Café Review: Blue Bottle Samcheong

Apparently I have made it my quest to visit all the Blue Bottles in Korea. I have been to the one in Gwanghwamun Square and on Jeju Island, so it was only appropriate that I introduce the new teachers to Blue Bottle in a new-to-me location: Samcheong.

the iconic Blue Bottle logo on a white brick background

The Blue Bottle website describes the Samcheong location as follows:

“In the heart of Seoul’s historic Samcheong neighborhood, our three-story cafe all but shapeshifts as you climb its floors. Conceived by Schemata Architects, each level is as much about the breathtaking views as it is about coffee. The stand alone building is set between past and future: the Gyeongbokgung Palace of the Joseon Dynasty on one side, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on the other. The ground floor offers a view of the museum. After you place your order there, you can head to the second floor, where baristas prepare pour overs and espresso drinks, and where the picture window frames the sweeping lines of the terracotta-tiled roofs of the hanoks, traditional Korean homes. Take your coffee to-go and meander the labyrinthine surrounding streets, or head to the third floor. There, on the outdoor patio on low-slung couches or inside by the topmost picture window, you can enjoy a siphon coffee or take in the panorama of the palace and the soaring hills beyond.”

I get what they were going for, and it’s true: one can easily peer out the windows onto the rooftops of hanoks, but it’s a bit annoying having to order on the first floor and walk upstairs to get your beverages, and then walk up another flight of stairs to (maybe, if you’re lucky) find a seat. Seats here aren’t plentiful but if you wait around long enough, a spot or two might open up. Good luck watching a barista prepare your siphon coffee though–I’m not sure what the protocol is here if you order one and there already happens to be someone sitting in front of them. (At Mint Plaza, we would kindly ask if guests would move so the siphon-buyer could get the most out of the experience.)

I confused the barista because I ordered two drinks. No, really. I want two coffees. First, a pour-over, because pour-overs are what Blue Bottle does best. Second, since the location has oat milk, I’m going to get a latte, and this location had an orange blossom latte that I decided to try because Blue Bottle doesn’t serve your typical caramel-mocha-praline-hazelnut-frappa-gatos. (Rumor is they never planned on selling mochas, but after adding chocolate to the menu to make hot chocolate, they couldn’t ignore customers’ cries to sell a mocha. For what it’s worth, Blue Bottle mochas are my go-to, because they make their own chocolate ganache in-house with Tcho chocolate and it is delicious.)

The Guatemalan pour-over I had iced would have been better hot, but the orange blossom latte was surprisingly really well-made. The orange blossom flavor fit with the espresso in a very nice way that balanced out the acidity of the espresso and the brightness of the orange flavor. It was tasty.

The space is bright and inviting and it was certainly busy when we went. We had to wait about ten minutes until we found a spot where we could sit on the first floor. There was a steady stream of guests that day and the baristas seemed equipped to handle the volume, even my sudden realization that despite asking the cashier if they had oat milk, I forgot to actually order my latte with oat milk and had to go back to the cashier on the first floor and change my order and had her run to the second floor to ensure my drink was made with oat milk. Whew. If only there was a better way to communicate to the baristas on the second floor.

Follow them on Instagram: @bluebottlecoffee_korea

Address: 76 Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea 03053

Café Review: Café Ookii, aka Godzilla Café

Instagram knows that I like cafés, and one day it recommended a Godzilla-themed café that I instantly put on my to-visit list. Surprisingly, I happened to be in the area the very next day and made Mary trek out to visit it after we visited the Trick Eye Museum (underwhelming, to be honest) and the Love Museum (erm, over… something, it’s definitely something).

Café Ookii has a “no kids” policy and for good reason: the walls are lined with Gojira toys spanning all evolutions and editions of the well-known *checks kaiju wiki* “Irradiated Prehistoric Amphibious Creature.”

I ordered an iced americano, which was passable, and couldn’t resist one of their massive kaiju cupcakes which was mostly just icing. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone with one of their cutely designed cookies instead.

