When you’re craving a flat white, don’t dash to a Starbucks – although Seoul has more than its fair share of them. There are plenty of cafes to sink a cup of coffee while being surrounded by gorgeous interiors and stylish clientele.
A visit to a traditional hanok house – distinguished by its tiled roof and wood detailing – is an essential part of any trip to Seoul. And you can kill two birds with one stone at the Saechang-ro branch of Fritz Coffee Company, which is atmospherically set in a modernised version of a hanok house complete with cute courtyard entrance. Regulars file in to stock up on bags of coffee beans and freshly baked baguettes, just make sure you don’t miss the flaky croissants and snappable latte art.
The buzzing neighbourhood of Hongdae is famous for its cheap restaurants, shopping and nightlife. When you need a shot of caffeine to power you through a visit, go for a brew that’s as attention-grabbing as the OTT surroundings. CaFace delivers, with next-level latte art – not just any old swirls, but actual photos printed onto your semi-skimmed foam. Provide your own selfie or a pic of your beloved pet and watch as they pop it on top. A milky masterpiece.
Minimalists will get their kicks from this boxy, whitewashed cafe by central Gajwa station – it looks more like a modern-art gallery than a place built to serve morning cappuccinos. Cakes are displayed on wooden boards in perfect symmetry. Gorgeous brick steps ascend through the interior, resembling a piece of sculpture (they’re a great place to sit and chat, or pose for pics). And then there’s the coffee: roasted to perfection, brewed with care.
Head to the university district of Hongdae and ask for directions to this temple to femininity and flower-themed desserts. With its bland exterior, it may surprise first-time visitors as they step inside and see and oasis of pastel-perfect, plant-packed interior. More impressive are its sweets and drinks. Try the lemonade, kept cool with edible-flower ice cubes. As for the the cupcakes, they’re topped with frosted-flower decorations so intricately crafted you’ll think they are real. Pro tip: arrive early and grab a seat by the window. The floor-to-ceiling glass panels give great natural light, so your food pics will slay all day.
What was a rice mill in the early 1970s, then a storage space in the ’90s, is now one of the trendiest cafes in Seongsu-dong district. It honours its industrial roots, keeping a spacious interior, high ceilings and a raw, utilitarian aesthetic filled with natural light and real trees growing from the floors. Overall the ambience is Zen-like, a mood enhanced by the long communal, almost monastic, wooden tables. Creatives will like the art on display, from larger-than-life animated sculptures to abstract paintings.
This Mangwon-dong-district cafe takes its name from the Korean for vending machine – for good reason, as its photo-worthy entryway resembles one. Snap the requisite picture with the famed door, then head inside to find even more kitsch. Whimsical drinks and adorable unicorn- and mermaid-themed cakes are among the goodies here; the dessert menu rotates by season, so you’ve got an excuse to make repeat visits to Zapangi throughout the year.
Tucked away on a very narrow alley is one of the most exceptional coffee shops in Seoul. Kitted out like a dabang – a traditional Korean coffee house – from the Japanese colonial period, the cafe transports you back to a different era. Teasing the Instagram crowd are creaky wooden floors and antique furnishings, including an old oriental medicine cabinet and wall panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl. An excellent, unusually varied playlist make for a great atmosphere. And in case you thought it was all just for show, the coffee, hand-roasted in-house, is out of this world, not to mention reasonably priced.
Nature lovers gravitate here for obvious reasons. There’s a relaxing atmosphere, helped by plenty of greenery and an earthy interior. Artistic portraits of animals adorn the walls, but for the real thing, there are actual sheep on the outside patio, happy to be petted by patrons. The menu goes big on beverages, all made with natural sweeteners. If you’re peckish, try the tasty waffles. The sheep think so, too, so don’t get too close to the pen with them.
As you enter fashion brand Stylenanda’s Pink Hotel in Myeongdong, you’ll also step into the wonderful world of K-style decorated in luxurious velour, gold accents and of course lots of pink. Take the elevator to the fifth floor where even more must-photograph interior design awaits at the Pink Pool Cafe. Amid neon lights, with poolside vibes and a plant-adorned rooftop patio, you feel as if you’re on vacation miles away from the frenetic center of Seoul. The drinks, including the Signature Cotton Candy Coffee (exactly what it sounds like), are every bit as pretty as the decor.
We all know that being around plants boosts our sense of wellbeing and contentment – and that’s clearly the thinking behind Ver’s Garden. This Yeonnam-dong cafe and flower shop (which turns into a wine bar in the evenings) is enhanced by dozens of flower and plant species that snake their way all around the place – from the floor to the ceiling and everywhere in between. Relax with a cup of flower tea as you take in the cafe’s beautiful decor, and feel free to bring your pup along, as Ver’s is dog-friendly.
Part of Moodlab, a lifestyle shop and gallery, Matchacha is Seoul’s first matcha cafe. Roll up to savour traditional, ceremonial-style matcha, or order one of the innovative spins on tradition, perhaps the matcha blanc – a bold latte topped with a slightly sweet cream. The matcha is all grown on volcanic Jeju Island, the honeymooner’s favourite, and curated by the owner. Every bit as lovely as the drinks is the cafe’s minimalist interior, seemingly straight off the cover of slow-lifestyle magazine Kinfolk.
This inspiring space is the perfect location to grab a cup of coffee and a slice of cake in the afternoon. Takeout Drawing is not only a cafe, but also showcases artworks by local artists. Even the beverages and snacks seem to be tiny works of art, as they come in all shapes and colours. Try the Paul’s Meringue Factory, a delicious espresso topped with home-made meringues.
Alicia Miller contributed additional reporting to this article.
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