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  • Writer's pictureCristina Dwyer

It’s coffee time in Seoul!

Updated: Mar 16

I love to kickstart my day with a good cup of coffee! The freshly ground beans, that satisfying hum of the high-pressured water pouring through the portafilter, the rich crema on top – it's a ritual I savor. Caffeine may be a reason, but it is mostly the love for coffee and the art of brewing that run deep within me. And, I must say, that our in-house barista (wink!) is going the extra length to make sure that each cup is brewed to perfection, with the boldness and strength that I like.

Coffee, for me, has often been a signal to friends: "Let's catch up and chat." It's a lifestyle I've cherished for years, one I was spoiled with in Vancouver. The city is boosting with quaint artisanal coffee shops and a wide range of high quality of coffee options. We were continuously on the search for new places and different local roasters, and celebrated each discovery.

Arriving in Seoul, I wondered if my coffee affair could thrive here. Turns out, the challenge wasn't finding a coffee shop, but picking just one. The variety and abundance are beyond words. While I lack stats, I'd bet Seoul has the world's highest coffee shop density.

In my neighborhood alone, a mere five-minute stroll unveils a dozen cozy coffee corners. Most are local businesses, my favorite kind, peppered with a handful of bigger franchises like Starbucks, Paik's Coffee, and Pascucci.

Coffee shops in Seoul come in all shapes and sizes, each tailored to its surroundings and clientele. Ubiquitously present, sometimes standing shoulder to shoulder, their styles vary.

First, there are the small grab-and-go joints, perfect for those on the move.

coffee shop Seoul

These no-fuss spots prioritize efficiency over décor, with limited seating but providing the desired caffeine fix.

Then there are the cozier hangouts that bridge the classic café vibe with Seoul's own twist. These coffee shops are more spacious, offering a touch of personality that mirrors their brand. Whether it's the warm simplicity of Beaner Bro or the cheerful atmosphere of Selecto, these cafes are perfect for socializing, working, or holding business meetings, being equipped with free Wi-Fi and private rooms.

Core embodies the city's coffee evolution. Nestled into a nook, its industrial-style interior houses the essentials: the barista's counter and a coffee roasting machine. The outdoor seating area, ingeniously designed, has a few small tables and a glass-walled room that's perfect for chilly days. And the coffee? Exceptional. They roast their own beans, brewing single origin and different house blends, Plus, they're early birds, a rarity in Seoul.

For those looking for leisurely coffee experiences, places like Oeat offer more than a cup of joe. With a panoramic city view, they serve up coffee alongside cocktails and wine.

I can speak more about the coffee landscape in Seoul, because, I've been living here and and got to have a taste for what the city gets to offer. Yet, my coffee tale wouldn't be complete without mentioning Riverain in Chuncheon, where coffee and scenery create a serene symphony that's simply unforgettable. Overlooking the Hanggang river, this coffee haven spans three floors and a rooftop, inviting pure relaxation. Their signature blend is a closely guarded secret, producing beautiful coffee art.

What struck me about this small town's coffee culture was the presence of 2-3 similar-sized cafes, seemingly sprouting from a bare field, just a 10-minute drive from town. It's almost unreal!

While the coffee culture in South Korea feels quite familiar, there is a local spin to it.

When you step into a coffee shop in Seoul you will be greeted by a welcoming barista and a professional espresso machine. If it is an artisanal coffee shop, they would carefully select their beans, sometimes roast them locally and offer different varieties of coffee throughout time.

All coffee shops offer the espresso-based specialty coffees, but make sure you ask for a hot one, or else you will get a cold version of your order. Yes, iced coffee is a Korean favourite even in wintertime.

Unlike me, the Koreans don’t seem to get their coffee first thing in the morning, not from a coffee shop anyway. With very few exceptions, the cafes open after 10 AM and close late at night. I have yet to find the Korean secret to an all-day caffeine intake, as I sincerely envy them.

The cafés advertisements promote coffee and desert, or just coffee and that is 100% accurate. The deserts are delicious and among the most frequent are madeleines, financiers, macaroons, sweet scones, and different cakes. If you want a savory snack, then you must hit a bakery, which may very well have a good espresso machine to complete the exquisite pastries offering.

The bakeries in Seoul are to die for. However, since bread has entered the Korean cuisine more of a desert, most of the baked goods are sweet. For instance, the croissants are superbly done, but don't be surprised if they have a light sugar coating on top. You will find a French baguette, but the sweet breads with figs, nuts or chestnuts, will fill most of the shelf. The trend is changing though and slowly the plain and sourdough breads are changing the taste buds.

Most coffee shops in Seoul flaunt a modern and cozy Western-inspired décor, perfectly fitting the city's bustling life. But there's one café that stands out in a league of its own: Hanyakbang. A fusion of East and West, where traditional woodcraft meets modern equipment, time seems to stretch here.

Tucked within Seoul’s old city centre, this gem hides behind old walls and a narrow alley.

No flashy signs.

I had to peek through the window to be sure I hit the right spot.

Stepping into the coffee room, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans embraced me.

No wonder, as they roast the coffee beans, slowly, by hand!

As my eyes wandered, I was stunned by the rich beauty of the place. Black lacquered wood furniture was adorned with intricate mother of pearl designs, a unique Korean craftsmanship. The hand-dripped coffee stands and sleek espresso machines harmonize with the scene, while the background jazz music is inviting you to take a seat.

The main coffee room, where beans are roasted and coffee is brewed, offers only a handful of seats. After ordering our coffee, trays in hand, we headed to the joint bakery, located across the narrow alley, to get a desert and have a seat. The main level was busy, so we went up a steep, narrow staircase to the second level, carefully balancing our fully loaded trays.

Upon entering the room, mindful not to spill a drop of the precious coffee, I was struck. The back wall was entirely covered with a black wooden panel with intricate mother of pearl designs, in a similar craftsmanship and style of the coffee room furniture.

Antique pieces, an old piano, and colourful table lamps bestowed an air of tranquility, inviting us to savor the moment. It was busy, the room was full of people, yet it was quiet, I could only hear a light whispering, occasionally interrupted by joyful laughter.

Time seemed to suspend at Hanyakbang. Sipping a meticulously hand-crafted coffee in such an intricately hand-crafted setting was a one-of-a-kind gift for a coffee lover like me.

Despite its relatively short tenure in South Korea, coffee has become more than a trendy and sophisticated drink - it is deeply embedded in everyday lifestyle. The café culture is flourishing and, just like back in Canada, I meet friends over coffee, explore new places and varieties of coffee beans.

Coffee time in Seoul is … pretty much anytime, as long as it’s not too early in the morning. Feels like home.

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25 Αυγ 2023

Very interesting thank you for sharing!

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24 Αυγ 2023
Βαθμολογήθηκε με 5 από 5 αστέρια.

Loved it, Cris♥️ Fantastic storyteller you are♥️

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Eddie Dwyer
Eddie Dwyer
23 Αυγ 2023
Βαθμολογήθηκε με 5 από 5 αστέρια.

Wow awesome article. Who’s your in-house barista? He must be pretty good.

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21 Αυγ 2023
Βαθμολογήθηκε με 5 από 5 αστέρια.

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! Now I need another coffee :)

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19 Αυγ 2023
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Awesome experience, thanks for sharing! I can almost smell the coffee! ❤️

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