Two things of note happened while we were there: 1, I discovered that the woman who had swapped out my conch stud for a ring had managed to close the ring around the strap of my mask (which thankfully was a disposable one I could cut at home), and 2, a young man, obviously drawn to the Godzilla-aspect of the café, came in and struck up an intense conversation with the owner and barista.

If you’re in Hongdae, take a trip out to see this unique café!

Follow them on Instagram: @cafe_ookii


Address: 180-8, Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 마포구 신촌로 44

Café Review: Soyosan Top Bakery

My friend Nora and I trekked out to Dongducheon to visit Soyosan Top Bakery, a pretty large coffeehouse and bakery in the same key as Geronimo Coffeehouse that I reviewed here.

The front of Soyosan: a large cylinder that is attached to the main wall, going up four stories.

There were a few art exhibits in the café itself, as well as a jewelry shop. You could watch the chefs preparing the pastries behind a large glass window. While there are no pour-over/filter coffee options, my iced mocha was good and the iced americano was okay, hitting more of a walnut-like flavor than I’d like in my espresso. There was also an espresso machine on the second floor that had been opened up so you could see inside, which was really interesting for me, seeing as I’ve used machines for over four years and have never seen the inside of one.

All in all, the brunch menu was tasty so it’s worth a visit.

Café Review: DAWSt Coffee

Korea has a lot of cafés. They are literally on every corner, and seem to be popping up even in the midst of a pandemic.

That’s the case for DAWSt Coffee, which opened in December of 2020.

This was actually the second café of the day, and the one I preferred due to it being a specialty roaster and not just your average cute-af café.

The café was simple, decked out in dark colors and mid-century modern furniture. They had a string of empty coffee bags in the back of the shop which was really cool, and they offered two distinct pour-over and espresso options. The Kenya Gititu AA pour-over that I had (iced) was amazing, easily one of my top coffees of all time. (And only for 4,000 won!) The espresso was also smooth and nutty, and the barista sweetened the deal with 서비스 –a fresh cream pastry to share.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to the barista but noticed that they were testing some coffee when I left, which makes my heart happy. These are the kind of cafes that are really needed in the world–not the gimmicky, instagram-worthy ones, but the ones where serving great coffee is the priority. These are someone’s dreams, and dreams that they must keep rolling and evolving, and dreams that need support from people who enjoy good coffee and good people.

Follow them on Instagram: @dawst_coffee

Address: 경기도 의정부시 송현로82​번길 73 1층

Café Review: Geronimo Coffeehouse

Geronimo Coffeehouse in Yangju (Gyeonggi-do) is an absolute must-visit. They took what looks like an old warehouse and transformed it into a massive, two-floor coffeehouse with a full menu, lots of flowers, and a lot of charm.

Geronimo Coffeehouse exterior, a large red-brick building with lots of windows

What makes it an unique experience is that some of the seating in the café is shoes-off-sit-on-the-floor, but there are plenty of chairs around (even a few swinging ones) if you don’t want to take your shoes off.

I like to order the pancake breakfast set (15,000 won) which includes 3 pancakes, assorted fresh fruit, syrup and whipped cream, a mini salad, and an americano (although the americano can be subtracted). (I’ll take mine iced, thanks.)

The coffee menu is something different. Coffee snobs, listen up! You’ll want to take notes.

A simple Yirgacheffe Elris pour-over from Ethiopia will cost you 9,000 won (that’s roughly $9 US.)

It goes up from there:

  • Red Plum from Colombia–12k
  • Mocha Mattari from Yemen–15k
  • Hawaiian Kona–17k
  • Geisha Lake from Panama–18
  • Blue Mountain from Jamaica–20k
  • Loscabos Coffee Blend–22k
  • Geronimo Coffee Blend–25k

$25 for a cup of coffee? Did I do it?

You bet I did.

Sweet, glorious bean juice in a navy blue mug with gold detailing on the rims and handle

Was it worth it? I mean, it was a damn good cup of coffee but I’d probably recommend something else. I had the Mocha Mattari from Yemen twice (both iced*) and really enjoyed that, but I know that I like coffees from Yemen. (Previously, the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever bought was the Yemeni coffee Blue Bottle served for $16 + a complimentary sesame cookie for pairing purposes. I got the coffee half-off since I was a Blue Bottle employee.)

