Quality cafes in the States are rare to come by. They are drives away and terribly overpriced for an underwhelming aesthetic. And Starbucks doesn't count as a cafe. But in Korea, it's a different story…
I only started drinking coffee a year or so ago and seldom visited cafes in America. Truly, they weren’t worth my time. But Korea changed the cafe game in the best of ways. Now, I’m always looking for an excuse to pop into one.
While drink quality may vary from place to place, undeniably, there is one thing cafes get right…the aesthetic. Cafes are Instagram picture perfect here. I never fail to snap a quick pic of my drink or pastry before I devour it. Modern concrete walls, rustic hanging fluorescents, or pastel flowers dotting the tables, the diversity of styles is another favorite aspect of mine. Every cafe has its signature style and changes the entire mood. The wall colors, the table layout, the music. Every aspect melts into an atmosphere that is unlike anything else.
I feel like the main character in a K-Drama every time I step into a cafe. Perhaps I'll meet a cute someone, or maybe I'll be writing the next great American novel. A scholar or Insta influencer, I can be anyone when I enter a cafe. Something about the soft folk acoustic music or the sunlight streaming through the windows or the adorable mugs nestled in my hands just changes the whole aura.
Even chain cafes, like Paris Baguette, have a pleasing aesthetic that beats most Starbucks. But small, hidden gems are my favorite. Tucked away into an alley corner, or on the 11th floor of a building, cafes leave no place untouched. Sometimes you have to wander around for twenty minutes to just randomly enter a cafe on a whim. These places are often the ones that you remember most. They have the quirky, off-beat aesthetics. Local art, bright accent colors, or a signature gimmick is what makes these cafes feel personal.
So here's a little secret. I'm going to share some of my favorite cafes I've found during my time here.
Located in Itaewon (이태원), an area typically known for its nightlife, this cafe's signature is a pleasant reprieve. And its pastries have their signature galaxy glaze. Being the astronomy nerd I am, I couldn't pass the opportunity to have a taste of the galaxy. They also have their own local art gallery upstairs.
I stumbled upon this one by accident. I actually thought I was in the wrong place at first. This cafe is located underground by Ewha Womans University (이화여자대학교). Swinging chairs, pop art, and vintage film cameras adorn the beautiful space, while 60s music fills the air.
Beautiful Tea Museum (아름다운차박물관)
For the tea lovers out there, check out this cafe. Designed as a traditional hanok (한옥) and serving traditional Korean teas, this cafe is like stepping into the past. It even doubles as a small museum about tea! I recommend trying the omija (오미자 - the five flavors tea) as you take in the peaceful energy.
Nuldam Space (널담은공간)
I initially entered this cafe just for a quick bite, but stayed an extra hour to indulge in their trademark activity: writing letters. You can write a letter to yourself, and the cafe will send it to you later in the future. You even get to seal your letter with their signature wax stamp.
AtoZ Cafe (에이투지 커페)
I fell in love the second I stepped into this place. The Victorian furniture, the checkered floor, and the blue/purple color scheme may sound like an odd combination, but I assure you they blend perfectly together. And the best part is the dinosaurs. That is correct, this cafe has dinosaur plushies and figurines in every corner, and I am a certified dinosaur lover, so it was just my lucky day. They even serve your food with some prehistoric friends.
These are just a few of my favorites.
But let me tell you the best part about cafe culture is discovering them on your own!