The Korea Times – ‘Just too many coffee shops around’

While I’m taking a break from blogging due to friends visiting from Korea and the awesome late summer weather in Seattle, I happened to notice this article from The Korea Times about the overabundance of cafés in Korea. Have a great day!

http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/include/print.asp?newsIdx=116997

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Starbucks

Believe it or not, Starbucks is actually somewhat polarizing in Seattle. It’s a hometown favorite that has spread around the world, but its huge size is in conflict with the local/independent/liberal vibe that characterizes the unofficial capital of Cascadia aka Eco-topia aka the Pacific Northwest. Starbucks is a representation of multinational capitalism that many people want to tame. But many people also recognize the good that Starbucks does in the Seattle area and throughout their supply chain. They were a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility and constantly strive to improve their environmental and social record. But there is no escaping being the largest coffee chain in the world, no matter how progressive they are or try to be. So there are always haters, even in its hometown. Especially with the matter of the Seattle SuperSonics, our former NBA basketball team. But that’s another story. Another really long story.

So what’s my take on the green siren? Well here’s the thing. I started drinking coffee because of Starbucks. Back when I was in college, working on a final group project, we were getting ready to interview someone. A fellow group member was thoughtful enough to bring a bottled coffee drink called a Frappuccino for everybody. Me, I’d never really liked the few cups of (black drip) coffee that I’d tried before. But my group member insisted on giving the Frappuccino a try. And it was mocha flavored, so chocolate helps anything go down, right? I tried a sip or two and made a face. But a few minutes later and a few sips later, and I was getting the hang of it. Hey, this Frappuccino thing is pretty good! Wouldn’t you know it, in the next few months I was an addict, buying Frappuccino 4-packs in bulk and using them to fuel my last few quarters in college. I of course eventually tried the regular in-store Frappuccino, and then other drinks, and from there, the rest is history.

Frappuccino bottle collection in my college dorm room
Frappuccino bottle collection in my college dorm room

So, yeah… Obviously by now I’ve “graduated” beyond Starbucks and tend to go to a lot of the other independent shops and small chains in the Seattle area. But every so often, I will return to where it all began. So no hate from me. I complement the big with the small, the chains with the independents, the bitter with the sweet. The sea with the seo…

Continue reading Starbucks

Coffee Factory (Anguk/Bukchon)

Early in my trip, I asked a friend for recommendations for cool places to explore in Seoul. At the top of her list was the Anguk neighborhood near Gyeongbokgung. She said that it had a lot of old traditional houses and cool shops to look at. If you haven’t been there, be sure to go! While walking through that first time, I noticed a cool looking café called Coffee Factory. I wasn’t in the mood for coffee at the time, but I noted it for future reference.

In July I finally returned to have a “really good iced mocha” as I wrote in my journal. ^^ The place was crowded but laid out interestingly, with sections divided by a step or furniture. The interior was a little dark but not overwhelmingly so. It was good for a pit stop to work on a laptop for a while, except that they had a lack of outlets for when your battery died. On the door, as you can see in the picture above, there were some lines in Spanish, which I thought was a nice and original touch. There was a small patio outside too, but I didn’t sit there because of the heat. I remember that they had a diverse selection to choose from, and I thought I would try them on future visits, but unfortunately, they closed for construction a few months later! And then, Coffee Factory was gone. I did find it afterwards a few blocks north of its original location, but I never went in.

The old location of Coffee Factory was about here: Google Map | Naver Map

Final verdict: ****

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Future posts

hey there!

as of this posting, i’ve only written about 5 cafés:  2 independent shops and 3 chains. and my progress is a little slow because i’m enjoying the nice summer in Seattle. but rest assured that many more posts are on the way! in roughly chronological order, here is a comprehensive list of all the cafés i plan to review based on my initial 2 years in Korea…..

Starbucks
Coffee Factory
De Chocolate
Holly’s
Coffine Gurunaru
cacao green
Gold Bean
Tomo Tome
Coffee 1 Cup — Kyedong Coffee
Browny 70
Beansbins
4th Dimension Coffee
Takeside
Swingby
Paris Baguette
Tully’s
Bistro-RE
Jeongja chocolate shop – Daskalides
Club Espresso
13oz
El Cafetal
Segafredo Espresso
Café Haru
coffee holic
Caribou Coffee
Coffee Market
Kamu
Jukjeon café street overview
Ethiopia
Cafe Nell
Caffé Pascucci
With Coffee House
Coffee Florian
Dangook University coffee shop
Java City
Cacao Boom
Café NaMu
Ding Dong Traveler’s Café
Mobshi
Coffee Boca
Holly’s
Owel-e
Coffee Uriban
Coffee Brown
Café Lua
One & Six
Café Maro
Take Urban
coffeesmith
Caffe BONITO
Coffeest
Coffee On
kiss the espresso
Standard Coffeebar
Caffè Caffè
Cork for Turtle, Mug for Rabbit
café DROPTOP
Double Bean café
Cafe Classico
Cafe LE.A
Coffee Yeonga
jubilee chocolatier
Patio café and bar
Tomo Coffee
Eco’s Caffé
Coffee Forêt
Homestead Coffee
100% Original Coffee
Thanks Nature Café
Coffee Iyagi (Busan)
Minto
Café aA
The Cacao
Coffee LEC
Cappuccino Strip
the mean place near Cappuccino Strip
Café 6269
RO2 ALBINO2
Café de Esmeralda
“Coffee Prince” café (Buamdong house)
the café with a view in Samcheong-dong
Angel-in-us
plan b café
Sugar Le Chou
Kongbokkneun House
DeCoa Balim
Theobroma chocolatier

places i didn’t go but noted for future reference:
Czar
Caffee Pinot Noir
Talk in Coffee
café Chalet
One Two Coffee
Cafe Many Thanks
Coffee Story Namuan
Tom N Toms
Cilantro Coffee
Cafe Jool
Cafe Du Soleil
JZ Cafe
Cafe Toy
(“Are you happy?”)
Café Table-A
coffee the sól
caffe Ginkgo Avenue

I’m Home (Jukjeon café street)

Sunday, May 2, 2010. A day to go down in history. For on this day, I discovered I’m Home.

One of my friends had had an exhausting day (he has kids), so instead of meeting up for dinner with the family, I ended up just meeting him for coffee. I’d heard rumors about this so-called “café street” in Jukjeon, which was about a short 15 min. local (yellow) bus ride away from my place, and conveniently equidistant between my place and my friend’s. After walking around a bit, a place called I’m Home looked attractive, especially since it had a number of people inside and a poster advertising their uses of Valrhona chocolate outside. It looked like they knew their stuff! So we checked it out.

Four postings ago (Liegen Haus), I noted how much I love chocolate. I’m a guy with a sweet tooth. A chocolate tooth. My friend is almost the same. On the menu we found something that looked interesting, a “fondant chocolat”.

Fondant Chocolat at I’m Home

You did click on the picture to see it large, right? Well let me assure you, it was more than interesting. It was as rich and as delicious as it looks. It’s beautiful. It’s chocolate. It’s one of THE BEST DESSERTS I HAVE EVER TRIED IN MY LIFE!!!

Continue reading I’m Home (Jukjeon café street)

Caffé Bene (chain, multiple locations)

Early on in my stay (April 2010), I was still getting myself situated, and ended up going to more chains than independent shops. So, the next review is again of a chain. And a somewhat notorious one at that…

It started out quite benignly, actually. As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Zoo Coffee in Suji because it was near my friend’s place. My friend’s brother, meanwhile, lived in Seoul, in Apgujeong. And right across the street from his apartment, just down under his balcony, was a new café that was starting to spread around town. And my friend’s brother, an aspiring barista, was really enthusiastic about it. So down we went to Caffé Bene.

This Caffé Bene in Apgujeong was one of the original stores in this new natively Korean chain. It has a prime, heavily foot-trafficked location on Rodeo Drive. It has two floors and a wide selection of drinks and gelato. And, importantly to my friend’s brother, it was a great place for people-watching. In other words, girl-watching. Yes, some of the hottest girls in Seoul would hang out along this street and visit this café. And hey, the coffee seemed good at the time, the café had a great vibe, and it was very comfortable too. So at the time I was very pleased with Caffé Bene and tried to visit this one whenever in Apgujeong. And I would tried to visit others around town whenever I saw them, since they were familiar at a time when I was getting settled. So, 4 stars at the time.

Girls at the Apgujeong Caffé Bene, taken discretely by my friend’s brother’s friend, May 2010

Continue reading Caffé Bene (chain, multiple locations)

Zoo Coffee (chain, multiple locations)

Unfortunately, there aren’t many wild animals around the Seoul area, not even small ones. Coming from Seattle, I’m used to a large assortment of birds (robins, sparrows, bald eagles, hummingbirds, blue herons, peregrine falcons), squirrels, and raccoons, and occasionally a coyote or a wolf or a bear will lumber into town. And of course we have salmon in our streams and a few orca pods (families) in Puget Sound. But in Korea, I only saw a very few types of birds in the populated areas, most prominently magpies. Tigers are around only in myths and in the zoos. But still, Koreans do love nature and wildlife. They are avid hikers and love their forested mountains, which are covered in secondary growth after being decimated during the Korean War for subsistence [related article I found later]. So many Koreans, especially young Korean women, have dogs. These are micro-dogs, mind you, suitable for apartment living and carrying around and being cute. As such, certain entrepreneurs must have realized the love of nature prevalent in their country, and decided to combine it with coffee! Such is how I surmise Zoo Coffee must have been born.

