Coffee in Seoul
Seoul, almost from the first moment I arrived, seemed to be almost overflowing with cafe and coffee options.
The city has such a rich tapestry of food and drink options with the sheer force of numbers from the 10 million people within the central city limits.
The first stop was at a place called Also Better Coffee. It certainly lived up to its confident name as the espresso I was served had really good complexity with a bitterness that would almost appealed to Italian roast fans balanced with an excellent fruity acidity. If everything in Seoul was served to this standard I suspected I was in for a treat.
Cafe Grace was a little coffee counter that I passed and looked cute, so next time I was walking nearby I bent my route to include it.
While the counter man was extremely friendly and enthusiastic, it taught me that broadly if your espresso costs 2,000ish won it will be towards the caffeine hit end of the market, while 3,500 and above will get you something more recognisably artisan.
Cafe Grace was friendly and charming, but I wouldn’t rush back for the coffee.
Noah’s Roasting on the other hand offered both fruity and chocolatey roast blends, both of which were first rate. Describing its coffee as charcoal roasted, this place was beautifully situated next to my hotel so was rewarded with multiple visits. I enjoyed each of them.
Coffee Kwang was not far away, too. Once I had negotiated the door – Koreans like sliders as well as push-pulls – I was pleased to find a cool and smartly appointed cafe in which to relax from the searing humidity for a moment or two.
Their coffee was very good, too, with the espresso served in little gold crockery. It’s a place well worthy of your attention.
Next up was Amelatte, a roastery cafe in Myeongdong. I had a notion that this place would be really good and it was only decent, which was fine for the first shot of the day but a little disappointing overall.
Inside Coffee Roasters in Gangnam gave the lie to my “2000 won means shit” theory. Perhaps Gangnam is cheaper, or my likely more competitive, but their espresso – again about the only hot drink they’d made against a torrent of iced coffees from regular customers – was really good and presumably came from beans they’d roasted themselves.
After a turn around the World Heritage Site burial mounds of Seonjeongneung and others, I headed for coffee at Black Lab. A quirky premises with various nooks and crannies, their coffee was absolutely excellent with a beautifully balanced shot.
I had a break from espresso at Nok, where the friendly counter man brewed me a moka pot. Served in a china teacup, this was a refreshing change in the very smart surroundings of a more studenty part of town.
There was a branch of Angel-in-us – a popular chain in this part of the world – in my hotel so I gave them a try. They have elaborate coffee stories and paraphernalia about the place but their coffee was bloody terrible. It marked the low-point of coffee in the city.
Restoring things to a better place came Glamorous Penguin. Their espresso was fantastic. I have no idea where the beans were from and given the place is a specialist bakery I doubt they were roasting their own but the shot was right up there with the best I had in the city.
Caffe Themselves includes a roastery onsite which sounded promising. I enjoyed a quick espresso in their lively first floor seating area. It was very good stuff.
Unknown Coffee gave me hope of disproving the 2,000ish coffee is always less good in Myeongdong, as the place looked super cool and they looked to be taking things seriously, but although the shot looked good with very convincing crema, it was on the mediocre side.
And that was that for a good little insight into the coffee scene of Seoul. As with most of what I’m writing about coffee on my travels, this felt like not even the start of an in-depth analysis. But what I can say is that I found plenty of top-quality stuff, so next time you’re in the city you should be able to easily find very good coffee.