We're kinda obsessed with Seoul; the weather, the crazy k-pop scene, bibimbap on tap, awesome shopping, we could go on... you get the gist. We also love how Seoulite's know how to start the day the right way: with a cup of seriously good coffee, and ideally some form of extravagant brunch situation. Because who doesn't want their first meal of the day to be a steaming stack of fluffy pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausages, and more eggs than you can shake a stick at? And if you need some help deciding where to eat, look no further, for we've rounded up 30 of our favourite places to grab a cuppa Joe and a proper breakfast feast. When you're finished with brekky, check out our other handy guide and start planning your evening meals to boot! Safe to say, you'll likely return to Singapore a little bit larger than when you left. Ah well.
The Pancake Epidemic
The Pancake Epidemic Seoul is a unique concept; it's actually a creative agency and offshoot of StreetVirus hailing from Los Angeles. After hooking up with Kasina (a Korean fashion distributor) and Stumptown Coffee (an extremely popular roaster that started in Portland and subsequently set up shop in Seattle and LA), The Pancake Epidemic Seoul was born. The café-cum-restaurant boasts an industrial minimalist vibe and is situated on the second floor above its clothing store.
The flapjacks served up here are arguably the best in Korea (there, we said it). Perhaps even a bigger draw is the fact that they serve Stumptown Coffee, a favourite among coffee connoisseurs and brew snobs alike. It also has a smashing in-house cold brew available to boot.
UJ Recommends: the original stack, three fluffy pancakes drowned in maple syrup with a huge dollop of creamy butter, is a must order. Yum doesn't even cover it.
The Pancake Epidemic, Apgujeong Rodeo Station Exit 5, 42, Apgujeong-ro 46-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, t. 02-3445-4525
The Libertine Bar & Kitchen
Itaewon on a Saturday night is a buzzing hub of cultural diversity and the place to be if you're in the mood for a party. But wander to the alleys and outskirts and you'll find multiple hidden gems. And it's a short stroll away from the madness where you'll find The Libertine Bar & Kitchen. Step inside and be transported to old-school New York; it's sleek, it's cool, and the vibe is great. If you're not eating, prop up the spiffy bar and get your hands on a cocktail, the LBK Lemonade and Bloody Mary's are particularly good. It's a great place to treat yourself and escape the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
UJ Recommends: the traditional brunch at The Libertine is where it’s at; from Eggs Benedict (with bacon made in-house and legit hollandaise) to Spinach Florentine. Those coming later in the day should try its Jeju organic free-range roast chicken, something you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city.
The Libertine Bar & Kitchen, Itaewon Station exit 3, 112-3, Bogwang-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, t. 02-790-9477
If you love brunching, you'll love Guilty Pleasure. There’s something about this place that just has flair, from the décor to the food, minus any try hard vibes. Inside is a spacious and attractive bar, surrounded by quirky and cool urban graffiti chic lining the walls with comedic rewards for the keen eye. Outside there's a beautiful patio ideal for dining during warmer months and kitted out with heaters for chillier days. But the real star here is the food, even if it's only open for brunch at the weekend.
The mac and cheese is insanely good, it's served in a cast-iron pot and is a perfect consistency; cheesy depth of flavour, but light and not too stodgy. The addition of pulled pork and a drizzle of truffle oil elevate this to something special. The Bourbon French toast with caramelised bananas and homemade bacon maple syrup and the duck prosciutto with scrambled eggs are two other must-orders.
UJ Tip: Can’t decide on a single dish? Go for the brunch platter that comprises eggs, bacon, biscuits, sausage, plus pancakes with blueberry cream. Diet starts tomorrow!
Guilty Pleasure, Itaewon Station Exit 4, 1F, 2-10 Itaewon-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, t. 02-794-4332
The Baker's Table
The Baker’s Table is a hybrid German bakery that doubles as a café and restaurant serving up a wide arrange of brunch items and savoury sandwiches. The bakery has an impressive selection of bread, from homemade sourdough to focaccia, including German pastries and butter cake for those with a sweet tooth. They’ve also got a wide array of deli sides for you to take home, including hummus, cilantro pesto, jams, and homemade muesli.
