2013

Cute, Crazy, Quirky Coffee Shops

 

 

In the past few years, Canadians have been getting to know more about Korea.  But in 2007, packing up to move to Korea was like packing up for a trip to Mars.  My suitcase looked more like a survival kit… or a stash bag for smuggling coffee.

I had stocked up on Tim Hortons coffee, certain that I was going to become a pioneer in Korea’s new coffee drinking culture.  Boy was I ever wrong.  Not only had Starbucks beat me to it, but with over 12,000 coffee shops all over South Korea, my little Tim Hortons cans didn’t really create the commotion I was expecting.

Sure, coffee there is not always as affordable as in Canada.  I once paid $10.00 for a regular cup of drip coffee.  I know!  It sounds insane, but please hear me out before all you coffee junkies write off Korea as inhabitable.

Going for a coffee in Seoul isn’t always about getting your caffeine fix, or pretending to be doing important work on your mac computer (think Starbucks).   Coffee shops in Korea sometimes function as make believe lands where adults can “play house” and escape from the ordinary, predictable coffee shop experience.   Seoul has a variety of fun, quirky themed cafes, which can make your ten-dollar coffee seem like a pretty sweet deal.

Seoulites are constantly reinventing their city, coming up with new wacky ideas to keep their population of 10 million stimulated and entertained. I’ve only been gone for three years, and already there are so many new and unique places that have opened since I left.

This means that my top five list is not that current as it only includes pre-2010 coffee shops.  I promise to keep you posted on newer cafes in a future article though.

 

In the meantime, enjoy the outdated top five list of an ex-expat:

 

 

#5   Old Tea Shop  (Flying Birds Tea Shop)

 

Okay, it’s not a coffee shop.  But a place where you can drink traditional teas while colourful birds fly freely all around you just had to go on my top five list.

This quaint little tea house offers a really relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of touristy Insadong.  My fear of birds, however, always made it rather difficult for me to fully enjoy the zen-like atmosphere of this place, albeit all the medicinal tea and traditional decor.  The great news is that the birds have been potty trained, so  people with coprophobia are safe.

Speaking of potty, don’t you dare leave the Old Tea Shop without taking a little tour of the loo.  It’s been decorated so beautifully, I even considered ditching the birds at one point to finish my tea in there.

 

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Photo By:  Hanh Bareau

 

Where is it?    30 Gwanhun-dong, Jongro-Gu

How much is it?    6,000 won  ($5.50) -rice biscuits included!

 

 

#4  Hello Kitty Café

 

No, there aren’t any kittens flying around in this place.  This cafe is more like a sanctuary for Hello Kitty worshipers.  Everything, including the foam on your latte, has Hello Kitty on it.

 

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Photo by:  Hanh Tran

 

As you can judge by the pictures, this place is suitable for girly girls, girly boys, and boyfriends who are very confident about their sexuality.

I’m not sure that I would make this place a regular hangout spot, but it’s a great one-time photo op… if you have a good camera – which I don’t.  I stumbled upon Elle’s Cute in Korea site, which I recommend you visit to view quality pics of the cafe.

 

Where is it?   358-112 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

How much is an Americano?     3,000 won

 

 

#3  !자네왔는가  (Train cafe)

 

The name of this cafe means something along the lines of “Oh! You have arrived” – But us westerners usually just refer to it as the “train cafe,” given that it has been decorated to resemble the interior of an early 1900s passenger car.  Complete with real train seats and vintage suitcases lying on the luggage rails along the walls, this funky little establishment even has a wooden train track running across it.  Sitting down for a hot drink at the train cafe will really take you back in time with its World War II survivor character.  The insane amount of writing all over the walls and tables also help add to its aged look.

Situated in Insadong, the menu obviously features a savory list of traditional Korean teas and pastries.

Again, I failed to take pictures of this awesome place.  So go here for some images.

 

Where is it?     Jongro-gu Insa-dong 170

Cost of a tea?   No idea…  Do you know?

 

 

 

#2   Dr. Fish café                                

 

While Dr. Fish is common in a lot of countries, the fun thing about getting your Dr. Fish treatment in Korea, is that you can do it over breakfast, or a glass of red wine.

My first Dr. Fish experience was at a lovely wine bar in Hongdae, which unfortunately closed down shortly after I discovered it.  Located on the eighth floor, you could overlook trendy Hongdae while dozens of tiny fish scavenged through your toes and callouses looking for some “fresh” dead skin to feast on.

 

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For first-timers, submerging your feet into the water can be a terrifying experience.  But I promise you that it doesn’t hurt, for these little guys, hungry as they may be, are only interested in dead skin.  You do need to mentally prepare yourself for the tickling sensation, however.  Especially if you are a 200-pound man in his late thirties (like my brother).

One of my greatest regrets in life is not having filmed my brother’s reaction when he first put his feet in the water.  I do have a video of one of my best friends, however, and I can assure your that my brother was waaaayyyyy more dramatic.  (Love you bro! hehehe )

 

Now, whether Dr. Fish has any beneficial effects on your skin is highly debatable.  Still, I highly recommend you try it just for its novelty value.

 

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The other Dr. Fish cafe I tried was Tree’s Shadow café (나무 그늘) located in Gangnam.  This place offers a really great breakfast deal that should not be passed.  With the purchase of any drink (roughly 5,000 won – $5.00) you get unlimited breakfast bread and coffee.  And then for merely 2,000 won extra you get 15 minutes with the Dr. Fish.    Compare to $30.00 in the States!

 

Where to go? 

A ton of places!  Here’s a list of the ones I’ve found so far:

Sinhan B/D 4F,  37-1 Myeongdong 1-ga, Jung-gu

Gangnam:
02 599 1210
Across CGV It’s on the second floor of Basic House.

Konkuk Univ.:
02 498 8696
Konkuk Univ. Station exit 2, walk straight 50m, next to Starbucks.

Samcheong:
02 723 6025
26-2 Samcheong-dong, Jonggno-gu, Seoul.

Yeongdeungpo:
02 2638 2002
Front of TimeSquare Gate 8.

Sinlim:
02 877 2353
Sinlim Station exit3, walk straight 2m, on the second floor of PUMA.

Wangsipni:
02 2200 1530
Wangsipni Station building 3rd floor.

Suwon:
031 257 7806
Suwon Station exit 2. On the second floor of Hello Kitty shop.

 

 

#1 Princess Diary Cafe

 

This is my favorite cafe of all.  I mean it just doesn’t get any better than taking wedding pictures of yourself without the hassle of an actual wedding, or even an actual relationship!  On one of my visits, I asked a guy friend to pose as the groom for my wedding photos. God bless his charitable heart.  The only problem is that now that he really is married, it’s a little awkward for me to have wedding pictures with him on facebook, so I had to take them down.

Such is the world we live in.  Not only are married girls the only ones who get to wear wedding dresses, but they are also always given priority on facebook for posting wedding pics.

This is why I love Princess Diary Cafe.  They deliver to every single girl, regardless what her marital status is, the basic right to take pictures in a wedding dress.   No girl should ever be deprived of the chance to put on a wedding dress and strut her majestic booty like the royalicious princess she is.  So, thank you Princess Diary Cafe!

 

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