For many Westerners, thinking about hot beverages in East Asia likely summons images of loose green tea leaves in delicate little handle-free cups. This image, however, overlooks a major part of Korean life. Coffee and cafe culture plays a major role in the daily life of the average Korean.
Just like back home, coffee is just as much a way to bring people together as it is a way to wake oneself up after a few too many late nights. In the office, instant coffee served in little paper cups seems to be the universal welcome for newcomers and old friends alike. Cafe visits are a staple of “2차” or round two of a “회식” (staff dinner) to sober up after too much soju at dinner, and likely before another round of more soju.
It’s no surprise that cafes have become a go-to place for socializing. Korea does cafes right. Whether its the big city or a small rural town, Korea seems to have a great balance of big chains like Tous les Jours, Paris Baguette, Twosome Place, and Angel-in-us, and smaller, independent shops. I definitely prefer the latter. With cozy decor, friendly owners, and cappuccinos served in cute teacups with saucers, the smaller, locally-owned cafes are my go-to.
Though cafes have become a staple in Korean social lives, it seems that they solo visitors are rare. For the many hours I’ve sat in a cafe alone reading or writing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a local do the same. It’s not surprising though, as doing anything alone, like eating a meal in a restaurant, or going to see a movie, is a bit taboo in Korea.
One of the most exciting parts of Korea’s coffee obsession is the themed cafes. From animal cafes where you can cuddle puppies, cats, and meerkats, to character themed cafes like Hello Kitty and Sherlock Holmes, Korea has you covered.