Requiem to Risio
The Lamentably Quick Story of Coffee at Risio, March 2013
O Risio, how rapidly I knew thee!
Coming to live in a new town, you were the comfortable café downstairs. I had never had a café downstairs. Just this first introduction was amazing. And yet… I waited a few days before approaching you. You were closed one evening and seemed kind of empty the next. And yet in a country with a sea of Caffé Benes and Hollys and Starbucks and Coffee Beans and nowadays even Droptops and coffeesmiths, you were an independent beacon among the clones of chains. Your front porch beckoned with its playfulness, and your logo welcomed me with a smile.
So, ten days after moving in to my new apartment and new city, I finally walked in. Why had I waited so long?! What a fool one can be in waiting to take a chance. Walking in was a happy happenstance. But in happiness, there was sadness. In the happiness of walking in and discovering a cool and quirky place, I learned of the sadness of impending doom. By the end of the month, you are to close. Forever.
Forever is such a heavy and loaded word. A word full of finality. It could imply infinity or nothingness. Absolutely one or the other. With you forever or gone forever. Time can be golden. Time can be so unforgiving, so cruel. Make the most of it, as time is precious, time is a gift.
But this is a happy story, because I had the pleasure of meeting Risio before I had the chance of not meeting Risio. Or maybe it’s a bittersweet story. One more month and I wouldn’t have know what I was missing. Happiness deferred or happiness unexperienced. Or perhaps in an alternate universe, happiness is forever. You gotta live with the universe you’re given, the cards you’re handed.
On a cold evening at the tail end of winter, in the darkness after sunset but amid the brightness of Korean streets, I decided it was a good time to finally visit the cute café downstairs. I had been busy getting settled in my new apartment and at my new job. And, truthfully, I had already visited some of the other cafés around my place. Starbucks, Hollys, Droptop. They are familiar and the experience is like that at any other branch. (Except the Starbucks; being only a year old, it had a new interior style and was quite comfortable and nice). But finally, Risio Coffee was open on this cold evening, and had enough people inside to also seem inviting. So, happy to have an independent café a stone’s throw away, I walked inside.
Actually, it was quite full! Around 20 mostly college-aged students were lounging, studying, chatting, and enjoying coffee both upstairs and downstairs. At ground level were regular tables with chairs, but upstairs had the low tables that are typical in many Korean restaurants. I wanted to go upstairs to take a quick peek, but the baristas said “no”, thinking I wanted to get a seat there. So I found a small table downstairs, set up my laptop, and went to the counter to order. Two girls who also seemed college-aged were at the counter. But they weren’t sticking to the script and staying in “professional” mode like baristas at the chains would. No, they wanted to chat! Their English was rudimentary but they happily tried to and seemed excited to talk to the visiting foreigner. I ordered a café mocha, my standard for visiting a brand new place, and complimented their café and tried to explain how I liked independent places. But they struggled to give me the bad news. Yes, Risio Coffee is closing down by the end of the month. How disappointing! “Not popular,” they said. They tried to say something about Caffé Bene… maybe that I should go to Caffé Bene instead? or that Risio is closing because of places like Caffé Bene? Caffé Bene was actually visible just across the street. But the street is a busy and impenetrable 10-lane boulevard. To get to the crosswalk at the nearest intersection and wait for the lights to change can take over five minutes! There Caffé Bene was, so close and yet so far, mocking Risio Coffee, it seemed. But Risio was content, and the people inside were content.
As I waited for my mocha, I took in my surroundings. The menu, unlike most cafés in Korea, was written in only Korean, for me a nice touch even if it is more difficult. The interior was painted in plain white, but trinkets, dolls, and decorations abounded. Almost every wall had either a small framed poster or a shelf of trinkets. At the corner of the counter, there was even a shelf with Super Mario dolls! And tucked beside the stairs was a bookshelf full of Japanese comic books. When my mocha came to me (yes, they deliver your order to your table), the barista placed the mug on a cute rubber bear face. And the mug itself had a simple but cute face logo.
And the mocha? Yes, it was good! Good quality chocolate, and a strong but not dominating coffee taste. Definitely worth returning to try again soon. I got to work on my laptop. The wi-fi was excellent too. So after a few minutes, Risio Coffee was scoring high marks in all categories. Delicious coffee, friendly baristas and ambiance, comfortable and attractive surroundings, great location, and great wi-fi. What else do you need to make a perfect café? The certainty of staying open…
Truthfully, I don’t know exactly why Risio Coffee is closing. It could be competition. The Starbucks I mentioned opened just about a year ago just outside Songnae Station, as well as a Caffé Bene right next to it. No, it’s not the one visible from Risio. Yes, it’s another instance of two Caffé Benes only a block away from each other. And less than five minutes away are Hollys, Ediya Coffee, Droptop, and two other very tiny independent cafés which I discovered later. Or it could be location… Risio faces the busy 10-lane boulevard and not the pedestrian corridor around the block. But it could simply be the owner’s decision. Maybe he or she was tired of owning the café? Or moving out of town? Or maybe the rent was going up. Who knows? I wish I could communicate with the baristas to find out.
Anyway, on the first visit, I stayed close to closing time. By then, most of the students had left, so I also decided to pack up. But I made a resolution to visit there as often as possible before it closed down. And maybe find a way to save it…
I visited again a few nights later and again had good coffee. Then next Monday I went with my co-teacher to restart my bank account, and we used the opportunity to escape for coffee afterwards. Shhhhh. Ah, did I not mention before that I’m a teacher? Well, now you know. ^^ Anyway, my new co-teacher loves coffee. She drinks it more than I do, actually, so she’s really like a Seattleite! And I told her about this great café. She loved it! And she was fond of the Japanese comic books, which I checked out with her. They were kind of dark, actually. So, we spent as much time there was we could while still being prudent. (Teachers are not usually allowed to leave school). It was daytime, so Risio was practically empty. Ah, this could be the reason for its closing. Few customers during the day, and only college students at night. College students can truly be the lifeblood of a café, despite their lack of money, if many of them are around and keep coming in. But around Songnae, there is no university. So I surmise that the students I saw came because they live in the area, or to support their barista friends. How can we get people from other cafés to come around to Risio?
The next night I visited again. Since it’s still cold, I’m not heading to Seoul too much yet. So it’s an extra pleasure to hang out in the local café. This time, there was an open table upstairs. So I made myself comfortable on a few pillows and enjoyed a tasty latte with an atypical face for latte art.
A few days later, a close friend visited me, and we had shared lots of good coffee together, so I was excited to take her to Risio as well. They had a special deal for toast. Even though it was white bread (bleh), it was toasted just right and came with packets of strawberry jam. Kinda cheap, but arranged nicely. My friend really admired the café too, and the dolls, and the ambiance.
The end of March now approaches. And I’ve tried to visit Risio Coffee two nights in a row now. But the lights were off; the café was closed for the day or the night. So here I know sit, not at Risio, but at Hollys. It was full when I arrived at 9pm, but now only half-full as it approaches 11. The crowd is a little older than what I usually see at Risio, but there are still some younger people here. I wonder how many of them know about Risio? That there is a great cute café just around the corner? That its days are sadly numbered? Unfortunately, they probably won’t read about it in a blog. And I’m pretty sure this blog doesn’t reach a large Korean audience. (Thank you WordPress for your detailed statistics! 🙂 ). I wanted to write this requiem to Risio at Risio. But it was closed tonight, and the night before. There are still four days left in March. Risio, I hope I get to visit you one last time. Farewell…
Here’s a link to a Google map to find Risio Coffee.
Final verdict: *****