Supersize My Cafe

Jardín Kim

Lead Korean Writer

We place our order, get a buzzer disc, and take the elevator to the fourth floor. From there, one more flight of stairs will take us to the rooftop. But the sun is blazing so we rule it out, as well as the fourth floor that has floor seatings and too many kids around. We go down each storey pondering where we should sit when the buzzer beeps. That was too quick. I hurriedly pick a table on the second floor but a member of my group objects. A middle-aged guy who feels out of place in a cutesy space that has a photo zone with a giant teddy bear. We go back up to the third floor, a neutral space with a nice view of a patch of farmland. I’ll get a table here, I tell my group. Don’t get lost, but if you do, call. Where is this multistorey confusion taking place? One of the large-scale cafes that are ubiquitous in Korea.

These supersized cafes began popping up after a factory in Paju was remodeled into a cafe in 2018. Cities on the outskirts of Seoul like Gimpo and Paju were the first to embrace the concept, and other nonurban areas with available land followed suit in setting up big cafes in scenic places with a wide range of themes: plant cafes (with many plants), sunset cafes (with views of the sunset), lakeview cafe (with views of a lake), pink muhly cafes (with a garden featuring pink muhly grass), and creek cafes (with a creek running behind the place). All these cafes have high ceilings and convenient but expensive parking. Drinks, pastries and cakes are also expensive. Many online reviews of these places say something like, “the coffee tastes ordinary but that’s not what’s important.” Well then, what is important?

Let us take another closer look at the big cafe features mentioned above. They center around views, interior decor and gardens. So big cafes in Korea cater more to the eye than to taste buds. Pretty drinks and pastries are a treat for the eyes and various featured spaces offer the perfect backdrop for photos to be uploaded on social media. Bonus points for tasty coffee, but “that’s not what’s important.” Pictures last long after the last sip of coffee is gone. I live in a place where land value is still affordable, and there are many big cafes in the area. Although I’m not active on social media, I frequent them. Staring out into a paddy field or a reservoir sipping a trendy drink like black sesame latte makes me think that this is the good life. An idle, idyllic moment that can be bought with overpriced coffee.
In Korea, especially in Seoul, there are many cafes where coffee tastes amazing. But if time allows, traveling outside to visit a big cafe offers visitors a different kind of reward unique to Korea. A time of healing and leisure at a place large enough that you can get lost sipping a beverage that looks too pretty to drink. And if you spot a cozy corner that has been set up with much care and attention to detail, don’t hog the space. It’s a photo zone where people line up, especially on weekends.

Translator: Culture Flipper English Team
Original Content in Korean: