A fiesta of tastes
Café DROPP, loved not only by Koreans but also by Europeans and Japanese in Korea, always marks the roasting date on its coffee bean canisters. Roasted beans are stored for a week to 10 days at most. Those beans are then replaced with freshly roasted ones. Additionally, if a customer requests a refill, the barista carefully drips the coffee again and serves it in a new mug.
DROPP handles 10 types of coffee. Since they roast beans at a high temperature, DROPP’s coffee is characterized by its distinguished flavor rather than its aroma. The Nicaraguan coffee I ordered had a mild taste and aroma but a rich texture. A light milk chocolate flavor lingered in the mouth and left a sweet aftertaste.
Kim Myeong-su, a barista working at DROPP, recommends an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe to scent-sensitive women. Yirgacheffe is famous for its moderate body, delicate flower scent and nutty flavor.
“We often serve coffee to foreign customers, mainly from France, England or Japan. We blend coffee beans with three characteristics upon the request of customers. That’s why we have customers coming a long way. We recommend Bolivian or Guatemalan for sweetness, Colombian for sourness, Costa Rican for nutty and Peruvian for savory flavors.”
DROPP is not very spacious, but the efficient layout creates a neat and chic atmosphere. In the kitchen, utensils are arranged neatly. The relaxing scenery of Buam-dong, with mountains behind, can be admired through the windows. DROPP also serves delicious cakes and freshly roasted beans are available for purchase.
Recommendation/ Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Price/ Hot 5,000 won Ice 6,000 won
Address/ 278-5 Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (02) 394-0045
02 Club Espresso
The rich taste of 35 coffee beans
Club Espresso became very popular among coffee lovers for the best espresso in Seoul. Since it has been long-renowned for good coffee, there are many customers who come a long way to visit. At Club Espresso, you can learn much about coffee. The first floor is a café, but on the second floor there are facilities which are not normally found at ordinary cafés, including bean storage with controlled temperatures and humidity, packing and training rooms and a large roaster.
After its renovation, outdoor tables were placed in the small garden, which is good news for smokers. The exterior of the building looks like a log cabin in a forest. The café on the first floor is decorated with wooden furniture. One shortcoming is the narrow space between the tables, but the great tasting coffee more than compensates for this.
The manager of Club Espresso, Gwon Jeong-hye, considers the café’s merits to be the consistent taste of its coffee, its comfortable atmosphere and its wide variety of coffee beans -- more than 35 types.
“We have 11 flavors for café Americano, as well as espresso. Since we also have a coffee bean shop, there are many customers who come to our café to buy coffee beans, especially at weekends. Popular beans are Kenyan, Ethiopian and Guatemalan beans. In particular, beans from our special sale are very popular.”
Club Espresso introduces new coffee beans every one or two months through its special sale. These beans are offered at a reduced price, from 15,000 to 18,000 won for 500g. Since the types of beans in the offer change regularly, customers can try different flavors.
Lee Gang-min, who visited Club Espresso with his girlfriend, said he often goes to Club Espresso because he can taste coffees from all around the world. Whatever you order, you will be treated to the rich flavor of quality coffee. If you take a taxi from Samcheong-dong, City Hall or Gwanghwamun, it will cost less than 3,000 won. The path to Club Espresso is also beautiful.
Roasted coffee beans on sale at Club Espresso
Recommendation/ Café Americano and espresso of 11 flavors
Price/ Hot 5,000 won ~ ice 6,000 won ~
Address/ 275-1 Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (02) 3217-8711
03 Mangmyeongjeongbu (Refugee Government)
Famous for tasty coffee, located near Hongik University
Café Mangmyeongjeongbu, located near Hongik University, has something special in its name. The name of the café originated from an unpublished poem written by a friend of the owner, titled “Refugee Government in the Memory.” The small and simple café interior gives one the impression of being alone on an island, due to its shabby decoration.
Peeling paint here and there, children’s paintings on the wall, a piano and guitar in one corner and a small wood table combine to create the unique and comfortable atmosphere of this café.
Mangmyeongjeongbu is famous for its great tasting coffee, attracting people from various professions including students, artists, writers and singers. Sometimes, you can find customers playing the piano or guitar.
In the evening, the café turns into a music salon. The café’s motto is “café by day, salon by night.” Hand-dripped coffee is around 4,000 won. It serves not only Colombian and Brazilian, but also Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee. The range of coffee beans is not as diverse as in other cafés, but the taste and aroma here are comparable to any other.
The taste of coffee, which the owner drips himself, reminds you of a warm breeze with its rich aroma and soft texture. If you are in love with coffee, stop by Mangmyeongjeongbu when you are around Hongik University. It is also one of the best places to go on a date on a cool autumn night.