If you plan on dining in for brunch, make sure you arrive before the breakfast menu closes at 1pm. We recommend the Mafioso (focaccia with ham, cheese, and a balsamic-olive oil dip). If you’re a late riser there're still a long list of paninis and sandwiches to choose from and in true German fashion, they even serve schnitzel and curry wurst. The Baker’s Table boasts an impressive beer selection for a café, with Bitburger and Smithwick’s Irish Ale on tap, plus a half dozen bottled beers from Maisels Weize to Indica IPA.
UJ Tip: This place fills up on weekends, so be prepared to wait during the inevitable lunch rush. The seating is also limited, so we wouldn’t recommend coming here with a party of more than four people.
The Baker's Table, Noksapyeong Station Exit 2, 244-1, Noksapyeong-daero Yongsan-gu Seoul 140-861, t. 070-7717-3501
The Royal Food & Drink
If you've well and truly fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon during your trip to Seoul, fret not! At The Royal Food & Drink, you can indulge sans guilt thanks to the so fresh and so green plates of delicious-ness served here. There's even an official clean breakfast comprising spinach, avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, and a few slices of "where the hell did they get this amazing bread" toast.
And did we mention the drinks? Owners Patrick and Bomi really know what they’re doing when it comes to the booze sitch. In need of a hair of the dog? Opt for the mean Irish coffee or on-point Bloody Mary. Alternatively, if you're going booze free, hit up the interesting flavour combos of smoothie menu, we recommend the banana beet (better than it sounds) or pineapple cinnamon. The best part? Brunch and a couple of drinks won’t break the bank.
UJ Recommends: If you're searching for laid-back and friendly vibes, you'll find it here. Oh, and be sure someone in your group orders the guacamole breakfast; a bagel piled high with guac, bacon, tomato, and a fried egg. It's delish!
The Royal Food & Drink, Haebangcheon Ogori, 37 Sinheung-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, t. 070-7774-4168
Flying Pan Blue
This cosy little Western eatery has been around Itaewon for a hot minute. Unlike many restaurants that have an initial surge of popularity and then die down (often because stellar cooks get recruited and stolen from more reputable spots), Flying Pan Blue remains a favorite brunch spot with perhaps the freshest ingredients in town. Perhaps a little too popular. If you’re dining on the weekend, expect to wait upwards of an hour to get seated. At least you can give them your cell number and peruse the area until your table is ready.
The interior may come off as a bit ‘girly’, but fellas don’t let that deter you from eating here. Its menu opens up after 5pm to include some pasta dishes and a few other tasty treats, but the real star here is the all-day brunch. Our favourites include the French toast and the Itaewon breakfast that includes fried eggs, bacon, grilled tomato, spinach, and hummus. With other long-time Itaewon brunch favourites such as Suji’s closing its doors recently, Flying Pan Blue isn’t going anywhere and it's well worth the wait.
UJ Recommends: There are too many good dishes here to put one up on a pedestal, but we recommend changing things up and trying something new to drink: the Canadian Maple Latte is an indulgent not-to-be-missed treat.
Flying Pan Blue, Itaewon, 123-7 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, t. 02-793-5285
Queens Park is the place to see and be seen if you're south of the river and need a late brunch that will be worth the price. It’s run by Paris Croissant (one of Korea’s bakery giants) and offers an upscale bakery section with a gorgeous dining area reminiscent of something you would see in London; think high ceilings, chic design, and a wonderful terrace (if you can manage to bag a table).
Many brunch spots in the Gangnam area don’t live up to the hype in terms of food; you’re essentially paying for the privilege of being surrounded by Seoul’s elite. But not at Queen's Park. This trusty spot serves up brunch 'til 5.30 pm and its menu includes a solid spread of waffles, French toast, pancakes, and more. We tip our hat to the American pancakes with seasonal fruit, fresh cream, fruit compote, and maple syrup. Unfortunately, there is no Bloody Mary on the menu, but there is beer - huzzah to that.
UJ Likes: The atmosphere alone is worth the visit, and we really like the attached bakery. Make sure to grab one of their fresh muffins on your way out if you still have room.
