Cafe Guide: Saru, Kiiro, Jinjungsung
One of the coolest – and sometimes most overwhelming – things about Seoul is how many cafes there are. Even ignoring the major chains, it sometimes seems like there’s an independent café for every resident of the city, with each having its own style and flair. Each week we take a look at 3 independent cafés in different neighborhoods, to help you out next time you need a place to get some work done, take a date, or just grab a cup of coffee.
1. Saru - Kyungridangil
사루 - 경리단길
This one’s for the ladies – or the guys who like flowers, that’s cool too. Saru is a cute café at the base of a residential building, tucked away on a winding side street off of Kyungridangil. While it’s not on the main path, it’s hard to miss; the walls around the entire space are painted deep blue. The only way in is through one of two large, open garage doors, which make the interior space feel like an airy alcove. In front, a few small tables allow customers to enjoy their drinks inside. The interior is all dark, raw concrete, which would create an edgy or industrial atmosphere if not for the colorful dried flowers hanging everywhere. While these two design elements are naturally contrasting, they don’t clash – instead, adorned with chalkboards and simple wooden tables, this spot feels like a basement someone spruced up as a labor of love (probably not far from the truth). Despite this homey feel, their pour-over coffee game is no amateur business, and their espresso drinks are delicious as well. Their drinks are on the pricier side, but given the quality of the beans and the effort that goes into preparation, you get what you pay for. This isn’t really the spot to grab a cup and go – both the atmosphere and the way they serve the coffee make it a place to chill and gather energy before hitting Kyungridangil again.
2. Kiiro – Hyehwa
키이로 - 혜화
Kiiro is essentially an understated, minimalist take on an old fashioned Japanese coffee house. The interior is reminiscent of a typical dabang [다방] – wooden beams framing patches of white plaster, with homey chinaware and plants dotting the wood tables. Their Vienna coffee is really nice and not as rich as others, while their simpler drinks are just as competent. The pastries and desserts they offer are extremely simple and very pleasant – an array of light cake sandwiches stuffed with whipped cream and fruit, a matcha tartine sitting next to red beans and cream. The combination of a quiet, clean interior and the minimalist offerings creates a pervasive calm that blankets the whole café. for a preview of that sense, check out their instagram – you’ll see what I mean.
3. Jinjungsung – Yeouido
진정성 - 여의도
As an island, it can feel like what happens in Yeouido is strictly business. Sure, there are beautiful parks and some really nice restaurants, but if you’re not an office worker, it’s easy to feel out of place on this corporate cloister. Nonetheless, if you’re there, you’re there, and if you need coffee, well… you need coffee. Because of the nature of the area, finding a comfortable, cute café can be a daunting task. Rather than forcefully contrast with Yeouido’s corporate vibe, Jinjungsung plays along. Located in the lobby of the SK Securities Building, this open yet self-contained coffee shop embraces the sterile, professional aesthetic of the tower that houses it. All surfaces are clean, dark grey slate with hidden lights emitting a futuristic glow. The coffee bar, as well as benches, trays, plates, and cups, are brushed metal pressed into minimalist shapes. While this small oasis serves the obvious purpose of fueling the employees working upstairs, its simple seating and enclosed bench arrangement make it a really pleasant place to meet up with people or chill with friends. Their espresso is expertly pulled, and their vanilla bean latte holds the integrity of the coffee it’s made with. Hit Jinjungsung to take a break from walking around Yeouido’s office hub – but not to escape it.
If you’ve been to any of the spots we listed this week, or think we fucked something up, let us know. For more Seoul cafes, check out last week’s list.
Photo credits: @chloe2ndnov, @ki___iro, @cafe_jinjungsung