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The best cafés in Jongno and Myeongdong

In these tourist-packed streets, where are the cafés that only the locals know about? These aren't your chain coffee places. These are the best of the best cafés in town…

Café Namusairo

It first opened in 2002 right in front of Seoul National University and later moved here in 2013. They focus on the basics of coffee and use good materials for everything—from raw coffee beans to the handcrafted sauces. They offer customers a rare type of specialty coffee that costs up to 20,000 won a cup as well as blended tea and freshly baked cakes.

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Jongno-gu

El café

They moved to Seonyudo last November and their coffee got even better after they equipped themselves with a new Probat roasting machine. They work with the coffee farms and supervise the quality of the coffee beans all the way from the production stage.

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Tera Rosa

Tera Rosa originally started as a coffee factory in the east coast seaside town of Gangneung. When their factory first opened in 2002, their initial focus was B2B operations. But as stories of their great tasting coffee spread by word of mouth, they grew to meet the demand and now have shops nationwide from Seoul all the way down to Jeju Island.Their specialty coffees are brewed using light and medium-light roasted beans which bring out delicate flavors.

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Jung-gu
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Ikdongdabang

“Although people would come here and enjoy Ikseon-dong, there was no place in particular for them to hang out,” said the owner of Ikdongdabang. More than just a café, the multipurpose venue is the lovechild of six Ikseon-dong fans called "Ikseon-Dada," who contribute pieces of art to the space. The hanok consists of an outdoor porch decorated with plastic furniture and indoor seating that faces the current season's exhibition (often media art combined with bright contemporary paintings). Serving as the centerpiece for the interior is a wooden chandelier made of fragments of the former building from when it was under renovation. Renowned for having the best drip coffee in the neighborhood, Ikdongdabang's a colorful and delicious addition to these parts.

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Jongno-gu

Plant

The major symbol in the Ikseon-dong revolution is this magical café and bar called Plant. Started by photographer Louis Park, it’s not hard to imagine that someone with artistic insights created this venue. Divided up into several different corners, each space has a specialty of some sort. The first seating area to your left has a small couch with a vintage record player and several LPs of Chet Baker and groups of tables towards the center face a film that’s silently being screened in the background while a string of Christmas lights twinkle against plastic awning that faces the hanoks up front. Additional seating in the back includes a small courtyard great for summer nights. Open during the day for coffee, Plant truly shines at night when the lights from the houses nearby bring an otherworldly dimension to this café and bar.

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Jongno-gu

Dongnae Coffee

The first café of its kind in this neighborhood, owner Gin Lee tells us about the reaction she got when she decided to quit her company job and start Dongnae Coffee back in 2009. “Are you crazy? Do you want to throw away your money? Just be normal and get married!” Now, the café’s credited with being one of the area’s groundbreaking hot spots. Neatly ornamented with small trinkets, contemporary photography hangs on the wall and a line of fresh comic books wait to be read in one corner. Gin explains, “I’m a quiet person and I thought, even then, that there must be quiet people like me who just want a quiet space of their own.” She recommends coming with an umbrella and a book on days when it rains—the streets fill with the fresh scent of the nearby pine trees.

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Jongno-gu
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Kiosque

Snack stands in front of schools generally conjure up images of old and shabby stores that sell cheap ddeok-bokki (spicy rice cakes) and instant ramen. But Kiosque, located in front of Paiwha Girls’ High School, is far from your stereotypical snack stand. This simple shop with stark design could have come straight from Scandinavia.But their menu is far from plain: Kiosque sells French toast that is crispy on the outside, soft and moist in the inside. 

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Coffee Hanjan

Everything at Coffee Hanjan is handmade with great care. Its owner even invented a device that roasts coffee beans using live coals to preserve the natural flavor of the coffee. With this machine, beans for specialty coffees can be roasted at different temperatures depending on the condition of the beans. Their hand drip coffee comes with the highest recommendations, but their espresso drinks are also top notch. 

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Coffee Bangatgan (The Coffee Mill)

Samcheong-dong is a busy neighborhood to begin with, but the alley that starts from the southern corner of the Jeongdok Public Library in particular is always crowded. Some are there for coffee, others are there to have their portraits drawn, others are arm-in-arm on long dates. This is a typical scene in front of Coffee Bangatgan, known for their excellent coffee. 

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Geugagae Chai-jib (Rogpa Tea Stall)

There are two very good reasons to visit Geugagae Chai-jib (Rogpa Tea Stall): For one, you can enjoy delicious Indian food at very reasonable prices. And secondly, your purchases help a good cause: The store is run by Rogpa, an organization that supports the independence of Tibetan refugees with fair-trade employment, daycare centers for working families, and cultural exchange programs. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel as though you've suddenly been transported outside of Seoul. The interior is full of hand-painted, rough-hewn wood, and stocked with handicrafts from Tibet. 

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