In addition to the great coffee, they’ve got a great pastry selection which is self-serve and self-pack-for-takeaway.

Even though the space is large, it fills up fast so I would recommend going as soon as they open to snag those cute instagram photos.

Follow them on Instagram: @geronimo_coffeehouse

Address: 경기 양주시 화합로1597번길 3 제로니모 커피하우스

*Some may come for me for this, but good coffee is going to be great both hot and iced. It is worth noting that the Geronimo Blend is only available hot, which means that you’re paying for a premium cup of coffee that they’ve tested and only want to serve to you in the parameters of what they’ve tested, which is, duh, a hot cup of coffee. Maybe you’re more likely to drink a cup of hot coffee black? All I know is: science and psychology, it’s there.

Café Review: Greem Café, aka Cartoon Café

My friend Nora took Mary and I on a super exciting trip for my birthday back in January. Up first was a stop at Greem Café, also known as that instagrammable cartoon café in Korea.

a four-layered tulip heart in a latte on a black and white table

We ordered breakfast and drinks and everything was lovely. We got two free mugs because we ordered a certain amount, but I was a little disappointed that they weren’t the mugs that were being used in the cafe. (I would have paid extra for one of those 2D mugs.)

My advice would be to go when they open, as once they get busy, your instagram shots are going to be harder to take since you can’t roam around the cafe.

Follow them on instagram: @greem_cafe

Address: Seoul, Mapo-gu, Yeonnam-dong, Seongmisan-ro, 161-10 카페 1.5층


Café Review: Coffee Class

Where does a barista go for good coffee? Well, technically I go to Starbucks by my work most mornings and get a grande iced blonde roast latte with an extra shot (whew!) unless there’s an interesting seasonal drink. It’s not my fault, really: café culture here tends to start at 11am and end pretty late, much different than the 7am starts and 7pm closes I’m accustomed to!

On the weekends, you can find me at Coffee Class, a bright and inviting coffee shop not too far from where I live. They have your usual fare: lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, green tea lattes, and they also have manual hand drip (pour-over) coffee.

I have enjoyed their Costa Rican Asoporaaa Valverde Abarca Natural (notes of dark chocolate and lime), a Nicaragua whose information I didn’t catch but tasted of milk chocolate and raspberry, and an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Lalissa Natural GI that was like a green grape explosion in my mouth. My only issue is that they do their pour-overs a little differently than how I was trained, and stir the coffee after it blooms. The average coffee drinker is not going to notice the difference, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t either.

Today I had their tiramisu and it was lovely. They offer waffles and some other light fare and pastries which they bake in-house. The aesthetic is bright and airy with fun cat silhouette pillows and in the center of the café are several small round tables on small pebbles, almost giving it a café-on-the-beach vibe.

They get bonus points for always having beautiful latte art.

They are open 12pm to 9pm.

Follow them on Instagram: coffee_class2

Address: 경기 의정부시 평화로562번길 8 (의정부동)

Café Review: Ob-La-Di

Tucked away in a building just off a side street in Uijeongbu is Ob-La-Di café. My friend Nora and I had no idea what we were in store for when we popped in one Saturday, and were excited to find out that not only does the café serve coffee but also….

The outside of Ob-La-Di.

Wait for it…

Cereal. Breakfast cereal. And not just Frosted Flakes and Oreo O’s (readily available in Korea) but many American flavors, including a no-name-brand Fruity Pebbles and French Toast Crunch. (!)

Many brightly-colored cereal boxes taped to the ceiling

Empty cereal boxes are glued to the ceiling and the walls are full of shelves featuring Disney toys, some of which are for sale. There’s a neon sign of Peter Pan’s silhouette reading “Never Grow Up” and all of the tables and chairs are bright and colorful.

