At first South Korea and coffee don’t seem to have much in common… Until you go to Seoul. The city thrives with a strong coffee culture and literally thousands of coffee shops! From all the different chains (Tom N Toms, Caffe Bene, Holly’s Coffee…) to the huge number of independent coffee shops all rivalling with incredible atmospheres.
The diversity in both the beverages and the decor is quite amazing. Compared to Western countries there is so much more creativity, attention to detail and presentation. Themed coffee shops are popular, with cat cafes or character cafes (Charlie Brown, Hello Kitty…) and cute is big thing here.
Indie coffee shops have a devoted following with fans of hand dripped coffee and stylized environments. A few years ago, one of the most popular Korean dramas to date, The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, further sparked the interest for coffee making and the art of the Barista among Koreans of all ages.
Koreans like to spend a lot of time in coffee shops for meeting friends and studying. Part of it is explained by the fact that most people live with their parents until they get married and later on with their in-laws. Seoul is also a vast capital and it is common to spend an hour or two each day in transportation, so workers really want a nice coffee break.
Partially for these reasons, Seoulites spend hours at cafes. Some people say it explains why coffee is so expensive in Korea (on average $4~$7) as you end up paying for real-estate or the number of hours you will sit there. Note that in Korea coffee is still considered a chic beverage and consumers don’t hesitate to pay a premium for hand-dripped coffee or Starbucks, whose highest prices are found in the Korean market.
A great neighbourhood to explore the coffee scene is Hongdae. Just get lost in the smaller streets and you will find the prettiest cafes, serving the most delicious cups of Joe!