A Place Where Coffee Is More Than Caffeine

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A Place Where Coffee Is More Than Caffeine

An Expensive Cup of Java Leaves No Bitter Aftertaste

You've had your morning coffee, but you're soon heading for another cup to jump-start your day. You don't drink it for the taste. It's a quick fix of caffeine for your midweek crisis at work.

But when you want to relax outside working hours and enjoy the taste of coffee, where can you find a very good cup of your favorite drink? Coffee Mihak (Esthetics of Coffee) in Seoul's upmarket Chongdam-Dong district tries to satisfy that taste - and more.

Since opening Coffee Mihak three years ago, Yeo Jong-hoon and Yoshiko Nagahama have dedicated themselves to making some of the best coffee in town. Mr. Yeo spent three years studying coffee in Tokushima, Japan, under the watchful eye of one of Japan's top brewers and suppliers, Hiroshi Ohara, who has been at it for more than two decades.

According to Mr. Yeo, when Mr. Ohara began his coffee business, the Japanese market was similar to the Korean market now - local people did not know how to appreciate the real taste of coffee, he said.

You may agree, especially if you are a gourmet coffee drinker in Seoul, where most coffee shops serve drinks that leave much to be desired. "Drinking coffee should become a way of life," Ms. Nagahama said.

Coffee Mihak's owners use a secret roasting formula to create their unique blend. Unlike most coffee shops in Seoul, Coffee Mihak does not serve flavored coffee, which, the owners say, is made from "dead beans" that have been sprayed with chemicals. Besides the beans, they say, timing and temperature - as well as the water - are crucial.

To honor their master's touch in producing top-notch coffee, they have added a charming Japanese elegance. The coffee is served in fine bone china cups accompanied by a wasanbon, a traditional sweet that is hard to find even in Japan.

Blueberry cheesecake, green tea chiffon cake and "today's special" at a special price are also favorites with regular customers. More treats are on the way early next year, the owners say. The chef has been studying in Japan and will bring back new menus that will include pasta and pizza and new kinds of cakes.

All of this does not come cheap. Depending on the blend, a cup of coffee costs 5,000 won to 8,000 won, and a top blend costs 10,000 won a cup. The owners know that at the moment this may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they hope to teach people to appreciate what they are offering. "To enjoy the esthetics of coffee, proper education is needed," Mr. Yeo said. He and Ms.Nagahama are offering classes for beginners.

Coffee Mihak's owners are especially proud of their house blend, made from beans from Africa and South America. The deep, rich flavor starts with a bitter-sweet invitation, stays smooth all the way and leaves a lingering, satisfying aftertaste. To enjoy the full, original flavor, Coffee Mihak suggests white cane sugar. The owners say that brown, coffee-flavored rock sugar can affect the subtle taste.

Coffee Mihak is an impressive establishment where every cup of coffee is meticulously prepared every time. The outdoors area features comfortable seating under parasols, while the indoor area has red pinewood walls beneath a high ceiling. The chalet-like atmosphere enhances and underlines the pleasure of the coffee. The beans are roasted twice a week, and the tantalizing aroma drifts through the shop.

Mr. Yeo and Ms. Nagahama aim to make Coffee Mihak a home for people who appreciate the art of making coffee and for those who simply enjoy the taste.

Coffee Mihak is at 96-6 Chongdam-Dong, Kangnam-Ku, behind the Gucci store. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. 02-3444-0770.

by Ines Cho

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