Queens Park, Cheongdam, 22, Apgujeong-ro 60-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, t. 02-542-4073
There are breakfast atrocities being committed all over the city. We're talking overpriced supposedly American-style breakfasts with poorly cooked eggs, bacon that can barely pass itself off as ham, stacks of pancakes that would be better off used as frisbees, syrup so overly-processed you’d think the Maple tree had gone extinct. Well, prepare to stand up and salute because Uncle Sam’s is making breakfast great again. We definitely won’t call it the best brunch food in the city, but it is consistently good and not over-priced like many spots in Seoul. They use real maple syrup and don’t charge you extra for it (which is not uncommon at a few other joints around town that shall remain nameless). Uncle Sam is clearly a morning person, because they open at 7 am, a few hours before most restaurants in the city. If you manage to get there before 10:30 am you can order the breakfast set for only 8,000 won, which includes two big pancakes, two pieces of bacon, sausage, fried egg, and your choice of coffee or orange juice. Two thumbs up; one for taste, the other for value. For a few dollars more it has bigger sets including everything from chicken and waffles to omelettes and fried potatoes. That said, Uncle Sam’s is more of a straight up breakfast spot as opposed to brunch, seeing as their entire menu is breakfast fare and they don’t serve cocktails. Still, it may be the best bang for your buck if you are looking for quality American breakfast food.
UJ Recommends: Come hungry and order big! Our personal favourite is the chicken and waffles with some extra bacon on the side (because brunch ain't brunch if bacon isn’t involved).
Uncle Sam's, Kyungridan – Noksapyeong Station exit 2, 47 Hoenamu-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, t. 02-792-7745
The Original Pancake House
If you’re the type who favors a Sunday trip to IHOP to eat away a hangover, The Original Pancake House might press your buttons. Portion sizes are ginormous and enough to justify the fairly hefty price tag. Its large menu offers traditional American brunch fare and plenty of omelette and pancake variations, it's also one of the only places around town that does chicken and waffles. They also may or may not be running a chicken sweatshop in the basement to pump out the number of eggs needed to make their omelettes: they are HUGE. What's more, all the non-pancake dishes come with a stack on the side, so bottom line: you ain’t leaving this place hungry. It’s got a cute 50s retro diner feel to the interior, and the service is friendly and quick. Throw in a bottomless Americano for four bucks and your hangover will be gone faster than you can say “I can actually hear myself getting fatter”. Gluttony aside, if you have an American-sized hunger and want some American-sized portions of Americanised brunch food, The OG Pancake House is a solid choice.
UJ Likes: The giant portions are always a bonus, but we really like the old-school diner atmosphere. It's well done and for some reason it just makes the meal better.
The Original Pancake House-Korea, Itaewon Station Exit 1, 153 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul, t. 02-795-7481
The charming entrance of Côté Jardin leads to an outdoor terrace that is something to marvel at; it feels like you’ve been transported out of the busy city and into classic French cinema. There’s a giant tree hanging over the courtyard, gently swaying in the breeze, providing the perfect backdrop to the glass of wine you'll soon be sipping. The whole vibe brings a calming, therapeutic element to the meal that seems to help you forget, if only for a few moments, that you are smack dab in the middle of a city with 20+ million people. The renovated three-story house in the back just adds to the charm. The peculiar thing is its reservation policy. Often times the terrace is quite empty, but only a table or two available with the rest being reserved. With any luck, you’ll be able to walk in a get a good spot outside.
Onto the food. Full disclosure, around the time they opened in 2015 we heard whispers about the food being less than stellar, most notably that the poached eggs were often served cold. We’ve also subsequently heard several rave reviews, so we decided to get the low down for ourselves. We’re happy to report that the oeuf Benedict avec saumon et asperge met our expectations; both the poached eggs and salmon were spot on. It might also have the best Croque Monsieur in Seoul (a bold claim, we're sticking by it). Many of its brunch items fall under 15,000 won, which is surprising considering the location and environment. All in all, it’s worth it just to sit in their garden and sip wine, but we also think you’ll enjoy the brunch (which is served until 5pm, in case you wondered).
UJ Recommends: Come here on a day when the weather is begging for you to get outside. There’s nothing quite like having a slow meal with good friends on a crisp early autumn day in this kind of atmosphere.
