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The best cafés in Hongdae

With so many artsy cafes around, how can you tell which are just for show? These places look good and have great coffee, too

L’Air Du Temps

This small café is a great place to spend some quiet, quality time. With a variety of items on their menu from coffee, tea and cakes, this place is known best for their milk tea. Perhaps that's only natural, as their milk tea is consisted with a great balance of aroma, softness and sweetness. On the shelf, around 30 books are available for read, suggesting that the café welcomes a quiet ambiance for readers, unlike many of the chain cafés which are in abundance around the city. Located on the main street between the bustling Sangsu and Hapjeong Station, everything about the L’Air Du Temps makes it a perfect fit for the back alleys of a quiet neighborhood. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, don't miss this one!

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Sangsu-dong

Fritz

Fritz is one of the few places in Seoul that will offer you the choice of paper or metal filters for your pour-over. It’s no mere gimmick: one of the five cofounders is Park Geun-ha, 2014 Barista Champion of Korea, and a 14-year veteran in the business of beans. They hold cupping sessions Thursdays and Sundays at 6 p.m. for those of you wishing to learn more about the finer points of coffee (sorry, Korean only). If the language barrier has you on the sidelines, console yourself with a pain au chocolat and enjoy the retro vibe of the converted traditional tile-roof house.

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Mapo-gu

Yri Café and Bar

Considering the turnover rate of businesses in Seoul, Yri Café’s ten-year tenure in Hongdae (5 years north of the main gate, 5 years south of Sangsu) is impressive. It’s widely known as a sort of godfather to the Hongdae café scene, inspiring a generation of “culture cafes.” Founded by two literature graduates, they host book readings and performances, hang local artists’ work on their walls, and house an impressive collection of art books and magazines. The menu isn’t standout, but that’s not what most people come for.

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Mapo-gu
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La Douce

La Douce is the brain child of a couple from Johnson and Wales University, known for its baking and culinary program . He bakes fresh cream rolls and 40 layered crepe cakes and nougat while she makes coffee. Their pastries are known for their extraordinary taste and appearance. They never use synthetic preservatives or baking powder, a demonstration of how much care and effort is put in making their desserts. They also use real fresh cream for flavor and honey for its sweetness and scent. The hard work pays off, which you realize as soon as you taste a bite of their mouth-watering, lovely desserts. And the coffee is even more amazing: Introducing 3D latte art. The barista-co-owner forms a 3D cat shape with foamed milk on top of the coffee. If you pretty pretty drinks (let's be real, you want to Instagram it), you'll need to order an iced latte. The milk foam stays intact all the way until you finish your drink due to the temperature difference between the liquid and the foam. Pretty and clever, we like it.

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Seogyo-dong

Milo coffee Roasters

This coffee place is the very history of Hongdae's specialty coffee industry. Their roasting style brings out the deep sweetness of coffee beans, reminiscent of the Brazilian style of flavor. Their coffee options are excellent and their Mont Blanc is definitely one of the best variations.

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Jebi Dabang (Chwihan Jebi)

Another mainstay of alternative culture in Hongdae, CTR Jebi houses a variety of projects in one building: During the day, the first floor is Jebi Dabang, a café that sells reasonably priced coffee. At night, the signboard slides over to transform its name into “Chwihan Jebi,” which means “drunken swallow” (the bird, not the verb). Jebi is best known for hosting a large number of indie bands every week on its basement stage, which is open to the first floor as well. Its upper floors also house an architect’s office, a publishing house (known for the magazine One Piece), and a one-room recording studio that anyone can rent for 20,000 won an hour. It can get crowded, especially when bigger names take the stage, so come early for a seat on concert nights. Or simply sit on the wooden deck with a beer in hand and enjoy the music floating up from below.

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Mapo-gu
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Anthracite

Anthracite is a gorgeous space, a converted shoe factory on the south side of Hongdae that incorporates the original aesthetic and machinery into its current form. You even can sit at a conveyor belt-turned-bar while roasting equipment hums at your back. Like many coffee roasters, they preach the gospel of coffee for all, holding public cupping sessions most Wednesdays (pre-registration online required, Korean-only) and home barista courses. Anthracite doesn’t just want you to drink their coffee; they want you to appreciate it. Anthracite also distributes their beans to coffee shops around Seoul, so you may notice their logo around town. There’s a decent selection of baked goods as well—the tiny cups of panna cotta are perfect when you want just a few bites of something sweet to accompany Anthracite’s bright and lemony roasts.

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Mapo-gu

Mudaeruk

Mudaeruk (or Mu, as it is sometimes affectionately called) was started by Kim Geon-ah and two fellow indie musician friends who wanted to create a casual gathering space for music lovers. They recently relocated to a converted warehouse, a white-walled, cement floor space that is enormous but still fills up with Hongdae’s young and artsy crowd. They occasionally showcase the work of up-and-coming artists on their walls, but the main cultural attraction is the concert space in their basement where the good work of supporting indie musicians continues on. The first-floor café exists for the purpose of funding this project, so grab a few friends and get drinks and eats before the next show. For double karma, order one of Mu’s new “sharing boards,” wooden cutting boards loaded with small bites—for every board, 2,000 won goes to Save the Children’s local projects here in Korea.

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Mapo-gu

Coffee Libre

Coffee Libre is a small café tucked away in the alley of Dongjin Market where goumet coffee drinkers from across the country gather. Korea’s first licensed Q-Grader (think of him as a coffee sommelier) Pil Hyeon Seo runs the shop. Mr. Seo travelled around the world to various coffee plantations in order to purchase specialty grade beans directly and he sells coffee extracted from these specialty grade roasted beans in his stores.

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Yeonnam-dong
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Ver's Garden

Who says you have to be outdoors in order to enjoy a garden? At Ver's Garden, you’re greeted by potted plants as soon as you reach the café’s doors. Once inside, you’ll notice an array of everything from fresh hydrangeas to roses near the counter and a back wall full of beautifully dried flowers. A variety of floral teas are served, as well as coffee and it’s a nice way to partake in the season’s best blooms whilst enjoying the modern technology of air conditioning.

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Mapo-gu

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