I have had a bunch of coffee shops sitting in my email cache for a while and thought I would just clear them out. As always, if I end up going to one of these places in the future, I will expand on their comments. If it’s good enough, I will create a separate post. For now, bask in the mass of coffee options in the Jeonpo/Seomyeon area of Busan, South Korea!
Here is a story of three coffee shops. Since Korea does seem to love its stories, I thought it appropriate.
The other week, the better half and I felt a hankering for some after work coffees. We first headed to the bustling “Jeonpo Cafe Street” area, where we decided to try a new (to us) spot. We ended up at Cafe the Red (Jeonpo subway exit 7, next left, second right, turn right at Coffeesmith) the home of… Cheese Americano?
Am I reading that correctly? Anyway, neither of us were brave enough to find out whether the aforementioned cheese in this drink (price: 5,000 won) was closer to a Danish or deli Swiss. I went for my usual cafe beverage, a Cafe Latte (price: 4,500 won) while the better half went for her usual, a Caramel Macchiato (price: 5,000 won).
Both drinks did their jobs just fine. Neither of us were wowed by them, but neither were offensive, either. And, depending on what you’re looking for in a cafe, Cafe the Red could be the spot for you. It’s a bit “shabby chic,” with black and red the dominant colors on display and a bit of tchotchkie for spice.
But, was it the spot for us? Probably not as repeat customers. There’s just too many spots to sort out, you know? But, what Cafe the Red did is get us buzzed on caffeine. Did you know a “Pub Crawl” isn’t the only crawl you can crawl? Why not give a “Cafe Crawl” a try?
Matin Coffee Roasters (Jeonpo subway exit 7, turn left, pass Starbucks, walk down to next intersection and turn left, walk straight and you will see this on your right, above a “Mart”) caught the eye of the better half a few weeks before. Not because of its cat theme, or even a wellness theme (they encourage people to talk to each other instead of staring at their phones, there is no wifi and no outlets to plug in your devices. However, all of this is written in English, so one has to wonder if they are serious or it’s seriously a gimmick).
And, true to their word, Matin Coffee Roasters did not have a kid in sight.
The aforementioned “wellness” initiative may or may not be a gimmick, either, but we enjoyed a few moments following its advice before checking something out on her iPhone. Hey, there might not be any wifi, but that doesn’t mean your data won’t work.
The atmosphere inside and outside Matin was very, very nice, and felt like a comfortable, modern cafe we might have discovered in the States. Popular acoustic-driven alt-rock of the 1990s and early 2000s dominated the speakers. And, it was being enjoyed by lots of people on the day we popped in for our second round of two in our caffeine crawl.
But, enough of that rub-a-dub. How were the drinks? I’ll say… fine?
As this was our second of two stops on the crawl, we both opted for drinks that differed from our usual benchmarks of a cafe’s quality. Instead of her Caramel Macchiato, the better half got a hot chocolate (pretty decent, pretty chocolatey, she said) and I got a “Busan Latte,” which was a little too sweet for my liking but it would likely please those with sweeter preferences. Prices? I can’t remember, but they weren’t cheap. The Busan Latte, I believe was 6,000 won. The hot chocolate went for a little less. An Americano, I think, was closer to the 3,500 to 4,000 won range.
That said, we’ll definitely check it out again. We bought a 200 gram bag of one of their bean blends (12,000 won, yeowch that’s not cheap!) which we thoroughly enjoyed during a casual Saturday morning at home. Next time, we’ll try our usuals and report back our opinions.
While Matin would be the last coffee we’d drink that evening, our caffeine crawl was merely paused until the next night, when we went to a shop just a block past Matin that we’d seen the night before and vowed to try.
Espressivo was definitely the quietest and “homiest” of the bunch. Down a somewhat dark, somewhat broken alleyway, you’ll find this small, old building, where the proprietor has just a few old, comfortable chairs and tables, a lot of bric-a-brac and some fairly decent coffee to make your stay an overall warm one.
Prices for our Caffe Latte and Caramel Macchiato were a little cheaper than most Korean cafe’s we’ve frequented, but by no means cheap. Expect to pay about 4,000 won for most coffee-based drinks.
