“Ongojishin,” a Korean idiom meaning “learn from the old to know the new,” also applies to the burgeoning coffee scene here.
The cafe trend here was once dominated by sleek, trendy cafes that offered a decent cup of joe, something that’s not too watery or not too burnt.
Now more cafes are creating their own, unique tastes and offering a whole new cafe experience by incorporating with Korea’s traditional taste and culture.
Ongozisin is one example, offering blended tea at a coffee house where a harmonious mix of aromas attracts visitors.
This small cafe on a sequestered alley near Nakseongdae Station on Subway Line No. 2, creates a rustic vibe where you can enjoy both tea and coffee, not to mention the Korean-style desserts.
An old two-story house has been renovated to create the cafe. On the first floor, a row of Korean traditional cups and mugs and tea making tools are displayed along a long stonework counter.
Orders are taken and drinks are made here. The second floor is filled with light-hued wooden furniture and tatami-style seating with bamboo mats on chairs.
All eight varieties of tea at Ongozisin are uniquely blended. Fresh minty green tea Ongo No. 1 and mild ginger and peppermint blend Ongo No. 2 are steady sellers. For those who want a refreshing drink -- all teas here can be served with ice -- tropical aroma-filled Ongo No. 3, fruity sweet Zisin No.1 and cherry and mixed fruit-style Zisin No. 2 are good options.
Nutty tasting Zisin No. 3 is a pleasant surprise for those whose experience with tea is limited to just green and black tea. Ongozisin’s unique tea bags can be ordered at its website as well.
If tea is not your thing, then try coffee here that has also uniquely added a Korean taste.
Ongozisin’s flagship coffee is Nurungji Jocheong latte, which is basically a coffee mixed with Korean traditional grain syrup and topped with a sugar-coated crust of scorched rice, is a must for those who want something sweet but still coffee.
This is not the sweetness of the heavy, syrup-filled vanilla lattes you find in major coffee franchises: Jocheong goes down more easily, and the crunchiness of nurungji provides a pleasure in itself. It’s like enjoying coffee and dessert at the same time.
As for desserts, try the signature Ongo bread that’s available throughout the year. It’s a mochi-style bread with three different fillings: sweetcorn, black sesame and green tea.
Seasonal desserts include Ongo ice, a summer time dessert that is based on the chewy injeolmi rice cake filled with cold meringue. Emphasizing the chewiness of this dessert are crunchy black sesame chips that are sprinkled on top of the rice cakes.
Ongozisin opens every day from noon until 10 p.m.
There are two other Ongozisin outlets in Seoul -- one near Express Bus Terminal Station on Subway Line No. 3 and another near Sindorim Station on Subway Line No. 2.
Seoul has over 25,000 cafes with many opening and closing each year. The Korea Herald visits unique cafes in Seoul that satisfy people’s tastes for both coffee and atmosphere with the aim of experiencing coffee drinking as a culture. – Ed.