Being close to my friend’s apartment in Suji, Zoo Coffee is one of the first cafés I went to. It was actually quite a nice place, with stuffed animals around, and a fancy lit backdrop of a zoo scene. Comfortable seating too, although too much space was devoted to the smoking section. Ah yes, the smoking section. So many Korean men (and some women, though they tend to hide it) smoke that many coffee shops provide them with special separately-ventilated rooms so they can smoke with their coffee without disturbing us non-addicted folk. Not having drunk many coffees yet, I thought, okay, this coffee (*mocha*) is all right. My friend and I decided that this Zoo Coffee would be our hangout place whenever I was in his part of town.

Over time, however, I tried many more cafés, and Zoo Coffee seemed, well, mediocre. The locations were nice enough, and the zoo concept is great, but the coffee, when you compare it to the plethora of other places around, is not all that great. Sorry, Zoo Coffee, you get only two stars.

Zoo Coffee in Suji, street view courtesy Naver Maps (http://maps.naver.com)
The backdrop at Zoo Coffee in Suji, April 2010

Website:  http://www.zoo-coffee.com

Final verdict:  **

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The Coffee Bean (chain, multiple locations)

Before I continue with my caffeinated experiences that started in 2010, I’m actually gonna go wayyy back to 2003! You see, I actually visited Korea for the first time in 2003, for about 10 days in October. Back then, the Korean coffee boom was in its infancy as compared to 2010 through today. I don’t remember going out for coffee much, but I do remember going to both Starbucks and The Coffee Bean in Apgujeong (central southern Seoul). As a Seattleite, I was happy to see Starbucks there, but The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was new to me, so I thought it was a native Korean chain. I went with friends and had a pleasant time there. And since I was taking pictures on film, I wasn’t taking nearly as many as I do now, so I didn’t record my drink for posterity. Just a picture with my friends, which is the most important thing. 🙂

But, I of course remembered it and went back from time to time starting in 2010. It was the chain that had been there a long time compared to all the new chains and independent shops that awaited me in the new decade. And somehow, Coffee Beans were kind of in the background… visible, but not prominent like other chains. It’s a place you don’t mind going to, but don’t really seek out. Sometimes you’ll have an average drink there, and occasionally you’ll find a very nice surprise. Here was one of the nice surprises I found this year, on a cold winter day in Myeongdong (a shopping district in central Seoul):

Moroccan Mint Latte at The Coffee Bean, Myeongdong, Seoul

It’s a tasty Moroccan Mint Latte. This became my standard drink whenever I happened to drop into the Korean chain thereafter.

Continue reading The Coffee Bean (chain, multiple locations)

Liesgen Haus (Yongin)

hey there again!

To start my blog, I’ll start with one of the first cafés I went to upon arriving in Korea. Hidden away in almost semi-rural Cheongdeok-dong, a young couple had started Liesgen Haus about 6 months before I first went there in April 2010. It was the main coffee shop in Cheongdeok, my neighborhood, and I thought the only one at the time.

Image
My pre-HDR pre-good camera shot of the entrance to Liesgen Haus in Cheongdeok-dong, Yongin, Korea

But despite its location in a somewhat isolated place, it had all the hallmarks of a great independent café. Friendly, knowledgeable baristas. Attractive atmosphere. Organic and single-origin coffee. Its own roasting machine. Creative drinks. Comfortable seating. Good wi-fi (that’s almost a given in Korea). And of course, delicious coffee. Now, I might as well state this now. Even greater than my love of coffee is my love of chocolate! If chocolate shops were as common as coffee shops, well, the purpose of this blog would be different! ^^ So, my first drink in any coffee shop is, 99% of the time, a café mocha.

A café mocha at Liesgen Haus in Yongin, Korea, in April 2010

As you can see, this mocha is quite attractive with a unique spider-web design in its sturdy mug. Most importantly, do I remember the taste? Well, no……. it’s been over two years after all. My synapses are not as refined as that as to pull out a gustatory memory from a picture or from the rest of the memory. So, yeah, in the blog, I’ll be unable to judge taste for the most part, unless it was something unique or highly impacting. Let my pictures and my other descriptions guide you!

Continue reading Liesgen Haus (Yongin)

hey there!

hey there!

with an Irish Cream latte at Caffè Fiorè at the top of Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, i begin this blog! it’s a rainy day here in the Emerald City; even though our summers are normally dry and sunny, they never seem to start until July 5th! this year seems to keep the tradition. 🙂 so, i’m from Seattle, which means, of course, i like coffee! but lately i’ve spent quite a bit of time in Seoul. so, i’ve started CaféSeaSeo to highlight and bring to light some of the great cafés that i’ve found in the Seoul area. coffee from Seattle to Seoul… CaféSeaSeo. it’s my first time blogging, so i hope i find my blogging voice soon. and bear with me while i get used to WordPress! thanks for visiting!

{please note that all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them}