Seoul is a coffee-lover’s paradise. We’re talking about cafés on every corner, chain specialty coffee houses, and a nation that drinks coffee more often than it eats kimchi (and if you’ve been to Korea, you’ll know that’s a lot).
So if you’re taking a trip to this metropolis, you should be planning on drinking a lot of coffee in between visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace and the War Memorial. And I’ve come up with four cafés that you should definitely put on your list.
Why These Four?
There are over 15,000 coffee shops in Seoul, so there’s no way to visit them all. Nor is there any way to logically decide what the “best” four are. Instead, I want to recommend four of my personal favourites – four that range from traditional to quirky, but all provide good coffee and excellent service.
1. Bean Brothers
Bean Brothers is one of the newer kids on the block, but it’s thriving. At two years old, it already boasts a loyal following and six locations (five in Seoul and a newly opened outpost in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). So what makes it so special?
Well, it’s known for a sassy design aesthetic – but Bean Brothers is about so much more than just visual appeal. My favourite thing about this cafes is that each barista is also a “personal coffee guide”. They take coffee drinkers, be they novices or aficionados, through a detailed selection process that aims to find the perfect beverage for each customer. Talk about service!
In Seoul’s sea of sleek industrial design and identical uniforms, Bean Brothers really stands out for its personal touches. And it’s not just about helping you choose the perfect coffee; it’s also about humanising the baristas. There are photos of each barista on shift, baristas’ specialties are posted at the counter, and roasts are named after head baristas.
Bean Brothers staff member at Cafe Show 2016. Credit: Bean Brothers
|Where||Their flagship store is at 368-3 Hapjeong-Dong, Mapo-Gu|
|Vibe||A quirky student hang-out|
|Espresso Machine||La Marzocco|
|Espresso Roast||Velvet White|
|Filter Roast||El Pino, Honduras|
|Must-Try Drink||Their Cafe Mocha, made from hand-made chocolate|
Housed in a converted mechanic’s, the garage door doubles as a video screen. Credit: B. Kyu Heo
2. Fritz Coffee Company
Our second café is a touch off the beaten path, but well worth the visit. Just don’t expect to use it as a study space: eclectic vintage furniture fills this old two-storey home, and yet you’d still be hard-pressed to find a seat.
Fritz Coffee Company makes great use of space, however, with a double-sided bar that allows their exceptional team of baristas (including 2014 Korean Barista Champion GuenHa Park) to work efficiently.
As for the coffee, Fritz roasts on-site and, while their roasts may skew a bit darker than is trendy today in specialty, they offer well-balanced beans for brewing and several solid espresso options.
Fritz Coffee Company, a two-storied house and garden converted into a vintage coffee spot. Credit: B. Kyu Heo
|Where||179-9 Dohwa-dong Mapo-gu|
|Vibe||Vintage and cosy|
|Espresso Roast||Seoul Cinema|
|Filter Roast||SL28, Kilimanjaro, El Salvador|
|Must-Try Drink||Espresso with the signature Fritz chocolate milk as a side|
|Food||Pastries and bread|
There’s no shortage of bread and pastries to go with your coffee at Fritz Coffee Company. Credit: B. Kyu Heo
There’s a lot to say about Namusairo, a storied café and roastery, but let me begin with the fact that I had the best espresso of my life here: the Ethiopian Semeon Abay from Ninety Plus’ Maker Series. It won Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen (of Norway’s Supreme Roastworks) the 2015 World Brewers Cup, and it shines as espresso too – particularly when pulled with care by Namusairo’s experienced team.
Yet the Semeon Abay wasn’t the only great coffee at Namusairo. I sampled a number of the drinks on offer, all of which were prepared with care and diligence. The flavours were clean, bright, and beautiful.
While coffee in Seoul is more expensive than many of the other major specialty markets, Namusairo, specialising in micro-lots, is certainly at the high end of the price spectrum. But spring for the Geisha as a pour-over, sip it contentedly in the beautiful courtyard, and you’re sure to agree that the price is worth it.
Clean, sleek, and light, Namusairo is an inviting space in which to linger. Credit: B. Kyu Heo
|Where||21 Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu 110-053|
|Espresso Roast||‘Land of Plenty’ Espresso Blend|
|Filter Roast||Panama Gesha Neel Natural|
|Must-Try Drink||‘Rite of Spring’ Tea Blend and Coffee Blend|
Traditional meets modern in the Namusairo courtyard. Credit: B. Kyu Heo
4. Thanks Nature Café
Thanks Nature Café is something a little different: a place you can drink a pretty decent cup and have a little fun. And what kind of fun? Farmyard animal kind of fun.
Yes, from cat cafés we’ve moved to owl cafés and now on to sheep cafés. And although my coffee wasn’t as blow-you-away las some of the others on this list, I have no hesitation in putting this stop on my recommended coffee shop tour.
With the purchase of a coffee or food item, you can enter a pen on the café terrace and play with some adorable and very friendly sheep. The café itself is decorated in a suitably natural theme (the enormous pop art of a La Marzocco Linea a notable exception) and there are lots of sheep trinkets and photographs around. While I didn’t experience this during my visit, the sheep are also allowed to wander indoors through the café.
Animal lovers, if you’ve been reading this with a look of trepidation on your face, you can relax. We know animal cafés aren’t always a good idea, but this one was exceptionally clean and didn’t have any bad smells. Sheep are social animals and require only 12-16 square feet of space each, and these ones exhibited no signs of stress.
So if you’ve always thought your petting zoo experiences could use a little more caffeine, Thanks Nature is the place for you. What are you waiting for?
Two sheep feeding on their patio. Note the open door to the pen. Credit: S. Parrish
|Where||486 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu|
|Vibe||Fun for animal lovers|
|Espresso Machine||Italy Magister|
|Espresso Roast||Terarosa Blend|
|Filter Roast||Today’s Coffee|
|Must-Try Drink||Every Espresso Variation Drink|
|Food||Waffles and ice cream|
My new best friend. Credit: S. Parrish
Seoul has an incredibly vibrant coffee scene, and we couldn’t hope to capture everything it has to offer in one short article. But these four recommendations form an excellent starting place for exploring the city’s many coffee houses.
Written by S. Parrish with contributions by B. Kyu Heo. Edited by T. Newton.
All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.
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