Café Review: Café Onion, Seongsu

the word “onion” in white lowercase font above a wide, open glass door framed by exposed brick, at the corner of a street

Café Onions seem to embody the space in which they’re located, and there is no better example than the Seongsu location.

Here, the drab gray of unfinished walls reflects the light streaming in from large windows, and the floor features the yellow paint of another time. At once there is mini faded blue tile, and again the unfinished plaster. Where a window or a door once was, bricks have been shoved in to seal the space, unenterable entrances, impassable passages.

There is a long table with plastic separators, hand sanitizer, and outlets for people who come here to study. Come here to snuggle? Worry not–there’s a few tucked away couches for that. If the weather is nice, you can head up to the rooftop but be careful of the stairs, as they’re all a bit uneven and I almost ate it going to the rooftop to take photos.

Located on a plaque near the door:

Artist: Fabrikr
Medium: Mixed media
Dimension: 759m²
Date: 2016

“The space was first built in the 1970s. And it transformed into supermarkets, restaurants, homes, maintenance shops, and factories for nearly 60 years. Each time, the useless parts was broken as needed, and the part that needed to be added were added in a rule of thumb. Since it is a space that has changed based on usability rather than aesthetics, the original appearance of the space gradually disappeared with time.

While exploring space, we discovered the value that new things could not give in the structure of the past. The paint marks on the floor, each of the added bricks, were a great material to remember the time. We focused on recreating the space of the past, keeping all these traces alive. It was necessary to reinterpret it as a space of the past and a space of the same time.

ONION is made of materials that seems to be separated but respect organically connected structures and are carefully added in consideration of users’ functions. Furniture was also made by adding architectural elements to become part of the space. Plants that coexist together are also familiar as they have always been here.

This space will be a place where there are rest and services that purify the mind and a haven to calm the noise in the head of those who seek space. We hope that this place will be remembered as a place that gives someone new inspiration for life and complete rest for someone.”

Café Review: Finger Coffee

There’s something different about this café… I just can’t put my finger on it…

Not only is it open 24 hours, but it is an automatic, unmanned café. You insert your card (even transportation cards work!), get the cup corresponding to your order (either a hot cup or a cup filled with ice), move it to the assigned area, and that’s it.

If you happen to feel a bit peckish, you can also check out the ice cream and snack display, which is also unmanned (and they have macarons!). Just insert your card to pay and open the door.

If you’d like to take a virtual tour, click here.

Would this kind of café work in your country?

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!

EDIT: As of March 24th, it looks like this business has closed. Best of luck to the owners in their next venture!

Follow them on Instagram: @cafe_ookii


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

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