Monday, September 10, 2012

Surviving on coffee cups in Seoul

A starbucks in Seoul
I have a confession to make. I am not a coffee lover and nobody can influence me to like it.

In fact, I go to coffee shops sparingly, and in those occasions, I am probably after the wi-fi.

At times, when the entire office or my entire group of friends need their caffeine fix, I let myself be swayed to go to the nearest coffee house, but I order my preferred signature hot chocolate instead.

I can live without having a single coffee cup. The world would go on turning even if a global coffee holiday is declared.

But in my recent trip to the cold streets of Seoul, South Korea, I realized that in some parts of the world, coffee is a vital commodity, and it spells the difference between surviving or freezing in the biting cold.

I am used to cold weather. Thanks to previous visits to other countries during winter time, I am very much prepared for the unforgivingly cold weather in Seoul during early winter.

It can get really cold, and for most tourists coming from an equatorial country such as the Philippines, the change in climate can be quite disorienting. But not me.

I roamed the streets of Insadong and Gwanghwamun wearing only a light jacket and an inside shirt, despite the temperature dropping to 5 degrees.

I partied in Itaewon with fellow travelers with a thin leather jacket.

All along, I noticed the wide array of coffee shops in Seoul. When it comes to coffee, South koreans have a lot to choose from. Of course, there were Starbucks stores, but there were also Paris Bagguette, Blenz Coffee, Caffe Benne and Angels in Us in almost every block.

As a non-coffee lover, I found this to be really absurd. Do South Koreans consumer that much coffee?

Me in Seoul

I read somewhere that South Korea is in the mid-50s when it comes to countries with the largest coffee consumption per capita. In comparison, the Philippines is in the mid 90s.

Why? I don't really care, and I didn't put much thought about it.

Except for the slight drying of the skin brought about by the cold, which was easily remedied by Laneige moisturizing creams, my trip was problem free. I was able to visit as much tourist attraction as I wanted and I had a blast trying different restaurants in various shopping and tourist districts.

But on the night before I was supposed to fly out of Seoul, in the middle of Gangnam, things started to turn messy.

On a high with too much people sightseeing, I left my jacket and gloves at a restaurant. (This is completely acceptable since most its establishments are warm inside due to ondol or heaters).

I didn't have enough money to buy another jacket so I just decided to finish my wandering wearing only a shirt and a scarf. I was also too proud to buy a new pair of gloves.

But that was my biggest mistake. It wasn't too long before my body started to feel cold.

With each passing minute, millions of needles seem to prick my entire skin, as I slowly lose sensation in my bare hands.

My breathing became ragged and I started to shiver as I walk slowly around Gangnam.

An hour passed and my entire body was already frigid. I chanced upon a public thermometer and I realized that the temperature plummeted to about 4.4 degrees celsius.

Unable to bear the cold, I ran to the nearest Angel in Us coffee shop and ordered a big cup of searing cappuccino. 

As soon as I took my first sip, warmth spread all over my body. My body, which was almost as cold as ice, started to loosen up. Sip by sip, my body temperature returned to normal. My breathing became normal.

As night fell, the temperature fell even lower to 4 degrees and I couldn't help but be thankful for my temporary shelter for the protection it gave me.

I stayed in the coffe house for about two hours and by then, my body has normalized.

Without a choice, I left the coffee shop and braved the frigid weather heading to the nearest subway station. As soon as I got off, I ran at full speed towards the house I was staying at. There, I savored the warmth of the house, trying to forget the moment, I almost froze to death.

Still without a jacket and gloves, I survived my last day by ordering tall cups of coffee as I stroll around. Every two hours, my body would get really cold and I would grab another cup.

In a city as cold as Seoul, I realized that contrary to what I earlier suspected, the numerous coffee shops. mostly situated side by side, are not just part of a fad. Instead, it's a matter of survival.

I arrived in Seoul, without any passion for coffee.

But by the time I left, it's something I learned to appreciate and respect.


  1. Hi there! I really love Seoul. It's one of those places I would really love to go back to. :)

  2. I agree. Seoul is one of the best cities I have ever seen and visited. And surprisingly, the cost of living is not that high as compared to Tokyo, despite the proximity