Of the three cafe’s we patronized over this two-day span, Espressivo turned out to be my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed its motif, as well as the pleasant quietness that was lacking at both Matin and Cafe the Red. And, the coffee was rather decent, too. I could definitely see myself sitting at Espressivo for an extended session with my laptop, one or two latte’s and a sense of calm. The better half might choose Matin by a nose as her favorite, but they’re certainly close, and certainly both places we’ll be heading back to sooner rather than later.
Here is a fact: most coffee shops are going to have about the same kind of coffee. If you’re ordering an Americano, it’s going to taste pretty much the same in most middle-tier coffee shops. If you go to one of those 1,500 won cheapo take-out only joints, you’re not going for quality. You’re going for cheap. And, Starbucks tastes like Starbucks, and another one opens literally within shouting distance of the next one, and both are full.
So. If you are trying to rise a bit above that aforementioned “middle-tier,” and your not Starbucks (which seems immune to overexposure), your first instinct will be to step up your coffee game. Better beans. Better coffee making practices. And, these are both very good and very important things. In our previous review, for Mellow Coffee in Gimhae, I praised the atmosphere of the place, sure. But, if the coffee wasn’t any good, all the mellow moods might not be enough to get us back there. After all, “All the Coffee in Korea” is a helluva lot of coffee. That also means that, unfortunately, sometimes a great product isn’t always enough.
Establishing atmosphere, a theme is often employed to get people in the door. You’ve got cat cafes, dog cafes (even a sheep cafe in Seoul that was so sad and just a couple months before I’d started this blog so I didn’t take any pictures), coffee shops that double as eyeglass centers and furniture shops. And, quite a few that double as flower shops have come and gone. But, if your coffee shop doubles as a florist and is down a narrow alley, in one of Busan’s most bustling downtowns, even an average cup could make for a memorable experience.
Blossom would be impossible to spot if this sign, on an unassuming chair, ever got pilfered by some obnoxious teen. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. So, after months of curiosity, Mr. Coffee and his better half went down the rabbit hole that is down a darkened alleyway.
Blossom’s rustic charm becomes apparent almost immediately. It’s a small space, clean but weathered, likely someone’s home or a small repair shop in another lifetime. A humble display of the proprietor’s work greets newcomers at the entrance, along with several tables to settle down.
The coffees are priced in that upper middle-tier range. The above Cafe Latte was 4,500 won, a little steeper than I would have liked to pay. Besides the cute clouds at the top of the foam, it was pretty much an average cup of coffee. A little bitter, it could have been better, but it was definitely not the worst and I didn’t feel ripped off at the time.
So, the coffee was just fine. Does that mean the better half and/or I won’t be going back? Not necessarily. “But, Mr. Coffee, you rambling hypocrite,” you might ask, “that’s not what you said above.” Well, whenever someone asks me a question, I always tell them the same thing: How dare you speak to me.
Then, I will tell you that there are exceptions to the rules. For me, this coffee shop is in a convenient location to my home. It’s quiet, because it’s down a narrow alley (two, actually, as the above alley is from a different direction), and this also gives it a little extra sense of cool. And the coffee was fine. It wasn’t up to the level of Mellow Coffee. But, it’s certainly as good as the coffee I got from Mint Bloom, the flower cafe I frequented in Gimhae last year. That also was in a convenient location. And, the flowers smelled nice.
But, will it be convenient for you? Or will its unique location be enough to check it out? I think these should both propel you here at least once, maybe twice. At dusk on a misty, dreary day not far removed from Halloween, there’s definitely something special about a hot cup of java in a cheery, flowery cafe down a dark, gloomy alley.
DIRECTIONS: Seomyeon subway, exit 6. U-turn and turn right down the next road. Follow this down to the traffic light with NC Department Store across the street. Turn right. Follow this road a couple blocks until you see the above sign next to the above alleyway.
Here are three more from the fun Jeonpo Cafe Street area, plus a bonus shop closer to the Seomyeon subway station that looks like it’s been around since before the coffee craze even began.
127. Road 209 (Jeonpo Cafe Street). This one also sells beer, I think.
128. Espace Cafe (Jeonpo Cafe Street). This one actually looked pretty cute inside. I might have to venture in for a cuppa.
