What’s going on in Korea’s coffee scene? There’s certainly a visible momentum observed here especially with Seoul’s professional baristas. Take, for example, Sang-ho Park who was the champion in 2013 UK Brewers Cup and 2015 Coffee in Good Spirits, and one of the world finalists in both competitions. Prior to starting his own consulting company Spark Coffee Consulting, Park served as the Head of quality and roasting for East-London's Square Mile Coffee Roasters.
Last February, this impressive barista, entrepreneur and Master’s graduate in Sensory Science opened up shop in Seoul around the Ttukseom area. Set up in a fully-renovated former residential complex standing at the entrance of Seoul Forest, the café itself isn’t all too spacious. But with a polished interior and undoubtedly great coffee, Center Coffee has quickly become the go-to spot for coffee enthusiasts in the Ttukseom/Seoul Forest area.
Along with Choi Jun-ho who is one the Korea’s first-generation licensed Q-graders, Park leads the operation here as the head barista, using espresso machines and clever brewing. As for blends, El Salvador Pacas and Honduras Las Virginia’s Washed Geisha are combined to create a well-balanced texture and aroma.
One particularly impressive item on the menu is the Santa Felicia Geisha K72 Processing. Geisha coffee began its roots in a Panamanian farm and was fast to be internationally recognized for its exceptional flavor profile. Coffees brewed with Geisha carry a harmonious combination of aroma—of grapefruit, rose, chocolate and caramel.
Panama Geisha is currently one of the most expensive types of batches in the market. It’s the first of its kind to receive 100 points from Tim Wendelboe’s internationally renowned reviewing team, which is comparable to Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate in the industry. Some reviewers even went so far to say they “saw the face of God” when tasting the specialty beans, giving Panama Geisha the nickname “God’s Coffee.”
At Center Coffee, the clever brewing technique is used to brew Geisha. The “K72” in the name signifies the combination of 24 hours’ natural processing and 48 hours’ Kenya processing to add a sweeter touch. Considering the quality of the beans, the price is quite good: Americano is 4,000 won and the brew is 7,000 won.
Right next door to the café is Maison M’O’s second brand À Côte Du Parc, offering buttery financiers and citrusy madeleines which go perfectly with the coffee served up here (and can be brought over to the café). Currently, there’s an interesting collaboration going on at Center Coffee, with Otsuka Tetsuya from Pierre Herme Japan and patissier Min-seon Lee and her team at Maison M’O. Seongsu-dong has been a trending hot spot for the past few years, but Center Coffee has brought the quality that’ll bring a new level to the area.
* Author JB is a freelance coffee and travel writer as well as a Q-grader credentialed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).