Expat in Korea · My Neighborhood

Things I love about Korea, #137 – Unique Cafés

Whether in multi-story coffee palaces, or little jewel box hideaways, South Korea has embraced cafe culture.

I’m not just talking about the international mega-franchises such as Starbucks and their ilk – although there are plenty of them here; Korea has its own set of corporate coffee peddlers, too (such as Angelinus, owned by Lotte Group).

I am thinking of the variety of creatively-themed indie cafes that can be found in abundance in almost every Korean neighborhood. Unique atmosphere, or “themed cafes,” are everything. Interior mood and music will set the tone for your experience as much as the bevvie and food choices. Themes can be as various as Harry Potter, garden, hygge, or ultra minimalist. Looking for a new, cute cafe is a fun endeavor, and finding one you love near home is a treasure.

What do the best coffee (and tea) places have going for them? Quality beverages and food items, good location (near a shopping hub, a park, or easy transportation), music, plenty of seating, and free WiFi are some of the criteria. For me, space and light for knitting or crochet (or study) is super important.

As for the interior, well, that all depends on one’s mood or reason for visiting. There are usually many types of cafe atmospheres to choose from in the average neighborhood. My neighborhood, just south of the university where I work, is no exception, and there are at least four beautiful cafes within walking distance of my home, each with a different mood.

This post could go on for ages, so I’m just going to tell you about two of them, and then post again next week about a few more I like.

VIDEO: Cafe Santorini has a cozy, homey atmosphere. My dog is even welcome, in his carrier.

The first is Cafe Santorini, which is about 3 minutes across the park outside my apartment building. Santorini’s menu is almost exactly the same as it was 10 years ago, when I first started coming. I think of this place as my auxiliary living room, and it has all the charm and comfort of a lovely small apartment.

The menu is in Korean, but I’ve memorized it. Hand drip coffees, frappes, black and herbal teas, smoothies, and fresh pressed juices are the basic choices. They also have wine by the glass. Sweets are waffles, cheesecake, and toast with jam.

PHOTO: A sample menu. It reads: yogurt smoothie; sweet potato latte; honey lemonade; raw carrot juice

The owner plays practically perfect music – a huge variety of jazz, classic rock, pop, and sometimes even opera. His music collection is at least as eclectic as my own. The tables are huge, so I can bring my crafting. There is cool art on the walls by local artists. Also, the proprietor is the sweetest guy, and always has a huge tree with flashing LED lights at Christmas. It’s my favorite time to come in for a hot chocolate or cup of Earl Grey.

Another place I love that’s super close to home is Cafe Fond. This one is different – it’s a modern, chic, three-level “coffee condo” with a gorgeous view of the local lake. I say condo, because the decor at Cafe Fond is a bit “New York warehouse” with big windows to maximize the view. It’s interesting that such a contemporary place borders a little hamlet with several older buildings and a hanok (traditional house) or two.

The ambiance at Fond matches the urban vibe. It’s a bit more lively compared to Santorini, with higher ceilings, many more tables made of metal and wood, and a top-level deck that is open toward the lake, with patio tables and a porch swing. The view is best from the top level. I can see this place hosting a birthday party; they have a huge variety of sweets.

I popped in this afternoon to have a slice of rainbow cake and an espresso shot. And of course, to take in the view.

Cafe Fond is also decorated for Christmas. I can get my big-tree and Christmas-music fixes at these cafes.

That’s it for now, two of my local favorites. See you again soon with more of Korea’s cafe obsession, as I go further afield to share with you. Cheers!

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