gu Yeomni-dong 172-1Mapo Station (#528) on Line 5, Exit 2 
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sticker-best.Coffeest

Seoul's Best CafesLet’s wrap things up at one of my long-time favorite cafes. Tucked behind west Seoul’s Gyeonghuigung palace  along a quiet street in Nasu-dong (나수동) is Coffeest. The cozily cluttered, single-room shop is a popular oasis in a neighborhood better known for its publishing companies. The owner, a former filmmaker, fell in love with the art of roasting coffee while studying in England. Today, artsy types come to study, that is, unless they’re distracted by the curious table-top caddies filled with supplies in search of an art project.

Coffeest serves several kinds of coffee and tea, as well as cheesecake and panini sandwiches. All are served on a mix and match collection of beautiful cups, saucers and cutlery and refills are free. Weather permitting, the three outdoor tables are a pleasant setting, and free wifi Internet is available. Finally, on your way out or to the restroom, you’ll walk atop a glass floor. Inches below is the excavated foundation of a former palace building. Indeed, Korea’s royal connection to coffee lives on.

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10:00-23:00 (Sundays 12:00-22:00), Closed Seollal & ChuseokMost items are under ₩10,00002-773-5555
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Seoul Jongno-gu Sinmunno 2(i)-ga 1-335Anguk Station (#328) on Line 3, Exit 1 
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There ya go, what I think is a fitting list for a country (and capital) obsessed with coffee..

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20 Comments

9 November 2009 01:37

Solotune

Gosh Matt, I was about to pop that question!(where can I find interesting cafes in Seou?) I always ended up in either Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea leaves in the past, will certainly visit the places you’ve recommended. And how about showing us some great western tea places too?

9 November 2009 22:18

lunare

The Sinchon place is certainly appealing. It seems like there’s a lot of coffee shops where the attention to creating a unique ambiance is just as much as the passion for brewing the perfect cup? Was it just because of the Coffee Prince drama trend?

12 November 2009 08:55

Matt Kelley

Hi Solotune!
Glad I read your mind^^
By “western tea places” what do you mean? These two cafes aren’t traditional Korean tea houses. Do you mean the chains?
~Matt

12 November 2009 08:57

Matt Kelley

Hi Lunare,
Thanks for your latest note! Yes, I hear from folks who have lived here longer that the coffee shop craze is a pretty recent phenomenon (1990s), so before Coffee Prince, but still a new thing here. In some neighborhoods (Sinsa-dong, Hongdae, Samcheong-dong) it’s frankly kind of ridiculous how many cafés there are… but a lot of them do have pretty interesting design motifs, delicious treats, etc. I’m definitely not a coffee connoisseur, but I imagine serious coffee artisans like those at Cabae Duream are in the minority.

~Matt

14 November 2009 22:52

Solotune

Hi Matt,
I mean would there be places that specialises in tea rather than coffee but not the traditional tea like those in the Insadong area.

November 15 2009 20:18 pm

Matt Kelley

Ms. Solotune:
Ah... I'm sure there are but I haven't run into them lately. Although I did visit a charming French-themed place today that had some 15+ varieties of tea (but coffee, too). I ordered some sweet ginger tea, which had ginger slices in the bottom. It was delicious and just what my throat needed. Anyhow, I'll keep my eyes peeled for non-traditional, tea-specific haunts and will report back if/when found! Have a good week! ~Matt

15 November 2009 15:57

hyeonjeong

Hi Matt~
I’ve never been those cafes despite i’m living in Seoul, South Korea. But I’m gonna visit that cafe(Coffeest) soon ~ This cafe is located near 안국station, right?

November 15 2009 20:15 pm

Matt Kelley

Hi Hyeonjeong,
Thanks for your note. No, this café is behind Gyeonghuigung Palace between 광화문역 and 서대문역... Here's a link with Korean info: http://r.wingbus.com/seoul/gwanghwamun/coffest_ghm/

Oh, and I like your blog! I've been in touch with Hyeonsuk at VANK and hope to profile Seoul Breeze on my KBS interview show soon!
Best, Matt

20 January 2010 10:34

Jenny Cleary

Hey Matt, thanks for the tip on Cabae Duream. It’s nice to see some green in this concrete jungle. I’ll be sure to check it out soon.

