Greetings everyone! My name is Laura from the blog “Cremajournal”. My blog is all about coffee culture in Korea and my life living in Seoul. You can find me at www.cremajournal.wordpress.comand @cremajournal on instagram!
If there are two things I’ve become quite good at while living in Korea, it’s how to navigate the subway system with ease and how to find coffee shops. In my old city (Ulsan, near Busan) I collected a plethora of knowledge of which cafes are the best and the best areas to find them. As arrogant as it may sound, I would consider this a bit of a skill. When meeting friends I’m often the one who will suggest where to go as I know we’ll probably end up in a generic Starbucks* otherwise. So I thought I would compile a guide of little tips and tricks that I’ve learn that will help you find the perfect coffee spot.
*(don’t get me wrong- there’s nothing wrong with a Starbucks every so often- but if I’m meeting someone then a want something a bit more special, you know?).
1. Instagram a.k.a. the fountain of knowledge
Korean people really speak to my own heart with this factor- they love instagram. If you go on instagram you can find the most beautiful pictures of cafes and particular dishes the cafe offers. Instagram is a get way to find more hidden, backstreet coffee shops, and is a great resource that can’t be underestimated.
What I recommend is following certain instagram hashtags. Did you know that if you search a hashtag in the search bar you can follow it? You can do this in English but I would recommend doing it in Korean for better results (this allows you to see all the recommendations from the Naver Cafe blogs). This works especially well if you make the hashtag location specific; for example, if you live in Seoul follow the #seoulcoffee (#서울커피) AND the #seoulcafe (#서울카페) tags. I personally live in Sinchon so I also follow #sinchoncoffee and #sinchoncafe (#신촌커피#신촌카페). This feature is so useful for finding new places! Often instagrammers will include the location in the post or you can simply search the cafe name in Kakaomaps and find it.
Honestly, I am CONSTANTLY going to instagram for this purpose. I would say around 90% of my favourite cafes are ones I find on instagram.
2. Kakaomaps: fast and convenient
Another brilliant resource that many people in Korea use- but are you using it to its full potential? If you want to find cafes in a certain area, you can use kakaomaps to find them. Just move the screen to show the area that you want to find a cafe in and press the “coffee” icon under the search bar and bam: cafes all over. If you click on the individual cafe you can find info like the address, the opening times (sometimes), reviews, pictures and even links to blog reviews (of course these are all in Korean but they are useful to look at to get a better feel of the cafe’s atmosphere. I use kakaomaps to find a cafe quickly in my area as it’s really easy!
The best feature of Kakaomaps is that you can save locations. So my kakaomaps is full of colour-coded stars of cafes/attractions/restaurants that I have visited/want to visit. You can do this by clicking the location and clicking the little paper tab button. You can create categories to organise your places and can even rename the place or add memos. I find this so useful as I often pass places here that I want to go back to.
One thing you must be careful of is that sometimes Kakaomaps is not up-to-date. Meaning some cafes on kakao don’t exist anymore. Also a lot of new cafes (or smaller ones) are sometimes not even on Kakao. You can combat this by looking at the reviews/photos- have they been recently added? If it’s a restaurant you can even call them to check it’s correct (if you speak Korean or have a Korean friend)
So this app is useful if you want a cafe fast and don’t want to search too much for one.
3. Learn your brands: Korea has A LOT
Being a connoisseur specifically of independently-owned coffee shops, there is nothing that is more annoying when you find a really cute coffee shop and fall in love with it a little only to be told later that it’s a chain/brand pretending to be independent. It seems silly but I strive to avoid these places and support local businesses so it can be frustrating. In Korea in particular, the popular style of cafes is one more rustic which often doesn’t scream “franchise”. So even Starbucks can look deceptively independent sometimes. I’ve often heard this happen with tourists, “I went to the cutest little cafe the other day in Gangnam! It was called Coffeesmith- have you heard of it? You should write a blog post about it!”. Yes, I have heard of it, they’re everywhere. I’m not saying that coffee brands are bad, but when looking for material for my blog I prefer to focus on hidden treasures. (Yes, I did write that one post about Starbucks…actually two posts…but it was a special situation okay…)
In Korea there are a mind-boggling number of coffee brands. The most popular are probably:
– Twosome Place
– Caffe Bene
– Dal.komm Coffee
– Paik’s Coffee
– Ediya Coffee
– Coffeesmith (of course)
– The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
– Paris Baguette
etc etc etc
Did you know that Seoul has more Starbucks chains than any other city in the world? Wild, right?
Honourable mention: Cafe streets!
Many areas in Seoul have certain streets that are super famous for their cafes. For example, in areas of Seoul like Euljiro (을지로), Hannamdong (한남동), and Songridangil (송리단길), there are little streets (some easy to find and some hidden) that are dedicated to great independent coffee shops. If you do a bit of research on these you are guaranteed to find some great locations!
Overall cafe hunting has become my favourite pastimes while living in Korea. With the booming coffee culture in Seoul, the city is plentiful with some of the best cafes the world has to offer. I’ve met many Korean people who share this hobby also- so having days dedicated to purely “cafe-crawling” seems to be the new thing to do with friends.
Head to my blogs for more cute cafes and more advice on how to find them!
So what are you waiting for? Go out there and find some!