Neon green silhouette of Peter Pan’s side profile with “Never Grow Up” written in yellow neon inside

I ordered an iced americano which was excellent, and the aforementioned French Toast Crunch. For “service,” one of the two baristas stopped by our table with stickers and a sample of Frosted Wheaties. “Service” is a Konglish term that means being given something outside of what you ordered. In English we would say something like “it’s on the house.”

It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re feeling like a nostalgic afternoon snack.

They are open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 9pm.

Follow them on instagram: luv_obladi

Address: 경기 의정부시 호국로1310번길 8 1층 카페 오블라디

Café Review: Orange Elephant

Situated north of the downtown cluster of Uijeongbu cafés (of which there are enough to caffeinate a modestly-sized writing group), and next to a beautiful park, is the Orange Elephant café.

View of a corner café called Orange Elephant, which features several panes of large windows. You can see my friend Nora leaning out the front door waving a peace sign.
Two tall glasses of iced drinks, one being milky and having long dark streaks of sugar in the glass and the other being an ombre iced americano, with a diner mug of black coffee in the middle just behind a plate with a lemon scone with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some berry jam. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

When my friend and I visited, there were no other guests in the café. Our drinks came out promptly and the café staff were very accommodating, even though they mentioned that they did not have any available outlets to charge electronics. (So make sure you’re juiced before heading their way!) The sunlight filtered in the windows at just the right angle to warm the Saturday morning. There is a display of locally crafted goodies, from rings to notebooks.

Interior shot of Orange Elephant featuring several round tables and chairs in various hues, along with a big leafy plant in the background. Photo credit: Leonora Balajadia

If you’re planning on visiting, make sure to come Tuesday-Saturday, as they are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Follow them on Instagram: 5range.elephant

Address: 218-29, Uijeongbu-dong, Uijeongbu-si, Gyeonggi-do 1F 경기도 의정부시 태평로155번길 36 1F

A Visit to Fishtown & La Colombe’s Roastery

Back in October, I had the amazing opportunity to visit La Colombe’s Philadelphia roastery and their Fishtown cafe with a few of my co-workers.

Please click on individual images to see descriptions!

Upon entering the roastery, we had to put on hair nets. First, we got to see some green coffee. “Green coffee” is coffee that has yet to be roasted. It’s got a unique green hue and comes to the roaster in large burlap bags. (I asked, out of curiosity, what happens to said burlap bags, and those get recycled in various ways.)

Then we checked out the Workshop station! Workshop coffees are usually single-origin coffees and are roasted in much smaller batches than the Cornerstone coffees, which are blends. (The big exceptions to this are the -Towns, e.g. Frogtown.) The Workshop coffees are placed in beige bags and boxes for retail, whereas Cornerstone coffees are in red/blue bags and boxes.

Next up was the Cornerstone roaster, which compared to the Workshop one, was a beast. Internal temperatures in the roaster can reach up to and beyond 385°F, so it’s important that the cooling tray moves fast so the beans can cool down evenly. La Colombe does not only roast coffee for its cafes, but also the entirety of its wholesale business, so your favorite cafe in Houston just might be brewin’ up a cup of Corsica!

After we viewed the rest of the roastery and got to watch as boxes were labeled and prepped for delivery, we headed over to the Fishtown cafe. It’s the largest cafe and comes with a full food and drink menu along with selling a variety of La Colombe merch. They make their pastries in house, and I had some amazing French Toast with a dirty chai (one of the latest company offerings!). It’s a full service cafe, but the first thing that I noticed was that they have oat milk located on the bar for guests to use. I hope more cafes will have alternative milks readily available, because it can be annoying to have to bug a busy barista for the oat milk.

While chowing down, we got to chat with several La Colombe employees, including one of the founders, Todd Carmichael.

His passion for coffee really comes through and he is a super interesting guy. If you’re interested, he had his own show on the Travel Channel called “Dangerous Grounds” and you can watch it here.

Before we left, they popped open two cans of the then-newest offering from La Colombe: Hard Cold Brew Coffee. While I enjoyed it, I don’t think I could drink a full one.

It was a fascinating experience and thank you to all who helped! (Special shout-out to Ali!)