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Napoli-style coffee in Seoul

Leesar’s Neapolitan-inspired espresso lands in Cheongdam

March 6, 2021 - 16:00 By Jean Oh
At Leesar Coffee Roasters’ latest espresso nook, customers lay their receipts down in the front of the barista, who then expertly pulls shots from a semi-automated espresso machine (Photo credit: Jean Oh/The Korea Herald)
In the morning, caffeine-seeking early birds stroll into Leesar Coffee Roasters’ latest espresso nook and put in their orders at the counter.

Those in the know swiftly lay their receipts down in the front of the barista, who then expertly pulls shots from a semi-automated espresso machine.

Once extraction is complete, the barista sets tiny steaming cups of caffeine next to their corresponding receipts, passing off tips if needed, for instance, if the brew should be stirred a specific number of times before imbibing.

Each little cup will set one back no more than 1,500 won ($1.33) to 4,000 won which may tempt one to tip back several, so long as the barista is not overtaxed and one can handle the multiple hits of caffeine.

It does not help that you can pick from a total of seven espresso variations, including variations which sport alluring names like Oneroso and Pieno.

The vibe is distinct. The coffee is potent and it clearly works.

Leesar Coffee Roasters opened their second location in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, in February. (Photo credit: Jean Oh/The Korea Herald)
This is Leesar’s second location.

“We drew inspiration from the Napoli-style coffee bar,” owner Lee Min-sub, 33, explained the unique atmosphere behind his successful roaster-cafe. “This is my interpretation.”

Lee remembered when it all started.

He was reading a newspaper article when stumbled across a quote that stated the tastiest coffee and espresso was in Naples.

Intrigued, he started researching, which included a trip to Naples, before opening Leesar Coffee in Sangwangsimni, eastern Seoul, in 2012.

He then moved to Yaksu-dong in central Seoul about six years later.

As he settled in, he grew a fan base of devotees and this February, he opened his second location in southern Seoul‘s Cheongdam-dong.

The latest location reads like a swanky, old school cafe with wood, gold and marble accents.

There are seats for those who want to take their time and standing bar tables for those who want to tip their espresso back in the customary three sips and head out.

It has many of the components that define a typical Neapolitan coffee bar -- intense hand-pulled espressos served with sugar, standing options and affordable pricing. 

Leesar’s caffe Strapazzato features of full shot of espresso, cream and cacao powder. (Photo credit: Jean Oh/The Korea Herald)
One will find variations like caffe Strapazzato, the name of which might strike a chord for those who have been to Naples’ Gran Caffe Gambrinus and ordered it there.

At Leesar, the Strapazzato is a full shot of espresso with cream and cacao powder . 

Leesar’s caffe Pieno packs a sweet wallop with its combination of piping hot espresso, cream and cacao powder. (Photo credit: Jean Oh/The Korea Herald)
Then there are other variations, from his caffe Pieno, like a smaller version of the Strapazzato, with its dusting of cacao powder, to his Oneroso, with its dairy on dairy combination of cream and milk foam, served in a clear glass and best enjoyed stirred.

At Leesar, classics like espresso, macchiato and cappuccino are also found.

All the coffee for Leesar’s espresso is roasted at the Yaksu-dong location. (Photo credit: @leesarcoffee)
For the beans, instead of going for Kimbo or Passalacqua, which one will find at many a coffee bar in Naples, Lee and his team roast all the beans for Leesar at their Yaksu-dong location.

To achieve the ideal flavor profile for Leesar’s house blend dark, Lee said he sticks to a blend which is composed predominantly of beans from Brazil and a small proportion of beans from Ethiopia to create a brew that is even more “nutty and chocolatey” if sugar is added, according to Leesar’s official website.

At the moment, one can only enjoy these brews at the cafe but Lee says plans are to make take-out available in early April. Beans, however, can be purchased to go. 

Leesar Coffee Cheongdam Store

113-13 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

(010) 9646-5538;; @leesarcoffee

Open 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays

Espresso-based coffee costs 1,500 won to 4,000 won, beans cost 13,000 won for 200 grams

By Jean Oh (