Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The heart of the matter. As the market is the beating heart of any city, a coffee market is the heart of any aspiring CaféSeaSeo. Okay, wait, maybe it isn’t that deep inside me. But a placed called the Coffee Market has certainly found its way into my heart. Let’s start at the story of how I found it.
My parents, always on the lookout for things about Korea and Seoul ever since I moved there, had seen an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern in which he had traveled to Seoul, and told me to check it out. I curiously complied, and in that episode he mentioned a few places and neighborhoods, including Noryangjin Fish Market and Kondae. They sounded like interesting new places for me, so a few days after seeing the frozen Han River, and the day before finding Caribou, I went with a friend to check both areas out. The fish market was pretty cool, and it was just fun to walk around and explore and chat there.
We then took the metro to Kondae, the shorthand way of calling the Konkuk University area. We chatted at a Caffé Bene, then explored a local street market. We even found a shop with dog meat! Korea is famous for having dog meat, but it’s kind of an underground thing these days, so it was a surprise to finally see a shop offering it. Don’t worry, I didn’t go in, and I don’t plan to.
We also climbed the stairs of a residence, as the door was open and it looked inviting, so we admired the view and enjoyed the delicious smell of fermenting doenjang wafting through the air.
Well, I liked the Kondae neighborhood so much on that visit that just about two weeks later, on the Sunday after Lunar New Year, I returned for further exploration. Guess what? Surprisingly and coincidentally, that happened to be 5 years ago today! And even though I’m in Seattle at the moment, I’m writing 5 years later to the hour, Korean time. So even through the depths of distance and time I can imagine the scene at the Coffee Market right now. It’s a cold winter’s day. It’s the weekend (Sunday in 2011, Saturday in 2016) of Lunar New Year, so there are less students around than usual, as many have traveled home with their families. West of Konkuk University and north of the Kondae metro station, there are lots of restaurants and a maze of streets. There aren’t many people in the restaurants, but eventually you’ll come upon a cool looking café, the Coffee Market, and go in to investigate.
You see that it’s very cool and has lots of people. Right in front of you is the counter with a menu… but what’s this? Ice cream? Affogato? Gelato?! 대박! (Which is kind of anachronistic because saying that didn’t become popular until… 2012 was it? Or maybe my Korean wasn’t good enough to notice it until then? But I digress…). Not only are there a lot of interesting coffees on the wooden menu, but there is a case with many colorful varieties of gelato to tempt you and warm your heart on a cold day.
As you can see from the picture above, they sell a flavor with chocolate from Cusco, Perú! I’ve been to Cusco, twice actually, so this was kind of exciting, especially to see Perú so well represented so far away. I ordered a maple latte and Cusco chocolate gelato, of course. But while I waited for my order to be prepared, I looked around and went upstairs.
Well, it’s certainly not your typical café. It’s rugged with a touch of elegance. The edges are sharp, the bricks are exposed, and yet there is a bright and colorful chandelier illuminating the patrons and their surroundings. But it’s hung in a hole in the middle of the building, such that it can light up and grace two floors with its presence at the same time. It’s certainly the centerpiece of the Coffee Market. Oh wait, wasn’t that the Cusco gelato? Well, I finally got it, and the coffee too. Here, take a look:
They were so good that I had to take two pictures, lol. Well, as I wrote in my journal, the maple latte was “tasty” and the Cusco ice cream was “very delicious”. So I sat down for a few hours there to work on my laptop, all the while enjoying a delicious drink and dessert in a charming café.
Of course, after all that, I had to go back! And that I did, just three weeks later, on the last day of February. And this time, I brought a friend. We had a good talk about politics and other things as I had an affogato with Cusco chocolate and my friend had lots of sweets for his dinner! Here are the pictures I took that day:
Then again, just three weeks later, on a busy Saturday of apartment switching, Costco shopping, and Itaewon black market browsing, I also drove to Kondae, and spent a few hours at the Coffee Market. I didn’t take any pictures there in this visit in March. But when I left, and wandered the streets to find some dinner, the nighttime streets were full, and the moon was full too. In contrast to the first visit to the Coffee Market, here’s what the Kondae area usually looks like:
Yeah, it’s pretty crowded. And how many coffee signs can you count?!? I count 7, plus one attempt at “café” that ended up like “caf’e”. Yeah, international characters can be hard. They must have been using a Mac. 😉 But seven cafés in one picture! Hoo boy, CaféSeaSeo is going to have to pick up the pace on his reviews!
And a few weeks later I visited again! Yup, I liked the Coffee Market so much, that visits started to become a monthly thing, despite the distance between Cheongdeok and Kondae. But wait! Remember how I just mentioned apartment switching? Well, we’ve reached a year of my stay in Korea; it’s now April 2011 in our chronology. And despite deciding to stay at the same school in semi-rural Cheongdeok-dong in Yongin for a second year, I insisted on moving to a new apartment in a more populated place. I moved to Jukjeon-dong! I was now living close to the Jukjeon café street, home of my favorite café and dessert place, and of which I will write about in my next posting. So on a Sunday in early April 2011, I went to a bus stop close to my new home, and I found a bus that went straight to Kondae! 대박 again!!! Apart from that, this move opened up a lot more opportunities to get to Seoul, and of course, more cafés. Yes, things are getting interesting. But for now, let’s stick to our present review. While I visited the Coffee Market frequently, I didn’t always take a picture and note what I had. That would be, by this point, a little too meticulous, doncha think? Suffice it to say, I liked the place. I liked the look of it, I liked the coffee, I liked the gelato, and I liked the relaxed vibe with the students and couples and groups.
So let’s skip forward to December 2011 and a new discovery. I took the bus to Kondae to go to the Coffee Market. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a little slice of home. They now had clam chowder on the menu! Yeah, that’s a little strange for a café, but being from Seattle, I love clam chowder! It’s my favorite soup. So I ordered the chowder, a cinnamon waffle, a brownie, and a vanilla latte, and enjoyed them all while working on a lesson.
Oh yeah, that’s a mini solar power charger in the picture. There had been a huge power outage in September, due to a few issues with nuclear reactor maintenance and parts fraud. This also brought to light the fact that a lot of Korean energy comes from yucky coal. So one tiny part of the greening of my energy sources was to switch powering my cell phone from the mostly dirty Korean grid to clean solar. Another was switching to all LED light bulbs. If you’re interested in a recent chart of Asian energy sources, here’s a nice one, courtesy The Wall Street Journal:
Another big, but important, digression. But let’s get back to the Coffee Market and finish the review with a few more pictures over the next few years…
With tasty drinks, an almost always pleasant ambiance, interesting decor, and gelato, the Coffee Market has found a place in my heart. And of course, I’ll be back… ^^
Here’s a link to a Google Map to find Coffee Market.
Address: 광진구 아차산로33길 60
Korean name: 커피마켓
Final verdict: *****
[May 2017 VIDEO UPDATE!
As I’ve now created a YouTube account specifically for CaféSeaSeo videos, I can now link to a video I took in February 2011:]