Côté Jardin, Itaewon Station exit 3, 120, Bogwang-ro Yongsan-gu Seoul, t. 02-793-5072
There are plenty of legit breakfast and brunch options around Itaewon, but find yourself hungry and hungover in Hongdae and your choices are limited. Thankfully there is Travel Maker, serving up delicious yet unpretentious stacks of pancakes, hash browns, waffles, eggs, sausages, and breakfast burritos at prices you just won’t find in any other part of the city. It’s tucked away on a quiet street in Hongdae, nowhere close to the University playground and trendy club area that makes Hongdae the most popular choice for expats and Korean college students to party. Located outside of Hongik Station exit 3, it's an increasingly popular area with backpackers as several hostels have opened up nearby and the selection of cafes and restaurants is steadily growing alongside a very chill-worthy park. If you are travelling through, it’s a solid area to set up camp while you explore the city. If you aren’t quite ready to try standard Korean breakfast fare (rice, kimchi, and seaweed soup, anyone?), Travel Maker will keep you company in the meantime. They open earlier than most places, have very affordable meals (many under 10,000 won), and most importantly the food is on point. As an added bonus, they live-streamed the NBA Finals during our visit. You definitely won’t feel homesick here.
UJ tip: The coffee is straight up brewed off the pot (and bottomless with a meal), so if you need a latte with your grub just get take out and bring it in with you. After your meal if you fancy hanging in the park with a beer, you’re in luck: the best bottle shop in Korea is within stumbling distance from Travel Maker.
Travel Maker, Hongdae – Hongik University Station Exit 3, 37, Yanghwa-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul, t. 070-8161-3594
That guy Bill sure knows how to scramble an egg. After wild success with restaurants in Sydney, Bills has opened up locations in London, Hawaii, and now multiple spots in Japan and Korea. In Seoul, you can visit Bills at Lotte World in Jamsil or Gwanghwamun. They open early and we recommend getting there early if you can. The breakfast/brunch menu shuts down at 11am, and by that time there is usually a queue to get a table.
Worth the wait is an understatement. It may seem sacrilegious to pay upwards of 20 bucks for flapjacks, but the ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter have a ‘died and gone to heaven’ quality to them. Another popular choice is the full Aussie, a breakfast platter starring Bills famous scrambled eggs, with a supporting cast of bacon, sourdough toast, miso mushrooms, cumin roast tomato, and pork and fennel sausage (21,000 won).
UJ Likes: The scrambled eggs are really something special: smooth, creamy and they just look perfect. Maybe it’s because they use free-range organic eggs, but we’re pretty sure Bill has some other secrets he’s withholding to make them so damn good. So. Damn. Good.
Bills, Gwanghwamun Station exit 4, 17, Jong-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03155, t. 02-2251-8404
Coffee Libre is an independent coffee shop with a simple concept and dedication to quality. It began as a small hole-in-the-wall in Yeonnam-dong in 2012, and have since expanded to several other locations around the city. You could call them coffee purists; you won’t find any frappuccinos or sugary concoctions on the menu. Choose between espresso, Americano, café latte, or brewed coffee (all of which are 4,000 won) from various single-origin bean sources, which it purchases from coffee plantations around the world. The shop is run by Korea’s first licensed Q-Grader, Seo Pil-hoon. If you really want to experience the unique characteristics of its coffee beans, order a coffee brewed by AeroPress, its preferred method. The slow-pressured extraction gives you a rich cup of coffee without the bitterness. Try a cup and if you’re impressed, take home a bag of their speciality beans for as cheap as 15,000 won.
UJ Likes: We like how Coffee Libre sticks to the basics and keeps the menu simple. Quality coffee is the focus and it always delivers.
Coffee Libre, Hongik University Station exit 3, 198 Seongmisan-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-865, t. 02-334-0615
Sometimes when in the world’s most wired city, you need to unplug and get away from it all. It’s not always that easy, and sometimes a bit of escapism will have to do. The thought of going camping usually sounds great, but for a Seoulite, its definitely more trouble than it’s worth. Hanok Terrace will give you the illusion of camping, but with a beer in place of s’mores and WiFi in place of mosquitos. Fairtrade by our standards.
While there's a nice little indoor section of the café, the real draw is the huge wooden outdoor deck surrounded by a wooden fence and with trees hanging over the entrance that covers the outside street making you forget for a moment that you’re in the middle of the city. The café itself is modelled after a hanok (traditional Korean home), which is a nice touch. The deck has seating for about two-dozen, with Coleman camping chairs and tables scattered about to add to the camping feel, plus a few wooden picnic tables topped with cute gas lamps to further the effect. Even better is the huge two-room tent set up along the exterior, with room inside to seat another 8-10 people. The whole concept is fantastically executed, evidenced by a steady stream of snaps taken from various angles by selfie-loving patrons. It’s also pet-friendly!
