Now here’s a place a little closer to home. My friendly neighborhood café, to be precise! (after 2010’s Liesgen Haus and before 2013’s Risio Coffee). In our fluid back-and-forth chronology, were are now in early 2011, when I moved to Jukjeon-dong. As I mentioned that I was happy about, the Jukjeon café street was about a 20 minute walk away. But even closer to home, which was a block away from the border with Seongnam / Bundang, there was a small selection of cafés too. Much as I loved the café street, sometimes I wanted something quickly, or a change of scenery. Fortunately, the coffee gods complied, and provided me with a pleasant place to go to in a pinch. Let me introduce to you the tiny but charming Cafe Nell.
I first saw Cafe Nell when exploring my neighborhood about 10 days before moving there. It seemed like a hole in the wall, but it also seemed like a cute little place. As with many establishments in Korea, Cafe Nell had its “story” or an inspirational quote posted on the window, as you can see here. Yes, in English, of course. 😉
And a few weeks after finally moving, I finally paid Cafe Nell a visit, and had the requisite mocha.
I got some work done, some lesson planning for my second year, and enjoyed this mocha as my working companion. The coffee was tasty enough, and the barista was friendly enough, and the place was close enough to home that even though it might seem to be small and sparsely patronized, it was a pleasant experience and I would definitely return.
And return I did. I visited at least nine times just in 2011, according to my bank statement, and possibly more if I paid with cash. ^^ And over those nine or more times in 2011 and beyond, the barista / owner, a pleasant lady, came to recognize me and develop a nice rapport with me. Well, I guess it’s easy to recognize the only (?) foreigner in the neighborhood, but still, she was kind to always try to chat, in spite of our language barrier of my still extremely basic Korean and her basic English. I remember that one of the first few times I visited, I asked if her name was Nell, and she said no, that it had something to do with coffee equipment or machinery. I didn’t quite understand… I still don’t, actually, but, whatever. Every time I went to visit, we had a little chat or attempted chat, and those chats became even more memorable than the coffee. But the coffee was memorable too! Especially with pictures like these:
Oh, yeah, I made a friend! Lol. The bear was sitting there all alone, so I struck up a conversation with him. He’s a great guy! I don’t quite remember his name… but the barista was very amused and pleased to take our picture, and thought it was very cute.
In 2012, I paid Nell’s a few visits too, of course:
Now, this scene might get you admonished in a few cafés, but it was a cold winter day, and the barista was so kind by now, so she didn’t mind me having dinner with coffee there. ^^
That same day, 32 seconds after the previous photo, I got a nice shot of her pouring coffee to two ahjummas.
Two weeks later, I visited again. And this time we had a more elaborate chat than usual. It was a snowy day, the last day of January, and I was still teaching winter camp. (look that up among blogs about teaching in Korean public schools if you’re curious). I had mentioned to the barista earlier in the winter that the rear table at her café would be perfect on a snowy day. So after getting home before 5pm, now kind of used to driving in the snow as it was my second full winter in Korea, I went for a walk, giddy to be exploring in the snow. I might get used to driving and my skills might have improved, but I’m still excited and like a kid inside whenever it does happen to snow. I guess being deprived of snowy winters living in Seattle leaves a lifelong appreciation of the magic of snowfall. Anyway, the end of that nice walk led me to Nell’s, to that perfect rear table. I asked what snacks the barista had, but there was nothing I wanted, so I went next door to Tous les Jours to get something, and came back, offering her an “ugly donut” to share my purchase. She was very thankful, and we started chatting. Unlike me, she doesn’t like the snow… because she has to shovel. And, she had just come back from the Philippines to visit a coffee plantation! So she showed me some of the beans she had brought back, as well as a book that highlighted the area. She also told me she was working on learning English with her son, a high-schooler. So future chats would potentially go smoother. I read a little, and drank my coffee, and when I was ready to leave, she gave me a cup full of coffee beans! for the nice smell.
So yeah, with all these chats and the super friendly barista, Cafe Nell had definitely become my neighborhood café for 2011-2012. It’s especially nice in a foreign country to have that little neighborhood place where you’re always recognized and welcome. I had a few of them in those early years besides Nell’s and the other cafés… a mandu store, a kimbap store, and even my local Nonghyup bank. And even though I moved again after that second year at the school in Cheongdeok, I still visited Nell’s in Jukjeon from time to time. I even tried going there today, driving all the way from Namyangju, but it happens to be closed on Mondays lol. So I’m finishing up this post from a new café in the Dangook University area, Hippo Coffee. Anyway, here are a few more pictures to round out the story…
2014 saw some changes to Nell’s, though…
When I returned in 2014, shortly before leaving Korea again, I found that the barista / owner wasn’t there anymore. In her place was her older sister! The barista had gone to the Philippines with her son and left her 언니 (eonni or onni = older sister) in charge. The 언니 had remodeled a little bit, and was also friendly… kind of suspiciously so, actually. So it turns out that the 언니 had heard the story about the foreigner who had had the conversation with the giant bear, and she figured it might be me lol. Well, she was right! After I ordered my coffee, she promptly called her sister just to make sure, or to tell her that I was there. So what did my old friend do? She asked her 언니 to give me a free tiramisu!!! How sweet and kind is that! And it was a really good tiramisu at that. So it was another pleasant memory at Cafe Nell, to add to many others.
Here’s a link to a Google Map to find Cafe Nell.
Address: 경기도 용인시 수지구 죽전동 현암로 127
Korean name: 넬
Final verdict: *****