The following article can be found in Monthly Coffee‘s March 2022 issue (published in Korean). I was given permission to upload the English version online for those interested. For future articles, find them in Monthly Coffee Magazine, available for subscription online or at Korean bookstores.
In addition to being a historical and cultural hotspot, did you know that Gyeongju also has some of the nicest cafes? Here are 4 that you won’t want to miss on your next trip there!
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A warm atmosphere
It’s winter time and the weather is cold outside, but the moment I open the door and take my first step into Gabaehyangju I feel an immediate warmth. But this warmth is more than just from the indoors, it’s a warmth that I feel in my heart as well. Because, as I take my first step into the store, I’m greeted by the owners like they would an old friend. With smiling faces and kind words, and my heart is warm. I’m happy.
Take a seat that matches your mood
Every seat here has its own unique charm: the seats in the corner? You’ll find a refuge for quietness and reflection. The seats by the window? A perfect place to enjoy conversations with friends while observing the happenings of busy Hwangridan street (황리단길). But in my opinion, the best seat is right at the coffee bar.
The coffee making at Gabaehyangju is showmanship – there’s an art to it. It’s a captivating performance. And if you wish to have a conversation, the owners enjoy holding interesting ones.
Yet one thing remains constant: no matter where you sit, there is an incredible selection of background music.
A menu made just for you
With a plethora of items on their menu, there’s something for everyone. Do you like sweet things or do you prefer them bitter? Do you love coffee? Or would you prefer a drink without caffeine? Do you want something that tastes simple or more complex? No matter your preference, there’s something here just for you.
On my first visit, I asked the owners for their recommendation and they proposed that I try the 오레그랏세, a menu unique to Gabaehyangju. In addition to its being picture perfect, it also has a delicious taste. You’ll taste the drink in the same order as you see the layers: first the cold brew, followed by the sweet condensed milk – coming together to create a perfect combination.
What about trying a perfect pairing of coffee and dessert? Then how about trying their new dessert on the menu (딸기를 품은 초코 머핀) with one of their hand drip coffees (maybe the 에티오피아 우쉬우쉬 언에어로빅 네네츄)?
Coffee Place; 커피플레이스
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A vision brought to life
커피 한잔으로 세상을 구원할 수는 없겠만요, 오늘 하루는 어떻게 안녕할 수 있지 않을까하는 마음으로 커피를 만듭니다.Coffee Place
When someone holds a precious vision and creates their coffee shop with it as their foundation, I believe that the resulting creation amplifies their hopes and dreams. And this is exactly what you’ll see and feel at Coffee Place. From the first time I walked into Coffee Place, I felt that there was something different about it. Something special. And it keeps me coming back. Like a fish to a hook, I’m always reeled back in.
As you might guess, what has been created at Coffee Place is not just a cafe that provides high quality coffee. It’s also a place that brings people together and creates a sense of community. The owner and staff create an environment of comfort and friendliness, such that everyone walking through the doors of Coffee Place feels like they belong. You’ll understand what I mean if you come by one morning and sit down and just watch. Customers will come and go, but you’ll see how often they greet each other – they know one another. Many have been coming for a long time, some are new – but all are friendly to each other.
Why not try something new?
When you take a look at the menu, you’ll see that Coffee Place offers a “Coffee of the Day” (오늘의 커피). Instead of sticking to what you typically order, why not give it a try? On the day I visited, the coffee of the day was their “Peru Coffee Project #01 Wilder Garcia Typica”. It was the perfect drink for the perfect morning. It had a gentleness to it, characterized by notes of lemongrass, floral, peach, and vanilla.
But one drink you definitely can’t leave without trying is Coffee Place’s espresso. Having not been an espresso drinker, I was skeptical of having one. But I can tell you that it was the first espresso that turned me to liking them. The owner pours one of the most perfect shots of espresso, and it’s one that you don’t want to miss out on.
With 8 cafes around Korea, Coffee Place is growing its reach – but, make sure to visit where it all began: at the Coffee Place in the heart of Gyeongju.
No Words; 노워즈
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No Words is constantly busy. Starting before the store opens, a line already begins to form outside and the crowd of people doesn’t end until the store’s last order. It’s a never ending sea of people – wave after wave after wave.
It’s popular, and rightfully so.
A space unique to them
There’s something different about them. A place that doesn’t just follow the trends, but has created something that is uniquely them. The interior and atmosphere give off the feeling of “no rules are the rules”. It’s a feeling of freedom. A space where creativity flows and doesn’t stop.
The cafe is divided into two floors. On the first, there is seating with huge windows looking onto the road, where the natural light from outdoors covers every inch of the space.
The stairs you take to get to the second floor are covered with art – stickers, quotes, drawings, you name it! So many in fact, that even if you spent one hour, you probably couldn’t see them all.
Once you get to the second floor you’ll see an open-concept coffee bar area. At the front and center, the baristas are preparing drinks, and throughout the rest of the space there is bench and window seating. I’m a sucker for watching baristas working their magic, so I prefer the second floor to see the drinks being made.
Fruit Tiger Balm
To celebrate the Year of the Tiger in 2022, No Words launched their seasonal blend named Fruit Tiger Balm (프루츠 타이거 밤). It is a blend of Panama Jurutungo Geisha Honey and Colombia El Paraiso Lychee, which carries a taste of sweet tropical fruits and subtle jasmine notes.
For letting loose your rebel side or finding new creative inspiration, No Words is the right place for you!
Fun fact: the name comes from the song “No Words” by Erik Hassle.
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A curious space
“경주체육관” (Gyeongju gymnasium). These words are plastered on Hyangmisa’s building. Having previously housed a Judo gym, it is a reminder of a time past.
I came in the early morning, when the weather was chilly outside. Some would say that the weather wasn’t the best on this day. But in my opinion, it was the perfect morning for a visit to Hyangmisa. Because nothing beats a warm cup of coffee on a chilly day.
When you go inside, your eyes can’t help but wander because there are so many interesting things to look at. Dispersed around the store, there are a variety of items on display and for sale. Ranging from books to stationery items, coffee making tools, and more. The cafe feels like a treasure cove. And, of course, there is a wide selection of coffee beans for purchase, all roasted in-house in their roastery out back.
An incredible selection of coffee
It comes as no surprise that with this in-house roastery, there is also a wide selection of filter coffees available to drink. A long scroll-like list hangs on the wall to the left of the cash register, detailing each coffee that is on the menu.
I settled for their light roasted Costa Rica coffee (La Bandera, Costa Rica, Red Catuai Variety, Natural Process). Characterized with its tasting notes of light grapes, cranberry, and blueberry. As the drink began to cool down, I tasted a lingering tartness where before there was a sharper acidity. A delicious taste indeed!
You may need to come back a few times to try their list. Scratch that… try them all on your first visit there! Sleep is for the weak anyways… right?
Want to try more cafes? Here are a few more incredible coffee shops in Gyeongju: Spunk Coffee, Barnum Coffee, 카페삼경, Commencement, and Bush.
For more articles about coffee in Korea, check out this page.