Sometime around mid July, a few friends and I decided to go check out some coffee shops in Hongdae. Two of my buddies, Kyle and Michael, are both into the art of coffee. Kyle had found this one specialty shop in Hongdae that was known for its excellent bean quality. We had all been meaning to check out this place, but due to conflicting schedules, that trip kept getting delayed. We all happened to be free one lazy Saturday, so we decided to finally check it out. We invited our friend Jessie to come along with us because, well, Jessie is awesome. Her husband, Ryan, would have joined us too, but he was feeling a bit under the weather. So the four of us set off to the faraway hipster land of Hongdae.
Since our destination was Hongdae, we of course had to grab a bowl of the best Japanese ramen in Seoul at Hakada Bunko. Tons of other blogs have written about it, so I’ll keep commentary on that short. Just know, there is no other Japanese ramen than tastes better than their In Ramen. Go check them out. Do it.
So the Malcom in the middle is Jessie. She’s a certified yoga instructor and secretly dreams of being So You Think You Can Dance one day. On the right is Michael, a coffee connoisseur of sorts who knows how to appreciate a fine cup of coffee. And that’s Kyle to the left. He has aspirations to be a self-made barista with his own shop serving his personally curated selection of imported coffee. Michael and Kyle each have hand-grinders and drip cups at home and seek beans at shops that do their own roasting. Basically, any store bought “coffee” is an abomination, and it would be blasphemy to drink it. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they know their coffee.
On an unrelated note, here’s an insider’s tip: you don’t go to Hongdae by going to line 2’s Hongik Station, that is unless you love ridiculous masses of college kids jam packing the subway station and hella stalling the stairways out the exit. The smart person goes to line 6’s Sangsu Station to avoid the crowds of drunk people and adolescent mayhem.
After a food-coma inducing gluttonous meal of stuffing our faces with pork broth noodles, we set out to our first destination, Coffee Libre. I found a path on Naver Maps that avoided the congested main street. There some interesting wall murals along the way.
Coffee Libre is known for their exceptional selection of coffee beans. From what I’ve heard, the cafe is actually a side business. They are a legit coffee roastery and there are many professional baristas who use their beans to win competitions. Just watch this jazz-infused art film made by the dope guys at PLANCCC.
Doesn’t that give you the most intense craving for coffee right now? It’s like you can almost smell what you’re seeing. You can order bags of their coffee beans from their website. They even have a subscription service. Their selection includes several award-winning Cup of Excellence beans, which means they’re officially recognized by the ACE as tasting real damn good. The price might seem steep, but you can never be cheap with quality. Anywho, this particular location was indiscreetly tucked away in the quaint and subdued Dongjin Marketplace – about a 10 minute walk north of the Hongdae subway stop in Yeonnam-dong. As you could probably guess from the name and again from the video, they draw their name from the Jack Black luchador comedy, Nacho Libre. The cafe itself was small and decorated with various lucha libre art. In juxtaposition to all the Mexican wrestling paraphernalia was a large Chinese apothecary cabinet. You’d imagine there’d be interior design discord from virtually unrelated artifacts, but the coffee, masks, medicine drawers, and jazz music melded seamlessly together to create a cozy little ambience. They kept the menu simple – Americano, cafe latte, and espresso. I ordered my usual coffee drink, an iced Americano, but was surprised by the acidic yet deep taste. We passed the time by chatting about aeropresses and books as the summer sun sizzled everything outside.
Kyle knew about this other coffee shop, so we decided to head over there to enjoy some more coffee. This place was called Cafe aA. We didn’t know what to except but this place stood in stark contrast to Coffee Libre in almost every way. The cafe itself was but one part of a large building called the aA Design Museum. The cafe seating area was wide, spacious, and had a vintage European aesthetic to its interior. It was lively inside from all the chatter. The mixture of voices and music echoed off the lofty ceiling. There was a second floor that showcased some designer furniture and the third floor was an art exhibition hall. At the time, they were featuring Kim Byung Gwan’s Behind the Face. The restrooms were on the basement floor, but the as you worked you way down the stairs, you’d encounter a lot of interesting art installations. We ordered some drinks, chatted about iPhonegraphy, and checked out the art gallery upstairs.
On our way out, I spotted some magazines. My friend Hahna, who works for Time Out Seoul, had been talking to me about featuring my Instagram in their spotlight section. There was a stack of their July issues sitting out next to the entrance.
Curious, I flipped through and lo and behold, there I was! I read the little blurb they wrote out underneath and can’t say I was really impressed. I don’t know if they were writing for brevity’s sake, but it came off all wrong to me. So, not that it’ll make much difference now, if I were to rewrite it, it’d be more like this:
A Korean-American living in Seoul, John is an amateur photographer who not only captures his travels in Seoul but of his journeys in different parts of Asia as well. He originally used Instagram to chronicle his adventures, but upon discovering the advent of hashtagging, it opened up to him a whole new realm of Instagram photography. John said Instagram photography has helped him step out of his comfort zone in order to take better pictures. This includes sneaking up onto rooftops, evening strolls around the city in the dead of winter, and approaching strangers in Malaysia and Japan to ask for their photos.
That ramen had really started to kick in with tranquilizer level drowsiness – our cue to call it a day and say bye to good ole Hongdae. It coincidentally started to rain as we walked out of aA, as if the weather was seeing us off as we headed back home. My bladder def hated me that day. By the way, in two days it’ll be Jessie’s birthday. Make sure to give her a shoutout!