In Seoul, you’d be hard pressed to find a block that does not have a coffee shop. Many are tucked into basements and random floors of office buildings — like speakeasies that, ironically, everybody knows about. However, there is nothing ironic about renting a wedding dress to wear while you drink coffee, or having a large teddy bear make your latte. Seoul’s themed cafés are unabashedly kitschy.
A recent study shows that Koreans drink more coffee than they eat kimchi. In the past 12 years, coffee sales have more than doubled. In 2004, Seoul had 800 cafés; today, there are upwards of 12,000. Naturally, owners of coffee shops need to figure out ways to stand out. In a place where beer topped with whipped cream and sprinkles is not uncommon, that can be difficult.
Themed coffee shops in Seoul are generally whimsical in nature, though some do involve creepy dolls and cookies shaped like disembodied fingers. You’ll find no North Korea-themed dining here, but it’s not unlikely that an Amsterdam-inspired café will pop up, especially in the trendy Hongdae area, where so many of these coffee shops are located.
Contrary to popular belief, cute is not always king. Study cafés, which are more like libraries, are also very popular, as are tarot card coffee shops. These psychics can tell you more than just which beverage is best-suited for your astrological sign.
International chains like Starbucks still hold enormous popular appeal, despite their exorbitant prices. “Doenjang [bean paste] girl” is a phrase used to describe the kind of person who cuts corners to buy an Americano that costs twice as much as it does in the United States.
Some of these themed cafés aren't cheap, but you do get more bang for your won. Most importantly, they’re fun.
Thanks Nature Cafe
Cat and dog cafés are so passé. The mammals that roam the inside and small courtyard of Thanks Nature Cafe are much fluffier: they’re sheep. The café has experienced a recent upsurge in popularity because 2015 is the year of the sheep, according to the Chinese zodiac.
People study in cafés all over the world, but May Island, with its classroom-style rows of desks, strictly enforced quiet policy, and for-rent conference rooms, is the kind where you might actually get work done.