Part of the reason I moved to Korea was to experience the strangeness that comes with living in a foreign country, but the sheer cuteness of this particular foreign country was a huge draw for me. Everything here is cute – logos, signs, restaurants, and most importantly, cafés. I was already nursing a burgeoning caffeine addiction when I discovered the cuteness of Korean cafés. Even an ordinary coffee shop will have unique décor and funky magazines for you to peruse, but it’s the themed ones that are really special: cat cafés, dog cafés, book, board game, candy, and cartoon-themed cafés, and – no joke – even a sheep café. With all of the options available, sipping my favourite drink just got a lot more interesting. For these coffee shops, it’s less about the beverage and more about the experience, and what a range of experiences they offer!
A visit to a cat café was my first foray into Korean specialty café culture. Most cat cafés (and dog, and sheep) are really more like a temporary “rent-a-pet” service. You go to the shop, and usually you will leave your coats and bags in a locker before changing out of your shoes and into provided slippers. This is for the animals’ protection and to keep your stuff fur and fuzz-free! Then you pay a small fee for use of the space and buy a drink. It’s that simple. My first cat café experience was definitely weird. I had visions of soft kittens sleeping and purring in little beds, but in actuality it was a room full of fully-grown cats who slept or played and did whatever they pleased on their own schedule. I don’t know why I thought cats in a cat café would pay attention to me when I know cats only pay attention when they feel like it. Harsh lesson. Once you get past that and past the initial shock of a room full of cats, the experience is quite pleasant. There is always a furry friend who will visit you, even if the others are sleeping. You can use the provided toys to play with the cats or let one cuddle on your lap, but the cafés don’t want you to pick up cats against their will – they have feelings too.
More of a dog person? Dog or puppy cafés are a bit harder to come by, but they can be found. Due to the smaller size of apartments here, many pet owners only have little teacup-sized dogs, but the dog cafés have a real variety, from the cute and poodle-y to big and waggly Golden Retrievers. If you’re missing the slobbery love that only a dog can give, then this is the place for you. Need something tamer? Apparently there’s a sheep café in Hongdae, where two live sheep hang out in a fenced-in corner of the room. Not baaaa-d! (Get it?). Anyway, if you don’t like lots of free-thinking creatures who may or may not curl up next to your latte at will, then don’t visit the animal cafés. Cat, and dogs, and sheep – oh my!
After I visited my first cat café. I was hooked on the specialty cafés and I’m always on the hunt for the newest and cutest coffee-shop experience. From the cat café, I moved on to a different kind of cat café – the Hello Kitty Café, that is! Fitting for the world’s cutest cartoon cat, Hello Kitty Cafés are decorated floor-to-ceiling in pink and white in honour of their feline namesake’s trademark colours. Inside, everything will remind you of that famous cat. Windows are cut-out in the shape of Hello Kitty’s head and her little face is emblazoned in the foam of your latte or the icing of your cake. A must-visit for Hello Kitty fans. If Hello Kitty isn’t your favourite cartoon, perhaps a Charlie Brown Café is more to your liking? Much like the Hello Kitty Café, everything in the Charlie Brown Café is an ode to that awkward little boy and his mismatched group of pals. You an see all the characters here, from Linus and Lucy, to Woodstock and Snoopy, and of course, everyone’s favourite bald-headed boy. These cartoon-themed cafés are good of you’re feeling nostalgic or need a quick date idea. Half of the fun is snapping pictures inside, and the refreshments are reasonably priced.
Board game cafés beckon those who like more intellectual pursuits. Knock back a couple cups of java while you challenge your friends to a fun board game! Of course, these cafés are aimed at Korean customers, so you might not recognize all of the titles, but I guarantee that you’ll find Monopoly, Jenga, and a checker board in there! There are also crafty cafés where you can draw pictures, and dress-up cafés where you can rent a wedding or princess dress for the afternoon. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret. With the abundance of coffee shops in Korea, you can’t go wrong! Even the unthemed cafés are cute. I’ve been to cafés where you can leave a note on the table or wall to show that you’ve visited, or even leave a piece of custom art! Smaller, non-chain options are best for this. In the larger chains you’ll be too busy competing with napping students and shopping parties of 12 to find a seat! If you do go, be sure to try some of the delicious treats that only Korea has to offer, like rice pretzels, a sweet potato or green tea latte, or some tasty patbingsu, that delicious shaved ice summer treat!
So what do you think? Are you ready to explore the imaginative cafés of Korea? It will make you regret all those times you shelled out for a coffee in a plain old shop! Where are your favourite places to sip your caffeine?