If you love coffee like me, then you know the struggle of trying to get by without it when necessary. Luckily, I rarely had this issue in Korea where cafes are a dime a dozen. From traditional cafes to the extreme, South Korea’s capital, Seoul, has them all. You can start your day at a cat cafe and end at a Karaoke one. In my time in South Korea, I visited maybe two cafes a day to get my caffeine fix and because of this I learned a thing or two about cafe culture in South Korea. By the time I left I had fully assimilated into the culture.
Timing is Everything
In the USA and other countries, we expect coffee shops to be open early in the morning for commuters. It is not unusual for a cafe to open at 7AM and close around 5PM to accommodate people on their way to and from work. These hours have allowed for Americans to establish a routine, wake up, get ready for work, grab a quick cup of coffee and head to work, it can be almost robotic. When you first get to Seoul you may believe the same thing. However, the times may be a bit different from what you expect. My first morning in Seoul, I was dying for a cup of strong coffee after having traveled for well over 24 hours. I did a quick Google search, only to discover nothing around me was open other than 7-11. I didn’t realize then that 7-11 isn’t like the ones we have in the USA, but rather magical places where you can buy anything from disposable underwear (yes I know) to computer mouses and everything in between. However, not all 7-11's are 24 hours there like they may be in the USA so be wary of that. If all else fails, you can do some searching for roadside coffee place.
Not all Cafes are Created Equal, But Many Are Creative
The word cafe is connotated with the word coffee. If you’re a fan of coffee you probably prefer a cafe over any other run of the mill store (I’m looking at you Starbucks). While you may feel the pull to try coffee in a Korean Starbucks, it may be more expensive than ones you can get at regular cafes. Plus, you’re in another country, why not try something new.
South Korea has an absolute plethora of unique coffee shops just waiting for you to stop in. While the coffee may not be the best coffee, they do score points for creativity. You can go to any style of cafe: animal cafes, game cafes, princess cafes, flower boy cafes, and even cafes that cater to couples. With so many coffee shops, there are a lot of options. The most beautiful cafes that I’ve been to have been ones where the coffee or the food were subpar. I have compiled a list of my favorite cafes, and a few honorable mentions, that I hope you will like as well!
Flower Cafe Lovin' Her (Florte)
One of my favorite cafes both in concept and taste was the Florte Cafe (also known as Flower Cafe Lovin’ Her), a beautifully designed cafe with gorgeous flowers. The cafe provides you with flower crowns (be sure to inspect them before putting them on) and seats you with a menu. This is a flower boy cafe, where they operate on the idea of young dandy gentlemen being flower boys as your servers. They do have some female servers but their promotions and Instagram suggest they prefer using these gentlemen. That being said, this cafe is on the pricier side with a drink and sandwich costing around 15,000W ($15 US). They do have a 1-1 ration of drink to person so be aware of this if you go. The atmosphere is reminiscent of that of a fairytale garden, complete with a prince to serve you. They encourage photo ops and regularly post customer photos on their Instagram. They are located near the Hongik University subway exit 6 and the Gyeongui Line Book Street. They do not require reservations and a must visit if you like aesthetically pleasing cafes.
If flower boys aren’t your speed and you want something a little more homey, check out Bau House Dog Cafe near the Hapjeong subway station. Here you pay for a drink which covers fee for an hour with the dogs. The cafe is split into two sections: small dogs and big dogs. A good percentage of the small dogs are of the chihuahua variety so if those are not your speed they do have a section with huskies, Afghan Hounds and other large breeds, although they do keep the shelties on the large dog side.
While this may seem like a sad place, the dogs are older and thus prefer a slower pace. Your drink is brought to your table and you really don’t have to do much. Even though it is a dog cafe it is quite clean, siding on sterile. They have toys and treats available for purchase if you would like to do more with your furry friends, but many are content to just sit on your lap, but don’t force them to come or they will not. One of the nice things that they do is they provide you with a cheat sheet for the dog’s names. The coffee I received was not bottled, however, I have read reviews of bottle beverages being provided to customers. I don’t know if this is a new policy or something else.
While you may expect me to suggest other animal cafes, I cannot. While I did enjoy visiting raccoon and meerkat cafes while in Seoul, I did not know until later the stress on the animals and that the money I paid went to importing exotic animals. Knowing what I know now, I would not have gone there.
If you love fantastical drinks, check out Aloha Jenny’s where you can get a ridiculously sweet and over the top drink. Aloha Jenny is a small cafe off of a side road near Hongik University. They serve regular drinks and slushies, I opted for the slushie as it was humid and horribly hot outside. I took my drink to go, but others enjoy this small cafe. I don’t have much to report other than the cost was around 6,000W ($5.5 US).
You are Here- CLosed
If your love for Korea was fostered by Talk to Me In Korean and Eat Your Kimchi (now known as Eat Your Sushi), you need to visit their You Are Here Cafe. Located away from the busy streets of Hongik University, this two story cafe features a small garden in front and ample seating inside. I did not spend much time here as I was still starstruck with how awesome the city was and overall slightly underwhelmed by it. I had visited after Simon and Martina had already moved to Japan so I’m not quite sure on the ownership of the store and from my knowledge they have completely abandoned the project due to location concerns. They do boast a small broadcasting booth where you can record yourself.
Note: they are now permanently closed according to a quick Google search.
The novelty aspect of Seoul is not easily forgotten, and this next cafe proves that. The Trick Eye Museum, aptly named for its optical illusions, is a photo op at every turn. Once you descend into the museum you’ll happen upon CaFace, a cafe that prides itself on printing your face on coffee foam. Once you purchase the drink, the barista will hand you a phone and ask you to take a photo, this will be your CaFace (coffee face). They suggest getting the drink cold as it is easier to print your picture on the coffee. While the coffee was a bit bitter for my liking it was a pleasant experience, especially after visiting the museum.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine