The humble coffee bean.
The search for more than the everyman’s latte, or the universally accepted cappuccino, is one that takes an adventurous traveller to places entirely strange. Good coffee hides in all places; from quiet redbrick alleys and crevices between the known and popular, to unnamed and unmarked doors that dare you to delve in and discover their secrets.
While coffee shops exist en masse across Seoul (some 18,000 of them), many are comprised of chain stores such as Angel Coffee and Ediya Co.
It’s no surprise, then, that some 4.8 billion cups of freshly roasted coffee are said to be consumed in the capital each year, indicating a thriving industry; thus the rise in speciality coffee shops. And yet, further data suggests that over half of all new competitors to enter the scene never survive their first year in what is becoming a 21st century gold rush played out in Korea’s capital. Of those that survive and thrive, many brandish international awards, and some display Q grader certificates certified by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) which demonstrates that they are “capable of analyzing Arabica coffee through smell and taste.”
With that, we invite you to explore a little deeper and travel around Seoul to our five recommendations below. We found elements in each that satisfied our hunt for good coffee and for something a little beyond the ordinary.
1. Coalmine Coffee
Coalmine Coffee is nestled in a quiet, unassuming courtyard; sheltered from the traffic of Hongdae’s golden mile and all things orthodox. Its aesthetic sets it apart from the outset with wooden benches under its redbrick arches, and the intimacy of its lush, leaf-filled courtyard.
Inside, you’ll find trendy, bearded and tattooed baristas waiting over fresh coffee beans, pouring smooth brews and serving up mouthwatering cake. We tried a medium light roast espresso and found it quite silky with a floral and mixed-berry vibe. Consequently, it makes our list due to its quality single origin and blended offerings. Furthermore, it possesses a charm complimented by an idyllic layout; one that looks out beneath the arches onto a wash of undisturbed concrete and greenery. We also loved their cold brew which comes served in a bottle and works magic on a hot day.
At night, the dim lighting casts a sleek, cosy vibe throughout. You might find it to be the perfect place to unwind after an arduous day of adventure.
Price range: $$
Mon-Fri: 9am – 10am Sat – Sun: 11am – 10pm
Tip: Get a discount if you choose to take away!
서울시 마포구 잔다리로 43
43, Jandari-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
2. Café Libre
Café Libre is an award-winning brand with a story. Founded and owned by Seu Pil Hoon, Libre is an established green bean buyer that aims to connect the best origin coffee with everyday consumers. They are both a gateway to a wider palette for the casual coffee drinker, and a reliable emporium of roasted coffee that’s been meticulously sourced and prepared with love and more than a heap of passion.
“We travel all around the world to find unique and great coffee to meet people’s needs and we change our single origin list on a weekly basis.”
We sampled their brews at their Myeongdong Cathedral location and were thoroughly blown away. A friendly and helpful barista poured their signature espresso blend from a tentatively titled medium dark roast called ‘OULSEO OULSEO OULSEO‘ which we found to be notably darker than their brightly acidic and sweet ‘Bad Blood‘ blend at other locations. This well-balanced brew delivered hints of chocolate and matured fruit, and it comes highly recommended by us.
We know how hard people in origins work to farm good quality coffee. The efforts involved and the life long story of every single origin deserve to be delivered to those experiencing their coffee, as it is meant to be. Maintaining quality and flavors, containing the effort of every origin and their stories in each cup; this drives our dedication when it comes to sourcing, maintaining our beans, to the roasting process, and our service.– Sun, Coffee Libre
Their small, yet bright space offers a cosy nook with large windows overlooking the busy intersect beyond – a great space to pull out a laptop or a book before you wander further into the crowd, or after an intense day of shopping in the madness of Myeongdong.
Price range: $$$ (but worth it)
Opening hours: 11am – 8pm
Tip: Their public cupping, or coffee tasting event happens every
Thursday at 7 pm.
서울시 중구 명동길 102호74
Café Libre, 102-ho 74 Myeongdong-gil Jung-gu Seoul
3. Fritz Coffee Company
There’s a certain thrill to a great coffee experience had amidst great aesthetics. It should come as no surprise, then, that we’ve previously lauded Fritz Coffee’s disarming vintage aesthetics in our previous Rustic Café guide where we featured their converted home branch in Mapo-gu. This time around, we’ve gone out of our way to visit their stunning location in
Jongno-gu; a mere stone’s throw away from the Bukchon Hanok Village.
Founded in 2014 by a barista, a roaster, a cupper, a green bean buyer, and a baker; Fritz Coffee is a direct-trading coffee company and green bean buyer under the stewardship of owner ‘BK’. Self-described as ‘technologists’ and considered among their oldest customers as being a collective of expert tradespeople, you’ll find that that Fritz is anything but orthodox in their approach.
– BK, Owner
When it comes to coffee, we do direct trade with the origin country. We travel to meet the farmers we directly work with. They are a significant part of our team at Fritz Coffee company. They have consistently provided us with the highest quality of green beans year after year. This year we revisited the farms in Central America and India. We are committed to providing them with different forms of support both to help produce better quality beans and ultimately improve their livelihoods.
Fritz utilizes beans carefully sourced from their place of origin with a preference for Giesen and opting for 60kgs and 6kgs. We tried an espresso and thoroughly enjoyed the dark, creamy roast without milk, although we’re told that it goes down a treat either way.
Most impressive, however, is their extraordinary Hanok aesthetic; it’s by no means hyperbole when we say that it’s stunning. Surrounded by glass-and-concrete high-rises, its traditional architecture defies its surroundings. They also have a beautiful stone courtyard outside where you can sit and revel in the sun.
Price range: $$
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 10:00 – 21:00
Tip: Fritz bakes its own bread. We wholeheartedly recommend nabbing something from their better-than-usual selection.
서울시 종로구 율곡로 83
83 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
In the making of this list, we removed the tempting thread of aesthetics, focusing solely on the merits of their coffee. It is, therefore, entirely by accident that 5Brewing, with its exposed brick and concrete walls, its high, varnished ceilings and all the trimmings of a factory-vibe, offers visitors the sense that they are in the heart of where good coffee is made; and that everything about it is attractive.
Owned by award-winning barista Do Hyung Soo, and complimented by the presence of Moon Kyu Jang who came second in the 2014 world coffee roasting championship, 5Brewing is a harbor of filtered single origin coffee. And in the ways of choice, they offer Colombian, Guatemalan, Kenyan, Ethiopian, and an Ethiopian Yirgacheffee from the very birthplace of coffee itself to drive the point home; they’ve got what you need.
We tried the Yirgacheffee which was roasted in-house, as it should be, and found it to be quite smooth and deeply aromatic with a hint of red berry. On a separate occasion, we found that the Colombian “Huila Supremo” was immensely pleasant with a subtle taste of dark chocolate and caramel; perhaps too sweet for those with a preference for earthy, full-bodied roasts.
Overall, it wasn’t just their filtered roasts that impressed us, but the price too.
Price range: $
Opening hours: 11AM – 11:30PM
Tip: Drinks start at 원5,000
서울시 서교동 405-10
405-10, Seogyo-dong, Seoul, South Korea
Note: We’d like to thank B.K of Fritz Coffee Company, and Sun of Café Libre for their time and insight.
Sources: World Coffee Portal
Featured Image: Fritz Coffee Company (Jung-no Gu Branch), 25-03-19, Fritz.co.kr