Recommendation/ Mangmyeongjeongbu House Blend
Price/ Hot 4,000 won, ice 5,000 won
Address/ 395-126 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (070) 7743-6115
04 Café Sukkara
Enjoy hand-dripped organic coffee
Café Sukkara is an organic café with a diverse menu. The name of the café, Sukkara originates from a Korean word “Sutgarak,” meaning “spoon.” Sukkara is run by a monthly magazine also named Sukkara, a Japanese language magazine about Korean culture. An open kitchen and a wide u-shaped table in the café add a stylish atmosphere. This is a Japanese-style organic café.
Many people love this café because they can enjoy coffee and food in a calm and pleasant atmosphere. All the coffee at Sukkara is by fair trade brand “A Gift from the Himalayas.” Fair trade products aim to ensure farmers are properly paid for their produce, as unfair practices by dealers of coffee and other products contribute greatly to third world poverty.
Sukkara serves three types of coffee: hand-dripped organic coffee, hand-dripped organic café au lait and hand-dripped soymilk café au lait. You can ask the barista to make the coffee stronger when you order. Iced coffee, with coffee ice, keeps its rich flavor for a long time. For café au lait, Sukkara uses fresh milk, produced in Jeju. Soymilk café au lait tastes more aromatic since it uses soymilk instead of cow’s milk.
Recommendation/ Soymilk café au lait
Price/ Hot 5,000 won, ice 5,500 won
Address/ 327-9 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (02) 334-5919
05 Coffee Hanjan
Gathering place for coffee-loving artists
Coffee Hanjan, located in Gye-dong, serves hand-dripped coffee and has something of a cult following. The interior decorations, all executed by the owner, indicate that this café is no ordinary place. Even the furniture and tea cups look extraordinary. Old-fashioned decorations and thousands of LPs catch customers’ eyes.
The coffee roaster is a customized one, designed by the owner. The taste of the coffee is unique. Since it is very carefully dripped, the flavor is deep and rich. Artists, including musicians, writers, painters and cooks, gather here to enjoy coffee. During the daytime, it is easy to find a customer reading a book alone, writing in a notebook or sewing.
Foreign customers are also often found here, since there are several guest houses located around Gye-dong. Daytime at Coffee Hanjan is good, but at night, especially on rainy or snowy nights, it is very romantic. On rainy nights, the soft sound of classical music complements the rich aroma of the coffee perfectly.
Coffee Hanjan is also a great place to be with friends or read poems. The barista of Coffee Hanjan, Rion, said he was happy to be a barista because he gets to enjoy plenty of warm exchanges with the customers over coffee.
Price/ Hot 5,500 won
Phone/ (02) 762-6626
Café with Visual Attractions
Café next to an art gallery: Coffest
Coffest is located across from Sungkok Art Museum and is renowned for its great coffee. It is very famous among coffee enthusiasts through word-of-mouth. Coffest serves coffee from various countries. After a visit to the art museum, Coffest is there for you. As you enter, the delicious scent of coffee will welcome you. Coffest roasts its beans in-house.
Recommendation/ Coffee of your choice
Price/ 4,000-6,000 won.
Address/ 1-335 Sinmullo 2-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (02) 773-5555
Café with a beautiful night view: Sanmotungi
Sanmotungi is located around a corner at the foot of Mount Bukak. The basement is a gallery and the 1st and 2nd floors are a lounge and outdoor deck. The well-tended garden is very picturesque and the night view of Seoul, seen from the 2nd floor, is spectacular.
Recommendation/ Coffee of your choice
Address/ 97-5 Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone/ (02) 391-4737
How to brew coffee at home
With just a few utensils and some coffee beans, you can enjoy great coffee in your own home. The basic requirement for tasty coffee is good water. Since the taste of water determines the taste of the coffee, mineral water is desirable. You should never use water with an odor. The appropriate temperature is around 85-95 degrees Celsius. If the water is hotter than 100 degrees, the caffeine goes bad and creates a strange, bitter taste. But, if the water is cooler than 70 degrees, a tannin taste will remain in the coffee.
The recipe for the best taste is to brew 100 ml of coffee, made with 10g of coffee and 130-150 ml of water. Before adding cream, ensure that the sugar (if you use it) is mixed in well. Cream should be added after the temperature of the coffee is below 85 degrees, to prevent clotting. Most of all, it is very important to keep all utensils clean. If traces of oil get in, they will leave a bad odor and spoil the taste.
How to store coffee
Storing coffee in the fridge is not recommended as it absorbs moisture and odor in there. If coffee is stored in the freezer, take the beans out of the freezer and leave them at room temperature until the moisture evaporates, then open the storage case. After opening, coffee should be stored at room temperature. The best way is to purchase coffee in small amounts -- about a 10-day supply -- and store it at room temperature. It’s not advisable to purchase a large amount at one time.