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Koreans love their coffee – you can’t go more than a block without spotting a Caffé Bene, Starbucks, or some other caffeine-providing chain. For the independent-minded coffee lover, however, Seoul also offers a delightful assortment of independent haunts, and we’ve rounded up five of the best for you.
With three different types of beans to choose from – Indian, Guatemalan, and Mexican – Jamggodae is the coffee snob’s paradise. It specializes in hand-drip coffee, and the owner takes special care in preparing each cup of coffee personally, slowly pouring water through a filter in order to create an extremely rich, strong brew. The atmosphere is relaxed and artsy; shelves are lined with children’s toys and books are juxtaposed with vintage Casablanca posters, creating a vibe somewhere between a nursery and an NYC studio apartment.
22-Beonji Samcheongdong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 10 3244 4467
This tiny, bookish cafe is hugely popular among the Soongsil University students who are in the know, but with no official website or travel guide listing, it’s almost impossible to find for the casual tourist. A simple cafe that offers, besides tea, just Americano and espresso, the Sahara is easy on the pocket. Almost everything on its concise menu is under 5,000 won. Boasting a beautiful yet minimalist design, the cafe is lined with hundreds and hundreds of books, any of which can be taken down and read at the patron’s discretion. With pillowed chairs, long tables lit by study lamps, and a quiet, dreamy atmosphere, the Sahara Café is perfect for the book-loving tourist.
501-2Beonji Sangdo-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 822 0111
In the case of this cafe, Spanish word libre comes not from the word for freedom but from Mexican luchador wrestlers. The tiny place is decorated with just two tables and a small bar, seating about eight people. The space was previously a Chinese apothecary, and the shelves of Chinese medicine still line an entire wall of the small cafe. Rustic concrete walls, soft pastel ceiling lights in jars, and pop art round out the quirky atmosphere. Eccentric decor aside, the Direct Trade coffee is delicious, with the beans all personally roasted by the staff and available for sale in small bags.
252-15 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 10 4506 9461
Instagram-worthy and pet-friendly, this canine answer to the ever popular cat cafe is perfect for dog lovers. Bring your furry best friend or visit the resident dogs, which include a few Shetland Sheepdogs, a Samoyed, a British Bulldog, a Golden Retriever, and an Old English Sheepdog. A fenced-in area at the front welcomes small dogs, and dog-houses built into the low benches provide an enticement for shy pets. The cafe also offers a wide, open area for dogs to run and play as well as a large dog hotel, along with grooming facilities and a dog clothing boutique. Their fresh fruit juice, blended in front of each personal customer, is a healthy alternative to coffee. And for your dog friend, they offer freshly-made dog food in the form of cakes.
310 Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2 418 6155