Having travelled quite decently through my life so far- I think it’s fair for me to say that I’ve had quite a lot of coffee shop experiences. Obviously, the so-called “coffee culture” in every country differs and each cafe has features that make it great. But today I want to focus on the highlights of my experiences of coffee shops in South Korea (and mainly compare them to my experiences in my home country – England) and what I’ve grown to love about the coffee culture in this beautiful country.
1. Cafes are so diverse and exciting~
The coffee industry here is highly competitive; there are coffee chains everywhere and particularly big chains like Starbucks and Twosome are on every street corner (not an exaggeration at all). This is obviously a problem for smaller independent cafes, but it’s also great for us consumers because it forces the smaller places to be a lot more unique and diverse to stand out against the generic brands. This has lead to the introduction of many novelty themed cafes (flower cafes or animal cafes for example), as well as cafes that are so beautifully decorated and carefully crafted to stand-out and be super special. The variety is so exciting and unexpected. There have been so many occasions when I’ve just been strolling through a random area and stumbled across the most beautifully aesthetic cafe imaginable. There’s such a pressure to be different in the industry- but that pressure truly brings out the passion in baristas and cafe owners to create the best possible cafe they can produce. And 9 times out of 10, their passion is so obvious from the coffee they skillfully produce and the atmosphere they lovingly create.
2. They close so late
If you’re like me and are a bit of a productive night-owl, you’ll enjoy going to a coffee shop after work to complete those pesky work projects or just to do a spot of reading/studying/writing. In England coffee shops rarely close after 8pm. Most of them close at 7pm. I made my peace with it while living there, as I’d just go there earlier and leave and go home and work. But working in a coffee shop through the night is so much better and I get much more done. As I’m writing this, I’m doing exactly that (it’s currently 11:30pm and I’m sat in a cafe loving life and soaking up the atmosphere). I normally finish work at 10pm so the fact that I can still go to a coffee shop and work and relax after that is just magical to me. Don’t get me wrong, some cafes here (mainly large chain-coffee shops) close at a relatively normal time (around 9pm), but a lot of them close around 12 or 1am. In fact, there are many coffee shops in bigger cities here that just…don’t close…yeah 24 hour coffee shops are pretty common. You wouldn’t think you’d need 24 hour coffee shops, but Korean people really know how to hard-core work/study so the cafes are usually full of people working on laptops. Also there’s no better feeling after a night of drinking than knowing you could get a hot chocolate with cream if you so desired (I never have…but it’s nice to know I could!)
3. The Coffee Blends cater to all palettes
No matter what coffee blend makes your tastebuds sing, you will be able to easily find it here. Like I mentioned before, coffee shops are so driven by offering uniqueness and quality that the blends they use for their coffee are equally as diverse and interesting. They have specialty blends that are all very unique. Specialty coffee shops will often have a few difference blends you can choose from, as oppose to just using a default blend for every person/drink. It just makes the coffee seem so much more personalised, which is genuinely something I am really grateful for . In fact, I didn’t appreciate (or even consider) certain coffee flavour profiles until I came here because I had never experienced them properly before. Because the blends are so unique coffee shops are often very secretive about their crafted mixture and often very reluctant to discuss it. To do so could mean the lose of a business, after all. Even if you hate coffee, cafes usually also have a decent menu of non-coffee beverages for you to enjoy. So seriously everyone is happy!
4. They’re just so pretty
A word that I find myself using again and again on this website is “aesthetic”. But the word is never used more accurately than when in reference to the cafes here. The people that design these cafes deserve awards because they’re just always so flawlessy presented. I love how a lot of smaller independent cafes just feel like you’re drinking in someones house- there’s such a personal touch with the decor and it’s full of little knick-knacks that give the overall design such a welcoming aura. It’s the attention to detail that I love so much. Chain coffee shops are of couse more conventional with their design, but I have even seen some examples of Starbucks that look like they could be an exhibit at some kind of award-winning showroom exhibition. Cafe owners seem to always go for one of a few main inspirations for their designs- either homely, eccentric, just straight-up aesthetic, or barren. But barren I mean the cafes that are so bare and minimual that they feel like an art gallery. If you haven’t been to one, it’s a bit difficult for you to imagine what I mean…but here thereare so many examples of these cafes- Korean people seem to really love the stylish feel of them (I’ve put a picture of one below for reference!). Some of them don’t even have conventional furniture, you sit on beds or benches. Quite a cool experience overall to be honest and ideal for edgy/stylish/modern photoshoots.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed my experiences of South Korean coffee shops thus far. When I leave Korea I will really miss them. People often make fun of me because of how often I reside in coffee shops- but honestly they’re just my favourite places to be. They’re so tranquil and relaxing and have such a friendly vibe. One point I wanted to include but decided not to is that generally I’ve had a lot of pleasant experiences with staff in coffee shops. Particularly in independent shops, the staff are so warm and inviting. They always seem so genuinely grateful to serve you and to have you as a customer, which is something I didn’t often feel in English cafes.
I probably spend a crazy amount of my wages on coffee every month (it’s actually quite painful to consider it…not I’m never mentioning that again…) but this is my happiness. It’s my 소확행. This is a Korean phrase that I learnt recently and I absolutely adore. It basically translates to “little everyday happiness” and it’s the one simple thing you do day-to-day that makes you feel good – it can be something simple and seemingly unimportant to others, but it brings you great joy and a feeling of contentedness. So yeah, I spend my money on coffee and sit in coffee shops with an iced latte and write and feel happiness. To each their own 💕 What is yours?
So finally, South Korea, thank you for your amazing coffee shops and your food (Korean food is seriously delicious if you haven’t tried it FYI).
Laura ☕ 🌸