At Hell Cafe, enclosed are stories of several now renowned baristas of Korea. Kwon Yo-seop, a first-generation hand-drip barista who is in charge of this place, an award-winning star barista Im Seong-eun and Lee Hun from a renowned shop — all with skills and drills have somehow deviated from the path of wealth and fame. Although the cafe has now a number of fanatic followers due to a lot of recent media exposures, it still is a micro-roastery sticking to Union fire roasting and putting out the best they've got for delicate details.
The most popular coffees here are the Hell Drip and the Classic Cappuccino. Extracted through a classic nel drip method, the Hell Drip is the long-time favorite of barista Kwon Yo-seop who used to reside in Gom Dabang, the old-time go-to place for Hongdae’s coffee aficionados. With 30 grams of beans, about 100ml of coffee is extracted — strong and potently fragrant, this supposedly “painful-like-hell” coffee presents beautiful notes in its corners. It can be made with a single-blend, but the dark roast blend is my recommendation.
The blended coffees here are brewed from a diverse selection of beans, with the rumor that even Geisha coffee (which is often referred to as “God in a cup”) is at times available. At first, one may wonder why the baristas here go above and beyond to stick to their strict philosophy, but after witnessing the the process of careful roasting and extraction, the wonder is well likely to turn into respect.
Next, the Classic Cappuccino is a signature drink created by barista Im Seong-eun who became a star of KNBC (Korea National Barista Championship) with a single menu of cappuccino. With a cup of delicately extracted espresso and steamed milk, it is made right in front of a customer. For any milk-containing coffee, the combination of espresso and milk is the key — it is best when consumed before the well-foamed milk and coffee separate. With espresso that is hot-enough (but not too hot) well combined with steamed milk, what you get here is extremely smooth — along with Lee Sang-hun from Zombie Coffee, Im might as well be the best in Korea in terms of creating milk coffees. As for the espresso machines, Hell Cafe uses Slayer (while Lee uses Felt Coffee Roasters’ blends for espresso and milk variations). Baristas often find the brand troublesome, with perhaps too many functions attached to the machines. But here, it has been optimized for the specific conditions and purposes.
Another element one will notice upon visiting the cafe more than once is the flower arrangements that change every week. Barista Im, you can tell, has an eye for them. The classical music coming out of mega-size Tannoy and Klipsch speakers as well as the owner's own book collection surrounding the corners of the cafe also add a dimension to the cafe-going experience.
There are two branches of Hell Cafe: the first location on the hill of Bogwang-dong is coffee-centered, while the second one in Ichon-dong collaborates with professional bartenders serving various spirits and cocktails. They both offer amazing desserts: Bogwang-dong cafe has its own artisan cheese cake, and the Ichon-dong location serves cheese cake from the well-known Mille Gâteaux bakery.
The Hell Drip coffee is priced at 7,000 won and Classic Cappuccino at 4,800 won. There is 2,000 won discount for any takeout drink.