In Food + Drink

Six Seoul Cafés Serving Australian-Grade Coffee

As residents of a country known for its quality coffee, we sometimes have to make concessions when travelling. Trips abroad often mean saying farewell to the perfect flat white or quality batch brew.

Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case when visiting South Korea. Since the mid-90s, the country has become one of the fastest-growing coffee consumers in the world. In fact, its capital city Seoul is now home to over 15,000 cafés.

Seoul’s local baristas are taking coffee extraction and roasting seriously, and are focused on bringing craft and care to the scene. Successful international coffee brands, like Bonanza Coffee Heroes from Berlin, have also opened in the stylish city. 

Whether you’re after a peaceful haven or a lively hangout spot, these are our top dabangs (‘coffeehouses’ in Korean) for when you’re next in Seoul.

More Than Less

seoul cafés

Image: More Than Less / supplied

Wander through the quiet backstreets of Yongsan-g, and you’ll stumble on More Than Less. The establishment, which is part coffee shop, part design store and part small gallery, epitomises the best of Seoul café culture.

Behind the oversized glass door, the sleek, airy interior feels calm and inviting – a prime place to enjoy excellent coffee from Sang-gyu Woo, who spent time as a barista in Australia.

Hyobin Kim, Woo’s partner, runs the design side of the business: a curated selection of books, homewares and clothing. Indoor greenery subtly cascades down the windowsills, complementing the custom-built furniture.

Fritz Coffee Company

seoul cafés

Image: Fritz Coffee Company / supplied

Any visit to Fritz Coffee Company is marked by a battle of personal restraint. From the gorgeous retro packaging of single-origin beans to the glossy sheen of French and Korean laminated pastries that shatter perfectly in the mouth, it’s hard not to eat or buy one of everything. With three locations across the city, Fritz’s sweet seal mascot is one to remember.

Started by six friends from diverse coffee backgrounds, including Park Geun-ha, winner of the Korean National Barista Championship in 2014, Fritz deftly mixes the traditional with the modern. The Fritz near Arario Museum in Space offers relaxed seating in the leafy museum courtyard or inside the hanok style cafe.

Café patrons receive a discount on their museum entry, so make sure you drink in the batch brew before you drink in the art.

Onion

Image: Onion / supplied

Like Fritz, Onion has branches at multiple locations, each with its own distinct aesthetic from the industrial chic to the anachronistic. For a charming experience that characterises the constant interplay between tradition and modernity in Seoul, stop in at the Anguk outpost.

Inside the traditional Korean hanok house, you’ll find a bounty of sweet and savoury offerings: red bean paste and butter sandwiches (heavy on the butter), sweet buns and mushroom pizzas. Save space for the pointy Pandoro, a tall castella cake usually covered with generous amounts of powdered sugar – this is an Injeolmi version, and instead of sugar is dusted with Korean rice cake flour.

Seasonal blends and single-origin coffee is available, and it’s the perfect spot to people watch. On occasion, you might even catch people dressed in elegant hanboks, a traditional Korean dress.

Mil Toasthouse

Image: Mil Toasthouse / supplied

Leave a little extra time when making your way to Mil Toasthouse nestled inside Seoul’s Hanok village, Ikseon-dong. Originally built as dwellings for Koreans during Japanese colonial rule, the traditional homes have been converted into shops, restaurants and cafes, and you’ll want to stop to peer in every door.

Behind the noren-style curtained doorway, rattan-backed chairs encircle a bar behind which white-shirted staff gracefully prepare beverages and breads. Overhead white sails give an airy feel with blue skies peeking through behind them. The signature chestnut bread comes to the table in a bamboo steamer basket.

Unwrap it with a steamy flourish, and enjoy the delicate pillowy texture. As well as their Australian-grade coffee, try the lemon myrtle tea, which features whole leaves and pairs well with the slightly sweet bread.

Tartine Bakery

Image: Tartine Bakery / supplied

Yes, this is the Tartine. Originally hailing from San Francisco, Tartine Bakery is the legendary institution headed up by Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt. Robertson is famed for his unwavering commitment to bread and the bread that devotion (or obsession) produces. There are three Tartine offerings in Seoul, with the Coffee Bar at RYSE Hotel being one of our favourites.

The staggered seats and cushions against the glossy dusk pink echo the colours in the rest of the lobby. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle of Hongdae and take in some style inspiration from the hotel’s creative clientele. Enjoy your coffee with the delicious Jeju green tea cake, which is delicately sweet and herbaceous. 

Peer Coffee

Image: Peer Coffee / Monisha Rudhran

If you’re coming to the end of your trip and want to hold on just a bit longer, Peer Coffee is the one. With style that belies its size, Peer Coffee services the Itaewon neighbourhood with house-roasted coffee from 9am on weekdays – handy if you’re not used to the ‘late start late finish’ style in Seoul.

Watch the neighbourhood stream by through large, sunny windows from the neat marble-topped tables. Afterward, peruse their selection of single-origin and seasonal blends to take home. While you can buy bags, we love the convenience and beautiful aesthetic of the pour-over style coffee packets. Simply unfold over a cup and gently stream hot water over the grounds. Cup notes range from ‘strawberry’ and ‘cream’ to ‘herbal’ and ‘cane sugar’. Freeze-dried granules? Not today.

(Lead image: Peer Coffee / Facebook)

Published 06 December, 2019