Recently Konkuk University area in Seoul saw a lot of commercial development, including the glitzy Lotte department store and Tower Palace. With a large university, a few apartment complexes, a big department store, a mega movie theatre, and hundreds of other retail stores, this is one of those busy-traffic areas in Seoul. (Other examples: Dongdaemun market area, Myungdong, and Gangnam station area) Because of the enormous amount of traffic, many of the restaurants in these areas are not that great, and the same effect holds for coffee. However there are always a few gems in these areas, and Choi-Ga Coffee is one of these gems.
Choi-Ga means “Family name Choi”. And yes, the owner of this cafe is Mr. Choi. But “Ga” could also mean “Beauty” in Chinese characters with the same pronunciation as “Family name.” So Choi-Ga has another meaning, the most beautiful, or the best of the best.
This coffee shop has been open since July 28, 2008. Mr. Choi used to work in the hotel business – he worked for the best hotel in Seoul for 20 years as a restaurant manager, development manager, and education consultant. Because he was in the restaurant business at a premium hotel, he got into the world of freshly brewed coffee and espresso early on (before the coffee boom in Korea began), and making and drinking good coffee has been his hobby for a long time.
I found out about this cafe from a Korean blog (http://blog.naver.com/joowoo5?Redirect=Log&logNo=40062426860) last year and befriended the owner while I was visiting Seoul in December 2010. This cafe has been very popular among the locals and students of Konkuk University as well as some who visit from farther away. Mr. Choi roasts coffee beans at the cafe, using the “Proaster” machine made by the Korean company “Tae-Hwan.” His espresso machine is Gaggia. I personally like the drip coffee much more than any espresso drinks here. Mr. Choi personally makes hand-drip coffee for every single order, and he prepares the strength according to the customer’s preference. (Mild, Medium, and Strong)
Choi-Ga cafe also serves very nice waffles and ice cream. I find waffles to be a very puzzling fad in Korea, especially among the young girls. I never understood the fascination with this – Korean girls do not eat waffles as a breakfast, but they have become popular as a fancy dessert or pass-time snack. Waffles are often decorated with fruits, caramel or chocolate syrup, scoops of ice cream and whipped cream and can have a price tag as high as 12,000 won. (about $11-12) Considering a good meal costs about $5-8, this does not make any sense to me. But somehow young girls go crazy about eating waffles.
Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something amazing about waffles (!), I ordered waffles at three different coffee shops – once at a very big chain (Caffee Bene. This one served below-average coffee and undercooked, soggy waffles), once at a coffeeshop near Sejong University, and once at Choi-Ga cafe. The nut-waffles with blueberry ice cream at Choi-Ga cafe were very tasty and well-prepared. (Small nut-waffle with ice cream is 6500 Won and large size is 11000 won)
I asked Mr. Choi what his coffee “philosophy” is, and his answer was this:
“Coffee is honest. What you put into the cup is what you taste. If you make a cup of coffee with the best beans you have and best skills you can produce, that cup will taste good. I try to make every cup to be the best I can.” And I have the feeling that his philosophy will continue to please many more coffee-craving customers in that busy subway area.
How to get there: Take subway line 6 or 2, and get off at the “Konkuk University” station. Take exit #2. Walk toward the Sejong University direction for about 150m. When you see “Rainbow Glasses” store, turn left. Walk about 60-70m, and it’s on your left side. Look for “최가커피” sign on a wooden panel.
Pricing: Drip coffees: around 4500Won-6000Won, depending on the beans you choose/ Espresso drinks: around 3500 Won – 5000 Won