129. Cafe the Mansion (Jeonpo Cafe Street). Here’s what appears to be a fancy place for your coffee tastes.
130. Unique Coffee (Seomyeon). The unique part of what appears to be an older coffee shop in Seomyeon is that it’s been around for at least a few years. Fun fact: I had a toast sandwich (the Korean styled ham, egg, cheese and strange ketchup-like fried sandwiches that were a phenomenon about 10 years ago here) with a good friend of mine at the connected toast shop on the right of this frame about three years ago after she’d just had her wisdom teeth pulled. Needless to say, she wasn’t able to finish hers.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of the coffee culture in South Korea knows that competition is cutthroat. There are just too many places around for half-assery to take place. Anyone also will know that places come and go, sometimes in less than a few months. So, if the coffee isn’t great, at least the atmosphere better be. Because, as many might also know, coffee shops aren’t just about the coffee (or the Caramel Macchiato, or whatever your poison), it’s about the experience.
Mellow Coffee, in Gimhae, achieved both good taste and good place on a recent, relaxing afternoon stroll around my old stomping grounds. On a calm Saturday afternoon, bellies full from some of the best dweji gukbap (pork and rice soup) I have ever had (Gusan-dong Dweji Gukbap, located a stone’s heaving throw from the Yeonji Park lightrail stop on the Busan-Gimhae Lightrail), myself and the better half were not desperate for anything caffeinated. And, we weren’t looking for something familiar, like Starbucks. We wanted something calm, something relaxing, something… well, you can figure it out.
One thing immediately apparent is how classic the place looks. Warm woods, books on the wall and an open floor plan create a very inviting atmosphere. Add to that Mellow Coffee’s quiet side street location, within walking distance to Gimhae National Museum and between two convenient lightrail stops, and you’ll want to go mellow, too.
But, despite my earlier statement about the place being a very important factor in whether or not a cafe is successful, if the coffee blows you’re not going to want to go (back).
Our drinks on this afternoon, her Caramel Macchiato (5,000 won) and my Cafe Latte (4,500 won) were on the higher end of average prices for coffee drinks in South Korea. However, both were made with TLC that showed in both presentation and taste. My latte had a lovely balance of light milk flavor with strong, quality coffee, while the better half raved about her drink’s thick, luxurious foam, which retained its shape with each sip.
True life is lived when tiny changes occur, apparently. So, if you’re in Gimhae, or perhaps in Busan and looking to get out of that city’s constant hustlebustle, consider taking a Saturday afternoon trip west to Gimhae. And, be sure to mellow out for a while while you’re there.
The following are an assortment of cafes located in the Jeonpo Cafe Street area, near Seomyeon in Busan, Korea’s second largest city, located along the coast in the southeast. As I live nearby, it’s an area myself and the better half often frequent. We’ll return to some of these places in more detailed future posts.
120. Simile. I wonder what this coffee shop is like?
121. Koam Ba Nyong Bakery and Cafe. The exterior of this cafe, on one of the quieter side streets of the area, looks super cute. Unfortunately, they are closed on Sundays, when this photo was taken.
122. Cafe the Red. Not much to say about this one yet. It’s red. So, it’s got that going for it.
123. 3C Cafe Cozy Container. Here’s a cafe in the Jeonpo Cafe Street area I have grown to enjoy a lot. True to its name, the theme is that it appears to have been, at least in part, built using container boxes. And the interior? Quite cozy. It’s also a cafe. 3C. And the coffee? I’m going to write more about this one in a separate post (which will be linked here when it’s up) and let you know. But I will say, I enjoyed that, too.
124. Cafe 5 Tak Koo. The exterior reminds me of a nail or hail salon. The inside looks like a diner from the 1960s. Not sure what to think of this one.
125. Runway and Coffee. And here is one that actually does traffic in things like hair or nails! And coffee. Always coffee.
I recently took a very quick trip out to Seoul for a wedding. While the time in the Digital Media City area was very brief, I was still able to capture a few fanciful coffee spots to get the ball rolling on our capital city coverage of all the coffee in Korea.
114. Zoo Coffee was located in the K-Wiz building, where the wedding hall also was located. As it’s a chain (we’ve seen a location somewhere in Busan, although I cannot remember where), the coffee was fine but nothing special. Their stuffed wild animals schtick was kind of cute, though. Kind of reminded me of Rainforest Cafe in the States.
