We were surprised at the number of coffee shops – independent and U.S. chains – on every street corner in Seoul and Incheon. Unlike in Dubai, where every air-conditioned transit shelter was sponsored by Tim Horton’s, there was no evidence of the Canadian institution in Korea.
Strangely enough, every cup is brewed individually in a commercial machine from freshly ground beans – no steaming pots of java on a hot plate. That makes ordering during rush times interesting – they hand you a lighted disk that vibrates when your order is ready. Definitely not fast food.
Unfortunately, most of the coffee we drank was awful. Americano – black/no sugar – tasted like hot brown water. Even Dunkin Donuts coffee was hot, but tasteless. One day, we ordered double espresso at as fancy coffee bar. I love strong coffee, but the thick brew in the thimble-sized cup (made with a full shoot of ground beans) was so strong, I saw stars and my heart pounded in my throat. Lesson learned.
Folks would buy a cup of something then sit for hours in comfy chairs, working their cell phones or laptops. Very little conversation. No one tried to move them along either, so the atmosphere was restful. At all hours of the day and evening, the cafes were filled with men and women of all ages, chatting and sipping.
While some shops specialized, many offered a wide assortment of food and beverages – hot and cold juice, fruit and vegetable smoothies, every type of fancy coffees you could imagine, teas made from corn and beans. Because space is so limited, many of the beverage shops are located above retail outlets. Pastries, doughnuts, brownies, cookies, honeycomb – the selection of sweets was toothache-inducing.
Koreans love cartoon figures. In the lower level of Seoul City Hall, we strolled by an exhibit advertising health care products. A gigantic nurse hove up to pose for photos. Pop-up displays of superheroes or strange cartoon characters would pop up on a street corner. Perfect selfie material.
In the heavier traffic areas, there were ‘cat cafes’. I asked the guy in the orange suit what it was for. He said that because apartments are so small and people work such long hours, it’s not often they can own pets.
Instead, cat cafes give them an opportunity to sip a drink while interacting with one or more of the dozen cats that live in the cafe. There’s a $10 cover charge, but no limit on the amount of time someone could spend inside. My thoughts went to burning, runny eyes and a clogged throat (allergic to felines) and hair floating in my tea.