June 25, 2013 by travelinggrits
In England, the tea tradition has stood the test of time. Placards advertise scones and crumpets on street corners, and during a week-long vacay there I made it a habit to take a three-o-clock tea pit stop.
I expected a similar practice here: calm cups of tea with rice cakes on porcelain saucers in the afternoon. During my orientation program, I even took a one-time crash course on the art of the tea ceremony, hoping to impress esteemed company.
However, at my homestay the tea set stays in a glass case like a family’s finest wedding china, never used. Sure, tea houses do exist, but they are usually pricey, polished establishments normally visited as a special treat. A nice container of dried tea leaves can cost upwards of 30,000 won.
Korea’s tastes have shifted to a new caffeine supply: coffee.
Some say the infatuation with coffee started after the Korean drama “Coffee Prince.” Others say it comes out of need for a meeting place, particularly for young adults who still live at home. There seems to be a coffee shop on almost every corner, and a variety of thriving brands to boot:
Tom N Toms
A Twosome Place
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
And these are just the main ones. There’s plenty of smaller chains and mom-and-pop establishments, all battling to serve up a fresh Americano. It also seems that each of these offers its own specialty snack items to accompany hot or cold beverages, whether it be a soft pretzel or a waffle topped with ice cream.
At home or the office, Koreans rarely brew their own coffee; they prefer a prepackaged single serving mix, using saturated with sugar and cream crystals. Almost anytime you meet someone new, they are quick to thrust a cup of this fine blood sugar booster into your hands. I’ve managed to politely refuse or fake-sip my way through the year.
I like the coffee shop atmosphere, but I generally balk at the prices. Nevertheless, there is one thing that is drawing me to coffee shops these days… Patbingsu.
A delicious, refreshing concoction little-known outside Korea, patbingsu is essentially a pile of delicately shaved ice doused with condensed milk and covered with a mound of ice cream and assorted toppings, anything from cereal flakes to mixed fruit to pieces of rice cake. Coffee shops offer variations from cookies and cream to berry to coffee to green tea, but the original flavor is sweet red bean.
Charging upwards of eight dollars for dessert might sound ridiculous, but not when you see the punch bowl of a dish that is brought out to you; count on two or three sharing. But if you’re like me, you won’t be putting your spoon down until you’ve scraped the bottom.
And thanks to the Korean coffee shop craze, that’s the fix I’m craving.