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A Specialty Coffee Shop Tour of Seoul, South Korea

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Seoul is a city rich with history, culture, and food. In recent years, it has also seen a rapid growth in specialty coffee. Reflecting this, the 2018 Seoul CafeShow saw over 160,000 curious and excited visitors from 80 countries.

I reconnected with the capital city and the Korean coffee industry when I visited for the show. I truly love this city and its rapidly evolving coffee scene. So my unhidden aim is to convince you to visit Seoul and to include these coffee shops in your trip.

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coffee shop seating area

Low Key’s seating area in the evening. Credit: Sunghee Tark

Why These Five?

There is a diverse range of specialty coffee shops and cafés in Seoul with great service and quality coffee. From Instagram-worthy minimalist spaces to quirky historical houses, you’re guaranteed to find somewhere to suit your tastes and mood here.

Because of this abundance of choice,  it is extremely difficult to shortlist the best. I have chosen five coffee shops for their welcoming atmosphere, excellent service, and quality coffee. They are all independent and locally owned businesses, and I have tried to highlight spots that offer a unique experience.

These are my personal favourites that are mainly popular with locals rather than visitors. For a genuine Seoul experience of specialty coffee, head to one of these cafés.

view of felt coffee shop from outside

Felt Coffee Gwanghwamun location from the outside. Credit: Felt Coffee

1. Felt Coffee

South Korea has many cafés with eye-catching elaborate interior design. Felt Coffee is not one of them. Instead, it’s an understated space that confirms that you don’t need luxurious decor if you get the coffee right. This minimalist spot has amazing coffee and service-focused baristas.

Felt Coffee is a only three years old, but it has an excellent reputation. Located near Shinchon subway station, its simple menu has just six items including an Americano, a single origin pour-over, and its acclaimed vanilla latte.

The owners recently opened a second store at the Gwanghwamun subway station. The second space keeps the minimalist concept but in black, rather than white. But the biggest difference is the addition of delicious baked goods from locally famed Little and Much. The pastries make a delightful companion to the light-roast coffee.

baristas at work

Two baristas at work in Felt Coffee Sinchon. Credit: Sunghee Tark

Where Sinchon location: 246 Cheongjin-dong, Jongno-gu Gwanghwamun location: 17 Jongno 3-gil, Jongno-gu
Atmosphere Modern and vibrant
Espresso Machine Sinchon location: Slayer 2 GroupGwanghwamun location: Synesso MVP 3 Group
Grinder Mazzer Robur
Coffee Offerings Espresso-based drinks and pour over made with house-roasted coffee
Must-Try Drink Vanilla latte
Retail Offerings Roasted coffee, merchandise including pens and tote bags
Nearby Sights Gyeongbokgung palace, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, historical districts Seochon and Bukchon Hanok

2. Namusairo

Tucked away in a quieter street near the Gwanghwamun subway station, Namusairo is a local favourite for its great coffee and quaint atmosphere. Having been here 16 years, this is an established leader in specialty coffee in South Korea.

The building is an old Hanok – a Korean traditional house – turned into a café. It almost feels like you slipped back in time when you step inside to find this tranquil space.

The elaborate menu includes a wide range of single origin coffees and unique blends. And if you’re in Seoul for the CafeShow, make sure to drop by for the annual Chimek party (Korean-style fried chicken and beer).

iced tea and cookie

An iced tea and cookie at Namusairo. Credit: Namusairo

Where 21 Sajik-ro 8-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu
Atmosphere Tranquil
Espresso Machine La Marzocco GB5
Grinder Anfim SP2 and Mahlkonig EK43
Coffee Offerings Espresso-based drinks and single origin filter coffee
Must-Try Drink Black sugar cappuccino (seasonal drink made with black sugar syrup)
Retail Offerings Roasted coffee
Nearby Sights Gyeongbokgung palace, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, historical districts Seochon and Bukchon Hanok

 3. Mesh Coffee

The coffee geek owners of Mesh Coffee have recently taken the Korean specialty coffee scene by storm with their book Oh Yeah Specialty Coffee. If you want to talk all things coffee, this is the place to visit. The tiny space makes it almost inevitable to end up in conversation with the barista and roaster.

The friendly owners are also active participants in the international coffee scene as competition judges. Their appreciation of light-roast coffee has drawn a committed fan-base.