On the drink front, expect your standard coffees and teas, along with several really good smoothies served in giant mason jars. If a nightcap is more your thing, they’ve got a decent selection of bottled beer as well, including Blue Moon.
UJ Likes: The atmosphere is the real draw here. Hanok Terrace is a great place to escape city life for a few hours, especially in late spring and early fall weather.
Hanok Terrace, Bomun Station exit 4, Seongbuk-Gu, Dongseon-dong 2-ga, 54-1, t. 010-9193-3905
Thesis is smack dab in the middle of Gangnam’s coffee district, yet finds a way to separate itself from others through its variety of brewing methods and brilliant fusion of legit coffee with dessert drinks. Its brewing station in the centre of the café allows you to choose your preferred method, from Aeropress and hand-drip to Chemex and Cold Brew. The atmosphere is dark and cozy, with different sections of the café giving off different yet similar vibes. It’s a great choice for a post-dinner coffee.
The Tiramisu latte is in a class all by itself; it's a must-order. Most novelty coffee drinks in Korea are straight up sugar bombs, but the Tiramisu latte is the perfect blend of light and creamy with just the right amount of sweet. it's brewed through a French press and mixes mascarpone cheese (yup, really) with the milk before it's dusted with a thick layer of cocoa powder. We haven’t come across anything quite like this outside of Thesis.
Thesis, Gangnam, Gangnam-gu, Gangnam Dae-ro 102-gil 32, Seoul, t. 070-4904-9551
Alver Coffee & More
Like many places in Gangnam, Alver Coffee is a place to see and be seen. This big, beautiful three-story café is located in the heart of Gangnam and often holds art exhibitions or flea markets on the basement floor. The third floor is quite spacious and has ample seating, although it's still hard to find a decent seat at the weekends, thanks to the many Seoulites spending hours here studying, chatting, and lounging away their afternoon. The coffee is just decent but they have a nice selection of baked goods and treats to compliment your drink order. It’s a really good spot for a date or to simply rest and recharge after shopping and eating your way through Gangnam.
This place feels like more than just a coffee shop with the various events they put on downstairs. It seems to create a sense of community despite its location in the extremely commercial district of Gangnam. Kudos to Alver for that.
Alver, Gangnam Station exit 11, 34, Gangnam-daero 102-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, t. 02-566-6181
In a city starving for elbow room, Anthracite sets itself apart with its giant space located on Hongdae’s south side. The building is a refurbished shoe factory that still contains aesthetic elements of its industrial past, from the spacious rooms and high ceilings to exposed cinder block and even a conveyer belt converted into a coffee bar. The coffee itself is also on point. It roasts and sells its beans, they'll even grind 'em for you on the spot when you order resulting in the freshest possible cup. An impressive selection of beans also means you can choose a roast that fits your taste, from dark and nutty to light and lemony. The bakery is also special, serving up desserts that you won’t find in your average shop in Seoul. At Anthracite, the goal is for you to appreciate coffee rather than just enjoy it.
We appreciate just about everything this place has to offer. The space, the little details, the variety of beans, and the unique desserts all collectively make Anthracite one of our favourites.
Anthracite Coffee, Sangsu Station exit 4,10, Tojeong-ro 5-gil, Mapo-gu Seoul 04073, t. 02-322-0009
Most Universities in Korea are surrounded by cafes, and many can get by with less than stellar coffee if the atmosphere is comfortable enough to draw in students cramming for exams. Kaffee Klatsch is the one café near Sungshin Women’s University that will impress even the snobbiest of coffee connoisseurs. It roasts and sells its own beans, which give off that heavenly scent as you walk through the door. The coffee is just fantastic and all the latte drinkers out there will marvel at their Instagram-worthy latte art. Klatsch offers discounts for take-out orders, but it’s worth drinking in to hang out and sip slowly as the mix of smooth jazz and French music plays in the background.
UJ tip: If you’re feeling a peckish after your coffee, head to the basement next door and have a bite at Mun Hwa Bistro, another UJ favourite.
