How many Starbucks branches are there in Seoul

The ultimate coffee / café guide to Korea

Kopi dschusejo - translated “I would like coffee, please”. Where can you have a good coffee in Seoul, and where not? Warning: This article may contain anti-American resentment and Viennese chauvinism ;-).

Korean coffees and cafes are American. I once asked students how long Starbucks had been based in Korea. You then took a breather and said "Probably since the Joseon Dynasty." - The Joseon Dynasty ruled between 1392 and 1897. Now Starbucks was not founded until 1971, but it is very impressive how much Moby Dick's helmsman does it The cityscape of downtown Seoul dominates. But there are also a handful of other coffee house chains that are just as widespread. This leads to an extremely high density of coffee sources. However, they all have the same American orientation. A small American coffee lexicon for the uninitiated:

  • Americano: a strongly roasted espresso is dissolved in a quarter liter of water
  • cappuccino: In Italy that would be more of a latte macchiato with Doppio espresso, i.e. coffee with a lot of milk and foam.
  • Café latte: a cappuccino with more milk and less coffee
  • Cafe Mocha: an americano with a dash of chocolate sauce

These four variants are usually available everywhere. Unfortunately, espresso is not available everywhere. That leads us straight to the first basic rule of drinking coffee in Seoul: If a café does not have an espresso on the menu, take flight immediately and inconspicuously! If that is not possible, then cappuccino is the safest bet.

Drip coffee

The second rule is: If there is “drip coffee”, then everything is fine.

Drip coffee means filter coffee, but you shouldn't imagine a cheap plastic coffee machine. For drip coffee, an elegant French press is used or the hot water is even poured by hand into a special filter attachment, from which it drips directly into the cup below. The key word at Drip Coffee is "time". It can sometimes take a long time to prepare, and the end product also has to be enjoyed slowly.

Usually you can choose the type of bean. In my regular café there are coffee beans from Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica to choose from. I find it very fascinating to taste through their different nuances. I take Costa Rica for home because it goes best with morning coffee - very strong, but still with a balanced taste. Brazilian coffee is mild but also very aromatic, Ethiopian coffee is slightly sweet and has a very distinctive, unique taste.

Larger chains (Starbucks, Coffee Smith, ...) have a maximum of one type of Drip Coffee (or Coffee of the Day), the quality can vary greatly. Coffee Smith is usually very good.

A (hate) comment on Café Americano

Time and again my heart bleeds when a handful of coffee beans, which were previously roasted far too hot and for far too long beyond recognition, are chased through an extremely expensive espresso machine to ultimately only give a vat of hot water a little taste. But this pointless spectacle gets great value in the right context. That is when the resulting espresso is not dissolved in hot water, but poured over ice cubes. The resulting Iced Americano is much more aromatic (that is, it tastes like coffee) than the hot version and due to the large amount of ice cubes, not everything melts - no matter how slowly you drink. A bitter pleasure for hot summer days. The Americano is therefore the pilsner among the coffees: when warmed it is inedible, when it is well cooled it is excellent.

Since there can be no rule without exception, I would like to mention cafes that even produce a good Americano. Such places are so rare that I'll be linking them here in a moment. The list is updated when new discoveries are made.

  • 카페 아이 아이 (Cafe ii)
    Itaewon-dong 211-21
    In addition to coffee, there are also excellent breakfast and brunch options.
    Also on Instagram
  • Cafe GENTLADY
    Huam-ro 2 (Huam-dong)
    Excellent homemade cookies and madeleines

A Twosome Place is my number one in caffeinated system catering. I especially like the self-creation “Long Black”. This is a variant of the Café Americano with less water. The result no longer resembles tart tap water, but rather the good old Viennese extended. Lovers of black coffee will find their oasis of hope there. Other pluses are the extremely good fresh fruit juices and smoothies.

Twosome-Place is atmospherically very similar to the coffee world ruler Starbucks. While Starbucks is more oriented towards Italian espresso bars, Twosome-Place is francophile from assortment to uniforms.

My latest discovery is this Coffee @ Works. Due to the modest experience I am not giving her to pole position (yet). I particularly like the choice of coffee beans (mild and heavily roasted) and the picture book-like menu board on which the coffee-milk ratio is recorded for each coffee creation. The atmosphere is extremely unobtrusive and therefore invites you to be productive (learning Korean, blogging, ...). The coffee assortment is extremely reminiscent of Twosome-Place (there is also the Long Black here), but as I said before, this is anything but a minus point.

