Words by Jacob Roy with special thanks to Aaron Frey
Update: in October 2012 we published a revised list, leaving the borders of Seoul to find the best coffee shops in Korea overall. Read it now!
There are literally thousands of coffee shops in Seoul, and all cravers of the sharp savor of roasted beans already have their own personal favorite. But there’s an aristocracy of cafes in Seoul of which few are aware. Chat up enough serious baristas and you’ll start to hear the same names. This is no conspiracy; this is the mutual respect and recognition given to those who are completely devoted to the art of coffee. To join the club, stop by the shops below.
10. Republic of Coffee – Mapo
When Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Coffee Cantata about addiction to coffee he was probably thinking of the drinkers at Zimmerman’s Coffee House in Leipzig. But you can enjoy the satire and bitterness of both master composer and barista in the Republic of Coffee here in the Republic of Korea.
Directions: From Mapo Stn. (line 5, ex. 4), turn left and go straight for five minutes. You’ll see it between the Buy the Way and the Paris Baguette.
Mapo-gu, Dohwa-dong, 230-8. cafe.naver.com/republicofcoffee 070-4200-4624
Weekdays 10 am – 11 pm, Weekends 11 am – 11 pm
9. Chan’s Espresso Bar – Hongdae
Chan’s shop is rather small and the decor is austere. But that’s OK because the baristas who work there are indifferent and the prices are high. People in the know go for espressos by Tim Wendelboe, and the Intelligentsia coffee beans. How serious are you about coffee?
Directions: From Sangsu Stn. (line 6, ex. 1), walk toward Hongik University and turn left at the intersection with Yogi (여기) and 7-11. It’ll be on the right.
Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong 409-10 chan-s.com 02-333-3562
Mon – Sat 1 pm – 10 pm, Sundays and holidays closed
8. Addis Ababa – Hongdae
Don’t let the excellent music, friendly service, and comfy decor fool you. The coffee here is top notch. All hail I and I Emperor Haile Selassie I.
Directions: Walk straight from Hongdae Stn. (line 2, ex. 2) and turn left at the Donggyo-dong Intersection. It’s a few hundred meters ahead on the right.
Seodaemun-gu Yeonhui-dong 353-93. 070-8887-9496
Weekdays 9:30 am – midnight, Weekends 9:30 am – midnight
7. Club Espresso – Buam-dong
Repel North Korean commando attacks and hike down from Inwangsan to find the safest coffee bunker in Seoul. Club Espresso has a ridiculous amount of coffee stored in their shop. Should Seoul come under siege caffeine addicts can sit tight in the Club. Directions: Hail a taxi or drive yourself to this out-of-the-way coffee shop.
Jongno-gu, Buam-dong 257-1. clubespresso.co.kr 02-764-8719
Everyday 9 am – 11 pm
6. CBTL – Gwanghwamun
Located in the Basement of the Seoul Finance Center is the up-market branch of the ubiquitous Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. This particular store is in possession of one of only 100 Victoria Arduino Venus Century espresso machines ever made. Drink your latte just like the Pope does.
Directions: The Seoul Finance Center is about 150 meters from City Hall Stn. (line 1 & 2, ex. 4).
Jung-gu, Taepyeong-ro 1-ga 84 SFC Building B1. 02-753-2374
coffeebeankorea.com, Weekdays 7:30 am – 10:30 pm, Sat 8 am – 10 pm, Sun 12 pm – 10 pm
5. Coffee Factory – Samcheong-dong
The factory forges cappuccinos and smelts single origin coffees like they were model T Fords. The industrial revolution was neither industrial nor a revolution; discuss, over coffee.
Directions: Take the second right from Anguk Stn. (line 3, ex. 1). It-s in the alley just to the left of the entrance to Jeongdok Library. Jongno-gu, Sogyeok-dong, 142-2. 02-722-6169
Weekdays 7:30 am – 11 pm, Weekends 9:30 am – 11 pm
4. Cafe Miz Moren – Hongdae
MM’s baristas are siphon-pot brewing aficionados. Order the very impressive Cafe O Lait and marvel as they create a 2-meter-high double waterfall of steaming liquids right into the cups at your table. It’s almost as good as a double rainbow.
Directions: Start at Sangsu Stn. (line 6, ex. 1) and turn right on the main street that heads toward Hongdae Stn. It’ll be on the second diagonal street to the right.
Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong 411-12. 02-325-5202, Everyday 11 am – 1 am
3. La Caffe – Wangsimni
Is your $5,000 espresso machine broken? No worries, head over to La Caffe. Owner and coffee tech tinkerer Brandon J. H. Bang will fix it up. La Caffe also has a very rare, hand-built espresso machine called the “Slayer” from Seattle. Now you can listen to and drink the “Angel of Death.” Closed Mondays.
Directions: Start at Wangsimni Stn. (lines 3, 5, Jungang, ex. 9). This one’s tricky, so check frshgrnd.com/2010/08/la-caffe for a detailed map.
Seongdong-gu, Haengdang-dong, 140 Lemon Plaza #107, 02-2299-9442
Weekdays 10 am – 10 pm, Weekends 11 am – 10 pm
2. Jeon Gwang-su COFFE HOUSE – Bukcheon
Gwang-su Jeon’s coffee house has the connoisseur’s cup. Jeon has been in the game for over a decade and runs his own school. Most of the barristers in his Bukcheon cafe near the Korean Constitutional Court pay the baristi who are busy working away to pay off the W3.5 million they paid the Korean caffeine godfather to take his 18-month barista course.
Directions: take ex. 2 from Anguk Stn. (line 3) and go straight for 250 meters until you reach a major four-way intersection. Take a right and it’ll be on your right.
Jongno-gu, Gye-dong 99-12. jeonscoffee.co.kr 02-745-2050
Weekdays 10 am – 11 pm, Saturday 12 pm – 11 pm, Sunday 12 pm – 9 pm
1. Coffee Lab – Hongdae
Over the last 600 years coffee made the long trip from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen to this hip Cafe in Seoul. Drink like a Dervish and start spinning round, but don’t jump in the Lab or you’ll bust your melon on a chair leg.
Directions: between Hongdae Stn. and Sinchon Stn., this shop is as tough to find as a bean in a haystack. Google “Coffee Lab Frshgrnd” and click on the first link for a map.
Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong 327-19. 02-3143-0908
SunÂ – Thu 11 am – midnight, Fri – Sat 11 am – 1 am