Kaffee Klatsch, Seongbuk-gu, Bomun-ro 30 Na-gil 37, Seoul, t. 010-2530-1693
Garosugil in Gangnam is Korea’s coffee mecca; its popularity as a hangout for Korean hipsters brought with it a slew of talented baristas and roasters eager for their specialty brews to stand out from the crowd. Ikovox coffee roasts its own beans and sells a decent espresso. Pours are strong and rich, much like their small but solid selection of desserts. Treat yourself to one of the brownies to counterbalance your strong and bitter brew. It may not top the list of best cuppa in the city, but Ikovox is definitely not an imposter.
UJ tip: If you are north of the river you can pop into their 2nd location in Itaewon.
Ikovox Coffee, Gangnam-gu, Apgujung-ro 10-gil 37, Seoul, t. 02-545-2010
Takeout Drawing is for the artsy-fartsy at heart, offering a rotating interior display of art exhibitions from local artists and drinks that are equally as unique and creative. The space itself is minimalistic and bare, except for the artists’ pieces on display. Their menu is cleverly printed on a newspaper that doubles as a quarterly newsletter, offering articles and tidbits about what’s happening around its four locations in Seoul along with quirky and poetic descriptions of the menu items. When it comes to drinks, expect to pay a little extra for that artistic touch. A customer favorite is Paul’s Meringue Factory, a latte piled high with spikes of house-made meringue. The Storming Ant has organic black sesame foam towering high above the rim and the Iceberg Macchiato has a Titanic-inspired mountain of ice milk protruding from a sea of espresso.
The creativity of everything here is fantastic, from the menu to each of the speciality drinks. If you are in a particularly whimsical mood, try the ã…‹ã…‹-presso (basic translation is LOL-Coffee) and leave your order up to the barista, who will add a quirky touch that differs each time and varies based on their mood.
Take Out Drawing, Itaewon-ro 252-gil Yongsan-gu Seoul 140-892
Dutch & Bean
Good things happen to good people. Lee Ju-seong, founder of Dutch & Bean cafes, is proof that with the right combination of attitude, passion, and hard work, it really is possible to compete with the big boys. Dutch & Bean first opened its doors in 2012 with a modest shop nearby Bucheon University, a satellite city of Seoul. The dream began with Ju-seong roasting and distributing his own beans and serving the best coffee in the area. He was one of the first baristas in Korea to specialize in cold-drip Dutch coffee, long before it was trendy. Today, Dutch & Bean cafes can be found in 34 locations in and around Seoul, with the Daechi café in Gangnam being the most popular location according to Ju-seong. While we highly recommend the cold-drip Dutch Americano, the menu has expanded to cater to those with a sweet tooth and even the health conscious with their line of Tru Juice options. Peach and plum and strawberry-ade are great ways to cool off in the summer, while the kale apple grape detox will have you feeling green (in a good way). Good coffee, good atmosphere, and a hell of a friendly owner; what's not to love?
UJ Tip: Take a bottle of the cold-drip Dutch coffee home with you.
Dutch and Bean, multiple locations, t. 02-554-8980
Paik’s Coffee (ë°±ë‹¤ë°©)
It’s not our M.O. to include many of the bigger corporate coffee chains on our list, but chances are you haven’t heard of Paik’s if this is your first time in Korea. Every busy neighborhood in Seoul is likely to have one or more Starbucks, Tom n’ Toms, Angelinus, Ediya, Café Bene and probably a Coffee Bean. While these branches are very popular with Koreans, you’ve likely tried several of them and have already formed your opinion of their coffee. About two years ago, we started noticing people all over town carrying these giants iced coffees with yellow cup holders. It wasn’t long before we found the source, as dozens of Paik’s coffee shops started opening in little crevices all around the city. Their motto essentially translates to “Big! Cheap! Delicious!” and it’s pretty accurate. The coffee is by no means transcendent, but if you are exploring the city and need your coffee large and to go, Paik’s is a good bet and won’t hurt your wallet.
Why we like it: Perhaps we call it a poor man’s Coffee Bean because they use crushed ice instead of big cubes, which for some strange reason is just better. A giant ice vanilla latte will only set you back 3,000 won (compared to 6,000 at Coffee Bean).
Paik's Coffee, they are everywhere!