Starbucks is also number 1 at Cafe Latte in Korea. The brand new Cold Foam Cold Brew (cold-brewed black coffee with cold milk foam) is another winner in terms of appearance and taste. In addition, there is the original Starbucks atmosphere of dark wood, heavy armchairs and light jazz, which the company can seemingly reproduce in every country in the world. An atmosphere that encourages me to relax, but not to mobile blogging. The bagels and wraps are very good and the desserts do not sink into the cream-filled, monotonous taste of the monotonous Korean porridge (top tip for sugar treats: Starbucks brownie).

A big minus point at Starbucks in Korea is the comparatively long waiting time. Although that contradicts the Starbucks philosophy - at some point they had the principle: the coffee is ready in seven minutes or free of charge. Starbucks branches are on average more busy than other coffee chains and are therefore sometimes noisy and uncomfortable.

Have you actually been lying awake for nights thinking about how to write Starbucks in Korean? I thought so, so I deliver you: It's called ...

스타 벅스

Coffee Smith impresses with perhaps the best atmosphere of all system cafés. The distinctive industrial startup chic (bare concrete walls, wooden tables, sparse decoration, good WiFi) looks a bit like a science fiction variant of a traditional Viennese coffee house. The unfriendliness of the employees in particular makes me feel at home. I have grown fond of Drip Coffee, which is very aromatic and strong, but not as roasted to death as at Starbucks.

Beans & Berries The interior design is a bit reminiscent of a clown college, but you shouldn't let that put you off. In terms of product quality, it is first class. The espresso is surprisingly suitable and their patbingsu (Korean ice cream specialty) is also one of the best.

Paul Bassett seems like every coffee lover's dream. You get a good atmosphere and espresso. And espresso macchiato. AND RISTRETTO !! The first time I visited, I felt I was in Seventh Heaven. Unfortunately, in terms of taste, it lags a bit behind.

Further common chains are Holly’s Coffee, The Coffee Bean, Café Pascucci and Angel-in-us. These are in no way outstanding in terms of taste or atmosphere. Worth mentioning is Angel-in-us's frappuccino clone. This is called "Snow" and tastes really great. But as soon as coffee comes in somewhere, things go downhill.

Paris Baguette and Tous les jours are a special category, both of which sell coffee (including the cheapest) but are primarily bakeries. The Americans from Baskin & Robbins are also out of competition because primarily an ice cream shop. The coffee is bad though.

The following coffee house chains should definitely be avoided. There's nothing more to say about that.

Wall of Shame

... the silver mug for the worst coffee goes to ...

... and the golden cup for the worst overall impression goes to ...

 

In some parts of the city there are small independent coffee shops like a dime a dozen. Some are strange, some are world class. It is a sign of quality when the restaurant not only functions as a café, but also as a roastery and sells coffee beans. Coffee lovers can sometimes be very happy in these places. In addition to several variants of Drip Coffee, the usual American varieties and various juices / smoothies, there are also exciting creations to try. My biggest aha experience so far was definitely the "Single horse". Yes, this is really the Viennese coffee specialty and yes, it is also often sold in Seoul under its German name (sometimes also as Vienna Coffee). Einspänner is in the original a double espresso with whipped cream, which is served in a glass. The Seoul variant is more of a long black with milk foam. Since the foam and coffee do not mix, the result is an extremely nice coffee (see cover picture). And ultimately the eye also drinks.

Vietnamese coffee (with condensed milk) is also very common, but is sold under different names (e.g. Café Hooamdong). But my personal favorite remains Espresso con panna (Espresso with a little whipped cream). You can also find that every now and then.

This independent coffee scene has a few danger areas:

  1. The music: Almost all restaurants play the Starbucks soundtrack, which is light and airy jazz. It's good to ignore, but it sounds the same everywhere.
  2. The concentration: In my neighborhood alone, three new cafés have opened in the last six months. At some point it will be too much.
  3. The prepotency: Once I ordered a Vietnamese coffee on ice with the condensed milk floating on the coffee. Since I didn't feel like swallowing a mouthful of peck-sweet condensed milk with the first sip, I asked the barista for a stirring stick (there are no spoons). She looked at me a little aghast and pantomimed that I should please drink the coffee through the milk. I played back the enthusiasm straight away, but didn't get involved in any discussion and did as I was told. It was an excellent coffee, but it definitely wouldn't have gotten any worse with a little stirring. Maybe next time I'll go to James Bond and order the coffee shaken, not stirred.
  4. The opening times: Mostly in the area from 12 noon to 10 p.m. In the morning you often have to go to system catering.

Nevertheless, this scene contributes significantly to the quality of my life and therefore some quirks are forgiven it.

In this sense: Best regards from Seoul! What is your favorite coffee / café? In the comments with it!

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