If you’ve spent any time in Korea, you know coffee culture here runs deep.
Coffee was first introduced to Korea in the late 1800s, but it became especially popular after the Korean war, when American soldiers introduced instant coffee. For decades, brewed coffee took a backseat to instant coffee, but things are changing; in the last 10 years, the local brewed coffee market has expanded six-fold.
For many Koreans, the lure of coffee shops is not so much the coffee itself, but the setting. Koreans go to coffee shops to hang out and relax. Seoul’s cafés are often packed, particularly with young people in pairs and groups, a sweet caffeinated concoction in one hand and cell phone in the other.
All of this socializing, mixed with a growing interest in quality espresso and brewed coffee, has helped the coffee industry become massive. There are over 18,000 coffee shops in Seoul alone, and they are all trying to offer something unique. This has resulted in some very cool and sometimes very quirky coffee shops.
Here are eight of the coolest coffee shops in Seoul.
Photo credit: sojusunrise.com
Housed in a renovated shoe factory in the south part of Hongdae, Anthracite maintains an industrial vibe with three floors of large, open spaces and even a conveyor belt that now functions as a bar.
Anthracite roasts their beans in-house and grinds the beans for your coffee when you order, ensuring maximum freshness. The menu includes espresso, single-origin coffee, pour-overs, and tea, along with some light pastries. In addition to serving quality coffee, Anthracite educates the public; they hold public cupping sessions most Wednesdays (Korean-only and you have to register online first) and home barista courses. They also distribute their beans to many coffee shops around Seoul, so you might see their logo around the city.
357-6 Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Sangsu Station (Line 6), Exit 4
Fritz Coffee Company
Photo credit: greysuitcase.net
Fritz Coffee Company is owned by some power hitters in Korea’s coffee industry; they include Kim Byung-ki of Coffee Libre (featured below), roaster Kim Do-hyun, baristas Park Geun-ha (2014 Barista Champion of Korea) and Song Sung-man from El Café, and pastry chef Heo Min-su.
Located in converted hanok (a traditional Korean tile-roof house) in Mapo-gu, Fritz offers fantastic coffee and a cozy, retro atmosphere. Fritz’s coffee is sourced directly from producers around the world and roasted in-house. Their bread is also baked in the building’s basement. For those who want to learn more about coffee, they have cupping sessions for the public on Thursdays and Sundays at 6pm (in Korean only).
7 Saechangro-2-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Gongdeok station (Lines 5, 6), Exit 8
Photo credit: murph-m.com
Like Anthracite, Café Onion is located in a converted factory, and many of the factory’s design elements have been incorporated into the café. It’s filled with wide open spaces, large windows, minimal furniture, and the standard rustic, worn-down factory bits. There’s also a spacious rooftop terrace which is a nice on warm days.
The menu is simple; they serve espresso, single-origin coffees, and several specialty drinks. The flat white is one of their most popular drinks. In addition to beverages, Onion offers more than 20 kinds of bread, and a branch of Bread 05 is located on the second floor. Both the Pan d’Or (팡도르) and famous butter bread (which has appeared on several TV shows) tend to sell out by the early afternoon.
The café is located in Seongsu, which was once known as Seoul’s shoe district. Recently, however, the neighborhood has been taken over by young artists and designers and is sometimes referred to as “Korean Brooklyn.” So, you may or may not be cool enough to go there.
277-135 Seongsu-dong 2(i)-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Seongsu station
Photo credit: seoulsearching.net
Cat and dog cafés are for amateurs. Step up your animal café game and head to Meerkat Friends, which offers coffee with a side of bejeweled meerkat. There are around a dozen meerkats, an arctic fox, a genet (we didn’t know what that was either), and a raccoon, which you can hang out with for 8,000₩ – 10,000₩ per drink (around $8-10). Yes, the price is a little steep but it includes admission. And the chance to have tiny meerkats fall asleep in your lap.
Meerkat Friends is located in Hongdae; look for the banner with pictures of meerkats and walk up to the third floor. Try to go there on a weekday when it’s less crowded. Note that children under the age of 15 are not allowed.
9-12 Wausan-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul (3rd floor)
Nearest station: Sangsu station, Exit 1
Co:lumn (Daerim Warehouse)
Photo credit: seoullikealocal.com
Co:lumn (also called Daerim Warehouse) is part café, part art gallery, and all cool. Located in the neighborhood of Seongsu in a former rice mill turned warehouse, Co:lumn features wide open, rustic spaces that are filled with trees and various art exhibitions.
They serve coffee, beer, and a large selection of food including dishes such as salads, pizza, and pasta. On the weekend, there’s an entrance fee of 10,000₩, which includes one drink to sip on while checking out the exhibition.
78, Seongsui-ro, Seongdong-gu Seoul
Nearest station: Seongsu station (Line 2), Exit 3
Photo credit: pheurontay.com
Ikovox is known for having some of the best coffee in Seoul. This small café is tucked away on a side street off Garo-sugil, one of the city’s hippest and most upscale streets. Garo-sugil, located in Sinsa-dong, is not only home to some fantastic galleries, restaurants, and boutiques, but it’s also attracted many prominent brewers and roasters, and you can find dozens of small coffee shops here.
Ikovox roasts their own beans and adds two shots of espresso to every cup of coffee, ensuring you will get a fresh AND strong drink there. There’s a fun laboratory-fee to the place; baristas meticulously prepare each cup of coffee, weighing the beans on a scale and using a beaker and glass funnel to slowly brew the coffee.
Apgujung-ro 10 gil-37, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Sinsa station
In 2008, owner Seu Pil-hoon became Korea’s first “Q grader,” a license from the Coffee Quality Institute which authorizes recipients to be accredited coffee cuppers—sort of like sommeliers of coffee. He opened Coffee Libre a year later.
Coffee Libre’s menu simple and features espresso-based drinks and top-quality specialty coffees, including more than 50 kinds of aero-pressed single-origin coffees. Many of these come to Coffee Libre via direct trading with coffee plantations around the world.
Coffee Libre also offers public cuppings (in Korean), where visitors can learn more about coffee and try several different types of specialty coffee. At their Yeonnam-dong location, the cupping takes place every Tuesday at 8pm.
Their original café is tucked away in an alley in Yeonnam-dong, and they have since expanded to several locations in Seoul, including Myeongdong and Yeongdeungpo.
227-15 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Hongik University station
Directions: Hongik University Station, exit 3. Walk out, go straight and follow the main road as it veers left, going away from Hongdae. After a 5-7 minute walk, turn left into a small alley (the one immediately before an orange bakery). Coffee Libre will be a few buildings down on the right; look for the wrestler head on the sign.
Photo credit: thecoffeechaser.com
Sinchon’s Felt offers a minimal menu and even more minimal design, instead pouring their energy into their coffee. Felt uses specialty beans sourced directly from producers around the world and roasts in-house; their main drinks include brewed coffee and espresso variations made on a beautiful Slayer machine.
The coffee shop, located inside a former piano school, is also known for its music, which is played on a turntable. Note that there are no tables here—just benches—so leave your laptop at home and focus instead on your coffee and companions! And, in keeping with their minimal theme, there is no sign outside. Look for the “‘Eunpa Piano” (은파피아노) sign on the wall above the shop.
23, Seogang-ro 11-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Nearest station: Sogang University station