The churro revolution has made its way to Seoul and it won’t take no for an answer. Even with Churro shops popping up all over the city, the most popular ones have ridiculous lines on the weekend. Strolling along Garosugil, or any neighborhood in Seoul for that matter, you are bound to pass a dozen cafes on every block. Café Chu is a good choice as a cheap date spot, with a cute interior and nice patio for days when the sun is shining. They’ve got a nice selection of desserts, coffee, and snacks, like the Churro Sundae, with freshly fried churro dipped in thick chocolate fudge. While this definitely isn’t the place for coffee purists who are looking for Seoul’s best cuppa, in a city with multiple coffee shops on every block, it’s clear that cafes in Korea are much more than just a place to get coffee. They are a place to catch up with friends, to be seen and to enjoy a tasty beverage, whether it’s caffeinated or not. Which is why we think Café Chu deserves a nod.
UJ Recommends: Don’t overthink it; get that Churro Sundae.
Café Chu, Seoul Building, 535-23, Namhye, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu seoul, t. 070-8866-4592
Café Able in Sinsa is a breath of fresh air (keyword here is fresh). Their whole concept is quite unique to Korea, but we really hope the trend catches on and more farm-to-table places pop up around the city. Able is in a two-story renovated house, with a modern rustic interior and a rooftop garden where it sources its own fruit and vegetables. While the fruit juice on the menu is a bit pricey at 9,000 won per pop, it’s absolutely fresh and delicious with no added fillers or sugar. Try the Red Field and marvel at the bright, delicious combination of apple and beetroot. In terms of food, they’ve got several paninis on the menu, including the scrumptious vegetarian-friendly brie eggplant panini, made with sun-dried tomatoes and a balsamic sauce. Pizza and pasta are also on the menu, but the real star is the French toast which comes piled high with seasonal fresh fruit (we're talking so high you can’t even see the toast). It’s the most popular dish for good reason.
UJ tip: Seats fill up fast, so make a reservation if you’re popping in for weekend brunch with bae.
Café Able, 2F 547-6 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, t. 02-3445-7335
Café Droptop gained popularity among Koreans because it's often used as a filming location for K-dramas. We don’t gush over that kind of stuff, though. The reason it makes our list is simple: the interior is super comfortable and spacious with ample outdoor and open-air seating, and they stay open 24/7, a rare find in Korea. Working late and need to pull an all-nighter? Then grab a table nearby an outlet, connect to their free wifi and let the grind begin. If you are there during the wee hours of a Saturday night, you’re likely to see groups of slightly drunken college kids waiting to catch the first subway. The coffee is nothing to rave about, although they do have a large menu that has some decent teas, as well as date-worthy dessert items like Bingsu (ice flakes with red bean and other sweets) and honey bread piled way too high with whipped cream. All in all, Droptop isn’t a terrible choice in the right situation.
UJ Likes: As mentioned, the chill atmosphere and 24/7 accessibility are the main draws to Café Droptop.
Cafe Droptop, Jung-gu, Myeong-dong 1-ga 10-1, Seoul
Hipsters and coffee snobs rejoice, the talented baristas at coffee lab are mad scientists when it comes to coffee extraction. They are all expertly trained by the owner, 2005 Barista champion Bang Jong Koo, who sources beans from a fairtrade farm in South America and roasts them at the nearby Coffee Lab Roasters. The baristas are also well dressed and take their job seriously, and it shows. They are meticulous about every detail, from brewing times to pouring technique. The vibe of the café is also particularly cool, with a simplistic modern décor that basks in low-lit ambience behind impressive playlists (you won’t hear the rotating top 20 K-pop hits here, thank God). It used to have chairs hanging from the ceiling, but have since redecorated and now dozens of portafilters hang there instead. It uses two different blends of espresso depending on whether you order a straight shot or something with milk. The straight espresso shot comes out in a shiny gold demitasse, which stands out against the dimly lit background of the café’s interior (a nice touch). If you’re in Hongdae and need a serious coffee, this is the place to go. Good luck getting a seat in the evening, it’s quite the hot spot for locals. Down the street they have a Coffee Lab Express if you’re looking for a quick brew to go.
UJ Tip: Coffee Lab has a generous 2,000 won discount for takeout orders. Try the adult menu, which offers fantastic blends of booze with combined with quality coffee. The Kahlua coffee, Irish coffee and Man’s coffee (espresso plus rum and foamed milk) are all safe bets if you need a little extra kick.