The café’s offerings vary seasonally and some are on a hidden menu for regulars. Make sure to ask what is on the hidden menu when you visit. There are a few stools outside to hang out, but this is not somewhere to while away an afternoon.

view of mesh coffee from outside

Mesh Coffee from outside, with stickers showing the owners participation in ACE and other international events as judges. Credit: Sunghee Tark

Where 685-307 Seongsu-dong 1(il)-ga, Seongdong-gu
Atmosphere Trendy and vibrant
Espresso Machine Vidas Tech – Moai Espresso Station
Grinder Nuova Simonelli Mythos One, Anfim Super Caimano Barista
Coffee Offerings Espresso-based coffee drinks and single origin filter coffee
Must-Try Drink Single origin filter coffee brewed on an Aeropress
Geisha and auction-lot on offer
Retail Offerings Roasted coffee including award-winning coffee lots. Merchandise such as mugs, stickers, and brewing equipment.
Nearby Sights Seoul Forest

 

bar with baked goods

The bar at Mesh Coffee showcasing baked goods and stickers designed by the owners. Credit: Sunghee Tark

4. Low Key

Low Key has three outlets. One is within walking distance of Mesh Coffee, but offers a totally different experience. In place of Mesh’s tiny cafe, Low Key’s spacious seating area is a perfect place to catch up with friends or take a break from exploring the city.

Experienced baristas will guide you through a selection of COE-winning cups available as filter coffee. There is also a good selection of espresso-based drinks. The cafe is known for hosting fun public cupping sessions at which everyone partakes.

coffee shop facade

Low Key from across the street. Credit: Low Key

Where Seongsu location: 6 Yeonmujang 3-gil, Seongdong-gu
Atmosphere Hip
Espresso Machine La Marzocco Strada EP
Grinder Anfim SP 2 and Mahlkoenig EK43
Coffee Offerings Espresso-based drinks and filter coffee
Must-Try Drink Espresso made with the Champagne blend
Retail Offerings Roasted coffee, merchandise including tote bags, brewing equipment
Nearby Sights Seoul Forest

 

barista brewing coffee behind the bar

A barista brews coffee behind the bar at Low Key. Credit: Sunghee Tark

5. Biroso Coffee

The Gyeongui Line Forest Park is a former railway line that is now an urban greenway. It stretches over 15 km across the city and is a great route for a leisurely walk. There are several lovely coffee shops and restaurants around the park. One of my favourites is Biroso Coffee, where visitors are welcomed with a friendly red brick façade and great coffee.

A relative newcomer to the specialty coffee scene, Biroso Coffe has made a reputation based on the quality of service and coffee. Roasting takes place on-site and you can watch the process through a window as you order.

The menu has espresso-based drinks, affogato, and a selection of single origins brewed as filter coffee. There is spacious upstairs seating and the space has a tranquil vibe. It’s a lovely spot to recharge with a coffee as you stroll through the Forest Park.

coffee shop view from the street

Biroso Coffee from outside. Credit: Biroso Coffee

Where 36 Gwangseong-ro 6-gil, Sinsu-dong, Mapo-gu
Atmosphere Trendy and modern
Espresso Machine La Marzocco Linea PB Scales 2G
Grinder Malhkonig Vario, Mazzer Robur Electronic, Malhkonig EK43, Ditting KR804
Coffee Offerings Espresso-based drinks and filter coffee
Must-Try Drink Raspberry latte, iced Einspanner (Viennese coffee)
Retail Offerings Roasted coffee, bottled cold brew, glasses
Nearby Sights Hip district Shinchon, Gyeongui Line Forest Park

 

coffee shop interior

A view Biroso Coffee’s two levels. Credit: Biroso Coffee

Bonus Mention: Fritz Coffee Company

It’s impossible to cut Seoul’s specialty coffee scene down to five, so here is a bonus sixth mention.

What sets Fritz apart from many other coffee roasters and cafés in Seoul is its quaint atmosphere based on a clever spin-off of old Korea.

It’s known for excellent coffee, quality service, and a wide range of baked goods. But its popular mascot seal also helps draw visitors. This place has great merchandise.

woman wearing fritz tote bag

Fritz Coffee Company merchandise featuring its mascot seal. Credit: Fritz Coffee Company

Seoul is a bustling city with a unique and fascinating specialty coffee scene. From cafes in historical Hanoks to sleek minimalist coffee shops, there is something for everyone. Why not consider attending next year’s CafeShow and take a look for yourself?

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Written by Sunghee Tark.

Feature image: Looking at central Seoul from Bukchon Hanok Village. Credit: Doug Sun Beams via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, who is originally from South Korea, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance.

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