As a graduate student, I find that I need to always be constantly reading and writing. However, I am not someone who can study easily in a library – it’s a little too quiet and after a while, I start to freak out. I need a little bit of noise to keep me motivated, which is why I prefer to study at cafes all the time. Seeing that I was in Seoul to present at a conference, I needed to get on top of my studying too and took a few days to relax a little bit and read.
For the first half of my trip I stayed in Hongdae, which is a super cute neighborhood outside of Hongik University, an art and design university. There were so many cute shops and vendors open during the day and clubbing at night; I can definitely see why this is such a popular place for young people! My favorite part of Hongdae though are the cafes – each cafe is unique and has its own charms. I obviously did not get a chance to hang out at every single cafe, but I did have a favorite while I was staying in Hongdae!
This cafe is called Cafe Berlin! Pictured here is the counter. When I visited, the staff there did not speak English at all, but luckily I know enough Korean to order off the menu and to ask for the Wifi password! I spent an entire day here: about 8 hours just reading and writing my conference paper. I’m always surprised at how empty the cafes are here (especially since I feel like I have to fight for seating at the cafes in Berkeley), but then there’s so many cafes in this area and they’re all super large so that may be a reason why individual cafes seem empty. Cafes are also really expensive – expect to pay 5000+ won for a drink ($5 or more) – so I know that if I lived here, I wouldn’t be able to financially sustain going to a cafe every day!
I arrived right at the opening time at 10:00am and snagged a great seat – I have a view of the entire cafe! As a morning person, I had a hard time in Hongdae – most cafes and shops don’t open until 12:00pm except for the 24 hour ones, so I liked that Cafe Berlin opened bright and early (well…I guess by Seoul standards).
Even the bathroom is uniquely decorated, although I’m not sure why someone would want to sit on a counter in the bathroom or what the bike is doing in the corner. I guess it just adds to the charm though!
I should start talking about the food though… There aren’t that many food options to choose from and I’m not sure why the “meal” section is the only one untranslated. For those who can’t read Korean, the options are honey toast, yuja (citrus) dressing sandwich, Croque Monsieur, and Berlin waffle. Food prices are a LOT better than drink prices (except for the waffles), which seems to be a common thing among a lot of the cafes. As someone who is used to only paying a few dollars for tea or coffee, a $7 coffee or $6 tea is a little scary!
Pictured here is the honey toast! This reminds me a little of the Taiwanese toast-type meals that I’ve had before. Drizzled generously with honey and chocolate sauce and topped with almonds, this was definitely a filling breakfast! The little bowl on top came with a handtowel. I’m not sure what possessed me to do this, but I thought it was a marshmallow and actually bit it…how embarrassing…I was lucky no one was at the cafe this early!
Later in the afternoon it started to really get hot – the air conditioner was on in the cafe, but it was on a very low setting so the heat still crept through. So I ordered a yogurt smoothie to cool down. It was definitely very interesting…I feel like yogurt products here have a very sour and tart taste that I’m not familiar with. I liked that the shake wasn’t super sweet but it was a lot thicker than I would have liked. It definitely cooled me down but it didn’t quench my thirst. It was also pricey at 7,000 won (a little less than $7), but I’m glad I tried it.
The food and drinks that I tried at Cafe Berlin were okay – nothing to really rave about, but the atmosphere was perfect for some hardcore studying. With my extremely expensive iced earl grey tea (6,000 won) and my books, I had an extremely productive day. This is a cafe that I would want to write my dissertation in, but sadly I would have to move to Hongdae to make that dream a reality! I wish there were more Berkeley cafes that were as cute as the cafes in Hongdae, but I’m definitely not complaining about the prices of coffee here! I would definitely recommend anyone to check out Cafe Berlin if they are in the Hongdae are – it’s gorgeous, spacious, and feels just artsy enough without being pretentious.