115. Yellow Bakery & Coffee. What this place lacks in a creative name, it makes up for with a boring sign.
116. Men’z Coffee, I imagine this is owned by those who had tree houses when they were young that advised, “no girlz allowed.”
117. Beans & Berries, located in Seoul Station.
118. Paris Croissant Cafe. A sister operation to the infamous Paris Baguette (this is apparently high class!). We killed about an hour here waiting for our train home. Apparently we sat next to a famous actor! My pour over was actually pretty tasty, I have to admit.
119. Coffee 1000. Can you guess why it’s called 1,000? With coffee this cheap, I can’t help but wonder how good this jet fuel is.
106. The Liter (Seomyeon, Busan). Here is one of the recent entries into the “coffee bigger than your head” phenomenon that has swept through Korea (in the same vein as The Venti, perhaps the granddaddy of the trend). Never mind that the same amount of actual coffee is used and the rest is just sugar, milk and/or ice. I am always reminded of the first time I was in Korea, in 2005, and how the largest cup of coffee available at the time was the size of a Starbucks short (about 8 ounces). And now, this. I went to this specific location during rehearsals for a play I was in earlier this year. The coffee was as one would expect cheap, massive-sized coffee would be. Not terrible, not great. But, who the hell needs a Super Big Gulp-sized coffee, regardless of how much actual bean is being used? Also note: in familiar copycat corporate culture, this has the identical color scheme and design as another of these massive coffee size shops: 1LiterCoffee. I will add a link once I have taken its photo, for comparison.
107. Tops bean (Busan Citizens Park, Seomyeon, Busan) A surprisingly decent latte was acquired recently at this take out coffee shop, located in a snack rest stop building in Busan’s lovely central park. 3,500 won.
108. Sprout Coffee (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) I live pretty close to the Jeonpo Cafe Street area, which once mostly consisted of small industrial shops. Today it’s full of small boutiques, restaurants and an endlessly-rotating complement of coffee shops. This one features macarons (not to be confused with macaroons), which have been all the rage in the country these days.
109. dessert 39 Bakery & Coffee (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) Located just two shops down from Sprout is this bakery and coffee shop. I do enjoy the purple awning.
110. 고유커피 (Goyoo Coffee) (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) Turn right after the aforementioned bakery & coffee shop and you will see Goyoo Coffee. Goyoo, a Korean acquaintance pointed out, means something like “the original,” so this means something like the original or true coffee, or something like that.
111. Man from Coffee (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) Located very close to the others already mentioned is the curiously-named “Man from Coffee.” Seriously, I have to wonder if the owner saw the movie “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” when it came to Korea and fell in love with how that sounded. This one is a very recent addition to Jeonpo Cafe Street that I plan on exploring further in the future.
112. FM Coffee House (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) About a three-minute walk from the aforementioned, this is a rather popular coffee spot in this area. Despite being across the street from a Starbucks, FM Coffee House always has steady business. It’s definitely higher-quality coffee than some of the others, but the air around it always smells like burnt coffee, which isn’t the most pleasurable scent in the world, at least not for this coffee drinker.
113. ESpacio Self Nail Care Detox & Coffee (Jeonpo-dong, Busan) Well, OK, then…
Here are a few coffee shops easily accessible from the Guseo (130) subway station in Geumjeong-dong, Busan. I will comment on the places I have visited.
Coffeenie Cafe, the nearest to the Guseo subway station. A clean layout inside, average to decent coffee. I’ve seen another location on a side road in Seomyeon, but definitely not one of the bigger players in the coffee chain game.
Caffe Klavier, near the overpass stairs over a busy highway, Geumjeong-dong. They have a piano! Unfortunately, the rest of the layout of this place is kind of bland. They were, however, great for getting out of the rain one afternoon.Coffee Village. It’s very popular with the local high school, as it’s connected to it by the same building. Cafe Olive. This was open when I first started at my current job. Then it was closed for months, I assumed forever. Then it was renovated and re-opened! Then, it closed two weeks later. Now, it’s open again. Average coffee, another place popular with the high school kids.This is Cafe Anz. And this is Cafe Franz. And, we’re here to pump (clap!) you up! Good folks, pretty decent coffee. It’s an old building so watch your head if you’re trying to head to the bathroom in the back.