Coffee Lab, 327-19 Seogyo-dong, Mapgo-gu, Seoul
Fritz Coffee Company
Fritz Coffee is a must visit if you find yourself in the vicinity of Gongdeok station. Hell, it’s worth the journey even if you aren’t nearby. The café was converted from a large traditional Korean home, with a wooden gate and beautiful garden entrance that you pass through on your way up to the shop. The feeling throughout the café maintains a consistent mood: rustic, earthy, slightly dark, yet traditional. It’s a perfect place to slowly sip a coffee on a rainy day.
The baristas are friendly and chatty, happy to make recommendations and talk you through the process as they prepare your coffee. It also sells spectacular baked goods. This shop rose to popularity quickly, as it was founded by a Korean Coffee Super Team of sorts: Korea’s 2014 Barista Champion Park Guen-ha, Coffee Libre’s Kim Byung-ki, El Café’s Song Sung-man, skilled roaster Kim Do-hyun and expert pastry chef Heo Min-su.
What we like: From the flavours to the interior, we get all kinds of warm fuzzy vibes every time we visit Fritz. It really is a café like no other in Seoul.
Fritz, Mapo-gu, Dohwa-dong 179-9, Seoul, t. 02-3275-2045
Alegria Coffee Roasters
Alegria makes our list because they know exactly what they are doing and do it well, no frills, no fuss, just great coffee. With hundreds of wannabe cafes around Seoul that pass the eye test but not the taste test, Alegria won’t let you down. The baristas are particularly friendly as they prepare your preferred coffee with meticulous care. From grinding the beans right you order to making sure the water temperature is exactly right, the care they put into each cup has helped solidify their reputation as consistent quality coffee providers. The menu is extensive, including a long list of single origin beans, a few house blends like the popular jungle espresso, hand drip options and some interesting specialty coffees (WTF is a candy pop latte? We weren’t brave enough to find out...). We suggest letting one of the knowledgeable baristas recommend a blend that suits your taste. Alegria’s flagship cafe is in Seocho, although they’ve opened up new locations including a small shop in Common Ground.
UJ Recommends: If you are in the mood for some caffeinated dessert, try the café con helado, a delicious double shot iced latte with a mound of cocoa powder atop a scoop of ice cream. It’s the perfect way to melt away a summer’s day.
Alegria, Seocho-gu Seocho-dong 1344-13
Coffee Conhas is another mandatory destination for quality coffee and atmosphere in Hongdae. If you're in the 'hood it's hard to miss considering the entire space is constructed of shipping containers stacked several stories high. The wooden and metal tables and chairs complete the industrial urban décor, and we love the hip vibes. Every container, floor, and corner of the café has its own unique charm. It’s definitely a space that you’ll be in no rush to leave. As an added bonus, the shop has a friendly yellow Labrador retriever named Heart who wanders the café, greeting customers and stealing the attention of just about everyone. It’s almost easy to forget that it serves fantastic coffee from a Slayer espresso machine and Hario dripper, paying careful attention to every step from bean selection to machine maintenance to extraction technique. An interesting caveat about Conhas is that it doesn't have Americano on the menu, easily the most preferred kind of coffee in Seoul. I guess they are really passionate about their hand drip coffee and urge the customers to give it try. Another nice touch is that it offers a 2,000 won discount for takeout orders. A good deal but not recommended, the atmosphere here is too good to miss. Besides, Heart will be devastated if you pop in without saying hello.
What we like: The shipping container shtick is great, but it’s all about Heart the dog. We heart Heart. Can there be a new rule that every café needs to have a friendly and adorable dog on site?
Coffee Conhas, 105, Jandari-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-842, t. 02-325-0792
Tailor coffee is another fine addition to the list. Not transcendent coffee by any means, but very, very solid. You might see their beans at other places around town, which is usually a sign that it's doing something right. The shop is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hongdae. The interior has a sharp and classy vibe to it; a nice place to people watch or kill a few hours with your laptop. Dutch coffee and a long list of pour-overs round out the menu along with a few nice desserts (but we were disappointed to find out they no longer sell vegan cake, darn!). Its Purple Rain blend is a particular fave among customers and worth a try. Though there are a few other places in Hongdae that we prefer over Tailor, it’s still in the 90th percentile of quality coffee shops in Seoul.
UJ Recommends: We aren’t always in the mood for specialty coffees, but we find their Cream Mocha to be particularly delicious. Give it a whirl.
Tailor Coffee, 46, Wausan-ro 33-gil Mapo-gu Seoul 121-836 , t. 02-335-0355