TEA PARTYThe only Starbucks coffee shop in the world without an English sign can be found in Insa-dong, in the center of Seoul. Four Korean characters, Seu Ta Beok Seu, announce the shop's presence. The interior is decorated with Korean traditional masks and the wall is the mud yellow of a traditional Korean house (a far cry from the Starbucks' usual green and wood).
Such is the power of Insa-dong, one of the few places in Seoul that cherishes the past. Everything traditional － food, clothes, alcohol and other knickknacks － can be found there. According to Seoul City Hall, Insa-dong contains 80 antique shops, 66 shops that sell crafts and Korean traditional clothes, 53 shops that specialize in calligraphy, 74 art galleries and 144 traditional teahouses and restaurants.
Teahouses in particular take pride in their authenticity. If you are in Insa-dong, you might want to visit at least one of these teahouses and learn something about Korea's past, rather than just going to yet another Seu Ta Beok Seu.
But which teahouse should you go to? So many of them seem the same.
They aren't the same. Over a couple of recent afternoons, the Joong-Ang Ilbo English Edition selected nine teahouses, mostly chosen at random. We wound up rating them in many characteristics, not the least of which is bathrooms, a significant part of any tea-drinking experience.
by Chun Su-jin