Seoul is never short of cafes. But cafes that capture its visitor’s heart don’t come common. Recently, I found a quaint little independent cafe hidden off a narrow alleyway at Euljiro. Brimming with the glorious bits and pieces of heritage and personalities, the cafe is as mysterious and enchanting as the femme fatale in the old Shanghai movies, keeping me going back for more.
Tucked away in the narrow alleyway nearest to Euljiro 3-ga station, Coffee Hanyak-Bang 커피한약방 offers a unique kind of experience with its Chinese décor, old Shanghai nostalgic ambience and a sense of intimacy, a true hidden oriental gem in downtown Seoul.
I do not intend to sound exaggerated, but the cafe is really well hidden behind the old shop houses along Exit no. 1 of Euljiro 3-ga station. It took me some time to finally locate it — back in this dark and narrow alley unfit for vehicles. Seriously, nobody would even think of the existence of such beauty at the back of this alleyway.
Stepping into the cafe was like entering a movie set by the highly acclaimed and renowned Chinese movie director Wong Kar-wai. Each and every corner of the cafe were tastefully arranged with antique furnitures. According to the owner of the cafe, the furnitures including the Chinese medicine cabinet, carved flower bar and coffee making table, ceiling lamps and chairs are all exquisitely flown from China.
“Hanyak-Bang” is the romanization version of “한약방”, which means traditional Korean medicine room. The cafe was named after “Korean Medicine Room”, as the owner hopes to brew each and every cup of coffee just like how earnestly people brew traditional medicine centuries ago – Thick, strong and pungent.
A huge patch of steel frame can be seen on the ceiling right above the counter, probably a result of crumbling cement — this little imperfection of the building has transformed into a piece of art during the renovation. I think this is another great location for some oriental beauty photo shoot or Wong Kar-wai movie inspired pre-wedding photo shoot, no?
Their menu at the bar, made of an old piece of wood.
Coffee wise, they have the normal hand drip coffee (KRW3,500) , special hand drip coffee (KRW4,000), which you can choose the origin of your coffee beans from the list they have. Other than hand-drips, they have Latte (KRW3,800), Cappuccino (KRW3,800), Caramel Latte (KRW4,000), Vanilla Latte (KRW4,000), Maple Latte sounds yummy! (KRW4,000), Mocca Latte (KRW4,000), Espresso (KRW3,000), Affogato another all time favourite of mine (KRW4,000), Espresso Con Panna (KRW4,000) and Dutch Coffee (KRW5,000).
Not a fan of caffeine? Here are some of their non-caffeinated drinks:
Fresh fruit juice KRW 4,000
Wine Ade KRW5,000
Fruit Tea KRW4,000
Hot Chocolate KRW 3,500
Iced Chocolate KRW3,500
Organic Flower Tea KRW4,000
5 Grains Latte KRW 5,000
They do not serve meals, but they have sandwiches, cakes, cookies and chocolates to go with your drinks. I am more interested in their seasonal menu, which includes cup-Bingsu (shaved ice) and Sangria in summer and Glühwein (aka Vin Chaud or mulled wine) in the winter.
I ordered a “Special Filter” coffee on my very first visit and came back to my temporary seat, which the owner sets up using an antique stool and a chair. It is very nice for him to accommodate me despite having a full house at his cafe. It was interesting to sit right in front of the counter. No one would reject a great chance to observe how their cuppa was made, isn’t it?
Barista Yongbin Go, who worked with coffee every day for the past 4 years.
As I was taking photos at the seat, the owner came with a piece of chocolate truffles. “a small token of apology” he said, just because I had to take that temporary seat. Awwwww…. such a sweet gesture. ^^
They use single origins for their hand-drips. Hot water was slowly poured over the aromatic ground, water percolates through the filter, producing these dark, full bodied fluid — Here come my Hand-drip Special 필터스패셜 with Kenya Beans. As expected, it captured the strong and rich flavour of the beans, with smooth, dry finishing — exactly what I like. (Kenya beans can’t possibly go wrong in any case), but I prefer it thicker. Well, my bad, I should inform the barista about my personal preference beforehand, but the coffee was great nonetheless.
Interested to find out more about the cafe, I went on my 2nd excursion to the cafe to try out their non-hand drip coffee. It was 330pm in the afternoon and I knew I needed something sweet to perk me up– Espresso Con Panna, perfect for a cloudy afternoon like today. Topped with the soft and creamy whipped cream, this baby was served in a glass wine for an elegant touch. As expected, the sweetness of the cream balanced out the natural bitterness from the espresso, leaving an aromatic and smooth touch on your tongue, a dreamy marriage of espresso and the dense whipped cream.
It is also a cafe that roast their own beans manually — roasting their own coffee beans guarantee freshness. Typically, the aroma of a roasted coffee beans would fade after 5 days, and the overall cup quality would drop in 10 days. (So now you know how old your coffee sold at BIG brands and chain coffee stores actually is.) It is also cheaper by roasting their own beans manually so that customers can enjoy good quality coffee at a lower price!
The house pet is a parrot (?) befitting the overall oriental atmosphere of the cafe. No idea what breed is that but it is Über cute! Point your camera towards him and he’ll come closer to you and strike a pose for your camera.
Writer’s Note: A small cafe with quaint atmosphere very suitable for dating, gathering or even quality time alone. The settings are just oh-so-Wong Kar Wai movie, suitable for couple/pre-wedding photo shoot. Best of all, they serve good coffee in pocket friendly price tags. One black coffee costs KRW3,500 here and I am sure you’ll need to add one or two more bucks for the same thing at the coffee chains down the street. Life is too short, and there are so many things an independent cafe can offer that the international coffee chains seem to neglect. It is time we take a closer look at these independent/ indie cafes around us.
Have you been to any independent cafes in Seoul? What are your best “Hidden” cafes in Seoul? I am interested to know more about them ; )
Coffee Hanyak-Bang 커피한약방
서울시 중구 을지로2가 101-34
Operating Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Saturday 11am-9pm. Close on Sunday.
1. Coming out from Euljiro 3-ga Station, exit no. 1. You’ll see shop houses at your right hand side.
2. Walk down the street, until you see the first junction, turn right. The construction site will be at your left hand side. Continue to walk down the street, where you’ll see this ginseng chicken restaurant at your right hand side.
3. The cafe is located at the back alley right beside the ginseng chicken soup.
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