Maybe you might be interested in some of my food adventures in Korea, check it out at http://www.foodcoma911.com

Take care^^

17 April 2010 21:23

Jonathan

Great post! I checked out both places today.

Unfortunately Cabae Duream was empty, I was the only one there apart from another gentleman who arrived for a while. Great coffee I just wish I could have experienced it thriving. It’s a Saturday afternoon, where is everyone in Seoul if not drinking coffee?!

Coffeeest is very charming. Lady who worked there spoke great english which is a nice perk for visitors like me. Got some coffee beans too to enjoy throughout the week.

24 October 2010 09:46

Jim

Thanks to your article, I’d been going to the awesome Cabae Duream for a couple of months since arriving in Korea in August of 2010. It was by far my favorite coffee shop in Seoul. But when I stopped by on Oct. 24, 2010, the place was gutted and gone! A huge downer. I hope they’ve just moved rather than going out of business. Their website, http://www.coffeemba.co.kr/SEH1/main.asp, is still up and I don’t see anything on it that mentions anything about what I saw (though my Korean isn’t good enough to state that definitively). I just hope they pop up elsewhere…

October 30 2010 07:54 am

Matt

Hey Jim,

I'm so glad you found Cabae Duream via this site and really sorry to hear it's gone! Things just change so fast here. It's a chain... so if you were a big fan of the coffee, you can still find it in the basement of the Arirang Building near Nambu Terminal. Of course, a huge draw of the Sinchon location was the rooftop garden and great views. Anyhow, I share your disappointment and will post if I hear anything new.

Best, Matt

3 March 2011 03:29

Joey

Hi, i have a question to all the people in Korea who love 커피 (Coffee) i was wondering. I just saw something on TV like a famous Coffee house in South Korea. That someone pours the coffee infront of you’re noise. All kinds of different coffees but they didn’t tell the name of the coffee house & where it is.. Does anyone know what coffee shop i mean???

16 March 2011 12:24

Char

Thanks so much for this video. It’s very well done and informative. :) I’ll be in Seoul next week and was googling “coffee/ cafes” and your site came up. The cafes in Seoul look amazing, I hope I stumble upon one while I’m there!

3 October 2011 12:55

czarina masdal

hi there Matt,

Can you give me some information about cafe Pascucci in Korea? I wanna know if it famous in Korea and do Koreans prefer other coffee brand than Pascucci???

30 November 2011 11:51

Soojung

Mmmmm, so yummy. Totally happy to hear that Korea loves its coffee, considering that I am a coffee addict for life =P … I am planning on going to Korea for the first time ever in the summer (my parents are from there, but I was born and raised in Canada). So I’m doing my research now and trying to get to know the culture some more before I go, through blogs such as yours! Anyways, thanks for the info! =)

- Soojung

December 22 2011 02:04 am

Matt

Hi Soojung,

Yes, Korea is obsessed with coffee and cafés... there will be plenty of places for you to explore when you visit :)
Thanks for writing.

Best,
Matt

23 December 2011 20:42

Lanee

Thanks Matt! It is very helpful for me. I haven’t go to Seoul yet, but it your writing inspiring me to go there.

14 January 2012 21:53

Name

The Sinchon cafe may be closed, but in it’s place is what I think is the BEST dance studio in the city, Seoul Tanz Station. I take there every week now, and LOVE it. It is friendly, all the classes are in Korean (I can’t speak a lick of Korean, but they are helpful and nice to me) and the teachers are well versed in dance technique. It tickled me to see the spot of a former cafe, now my usual dance-fix place! The benches and tables are still up there though, for dancers to relax at between classes

24 January 2014 04:46

Jaklien

I just found your blog and it’s fab. I’m going to Seoul in March and have found some cool things to do already!
Thanks for sharing.

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