As one of the most progressive areas in Seoul, Hongdae is home to many trends such as independent specialty coffee shops that pick up momentum quickly. We hit off this mini-series of the best Hongdae coffee shops with Coffee Libre, which is one of our top picks, with its hole-in-the-wall charm and sourcing of the highest quality coffee beans.

Next on our list is Coffee Lab, chosen due to its retro-modern decor, outstanding presentation, and barista skills. They are aptly named, as unidentifiable glassware and brewing contraptions seemingly turn the baristas there into chemists.

COFFEE LAB
327-19 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea (마포구 서교동 327-19), +82 2-3143-0908
Open Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
coffeelab.co.kr

Coffee Lab seems catered to the average hipster and coffee fanatic. Interior-wise, exposed pipes, hanging light-bulbs, suspended portafilters, and industrial black steel come together nicely to give an edgy vibe to the place. Interestingly enough, this is one of those coffee shops where you really want to choose when to go. Most cafes attract different crowds according to the time of day, but definitely not to the extent that Coffee Lab does. During the day, natural lighting accentuates the deep, dark colors inside making the space feel more masculine. In contrast, nighttime provides low-light ambiance coupled with soft glossy lounge music (think Satin Jackets, Chris Malinchak, RAC remixes, etc. – superb playlist by the way!) making it a chill setting for intimate conversation. You’ll see plenty of couples and small groups of young women come and go during this time.

Coffee Lab has a variety of extraction methods, coffee bean sources, and an extensive menu, but the area they really shine in is Barista expertise. Owner and Barista Champion, Bang Jong-Koo roasts all of his beans nearby at Coffee Lab Roasters and skillfully guides 8 highly trained baristas. I ordered a french press that came out in a solo Bodum Bean coffee maker. I watched as the coffee grounds were gingerly mixed for saturation. Then, a miniscule minute glass was presented as the barista gave instructions to wait 4 minutes for steeping – a sign of a well-trained barista. I thought this was a nice touch, since this gives the customer direct control over the coffee’s strength and brew cycle. The flavor was deep and rich, as a properly brewed french press should be, with a clean finish. Full-bodied and of a lighter roast, it was the perfect “wake me up on a late Sunday morning” kind of brew that I really like. My friend tried out the pretty standard Kenya AA drip coffee which came out in a ceramic coffee pot and fancy demitasse cup and saucer set. As this is a commonly seen coffee bean type in independent cafes, the outcome was an obvious testament to the barista’s care in extraction. My friend has tried a lot of versions of the Kenya AA in other Seoul coffee shops, but claimed this cup to be among the most balanced he’s had. This lighter-bodied Kenya AA was bright, and the bitterness was offset by a pleasant sweetness.

Tips:
There’s a 2,000 won discount for takeout. If you’re looking for coffee beans and something bright, I’d recommend the “Ethiopia Sidamo shakisso G2” sold by the cup or bag (200g for 12,000W) which is well balanced, floral, and winey. The “Brazil Formosa” is amazing for those looking for something sweeter as it has hints of cacao, nuts, and cherry.

They also have an 18+ “Advanced Coffee (Adults Only)” portion of the menu that is sure to titillate the older crowd. The 사나이 or “Man’s Coffee” is apparently very popular, containing a shot of espresso mixed with rum and topped with foamed milk. The Irish caffe latte was also a hit for me. The bare-bones Coffee Lab Express nearby is smaller, better for to-go orders, and closer to Hongdae Exit 9 in addition to the main Hongdae area. They also do Aeropress there.

Directions:
There are multiple ways to get there, but here’s the most direct route. Come out of Hongdae Station Exit 8. Take a right on the road immediately outside of the exit. Once you hit the first roundabout, take the first left. You’ll reach another roundabout that has a bunch of commercialized art in a little mini park area. Take your first right and you’ll walk down a long road with a bunch of boutique shops and other small businesses. In about 4 blocks you’ll see Coffee Lab on the left.

Let us know your thoughts on Coffee Lab making our list of the best Hongdae coffee shops in a comment below! Our mini-series will continue next week with Tailor Coffee, which has a nice, classy feel to their interior.

About The Author

RL

An eclectic soul with a diverse background, Rob has lived in Korea for the past 5 years. An avid interest in Korean culture, high-quality media, and content led him to co-founding SeoulSync. On his down time he plays ball, visits museums, explores new places, and shoots. These days, he channels his photography into the @seoulsync IG and his own personal @rlvism account.