A boom in South Korean TV dramas featuring unrealistic yet addictive stories of romance has been spreading over China. As most of the romantic scenes, kisses and confessions of love in the dramas happen in cafés, it has evoked an enthusiasm for Korean-style cafés in Shanghai.
In the hit show “Secret Garden” (2010), heroine Gil Ra Im is shown with foam on her lips after taking a sip of cappuccino.
Soulful hero Kim Joo Won, holding her chin in his hand, wipes the foam off and kisses her.
In “Gentleman’s Dignity,” first shown in 2012, heroine Seo Yi Soo stands outside a café, staring through the glass window at hero Kim Do Jin sitting inside.
Seo brings her lips to the glass, expressing her love through a lipstick kiss on the window.
“It’s hard to judge the authenticity of Korean cafés due to a lack of common standards. What makes them distinctive is more about ambience,” says Hyun Dong Kwon, a 19-year-old South Korean student in Shanghai.
But Coco Zhang, a Chinese keen on Korean culture, doesn’t agree, saying that the name, decór, coffee, food and even the waiters’ uniforms are obvious giveaways of a café’s Korean genes.
“A café’s name, without exception, is intentionally completely non-Korean, the more Western the better — for example MANGOSIX, Zoo Coffee and Caffébene,” Zhang says.
Cai Jin, a Korean drama lover who studied Korean culture for years, thinks history matters in Korean style.
“I personally think such Westernized names are partly due to South Korea’s being culturally influenced by America for a long time. Cafés becomes a sign of Western culture admired by South Korea’s younger generations,” Cai explains.
That partly explains why coffee dominates South Korea, which doesn’t have a historical coffee-drinking tradition. In Seoul, cafés far outnumber restaurants.
Most of the Korean-style cafés have a spacious and bright contemporary decór. Chandeliers and lace tablecloths add a romantic and slightly feminine touch.
The boutique-style ambience also makes Korean cafés distinctive although many cafés in Shanghai are chain stores.
“Each shop has its own theme, from tropical jungle to zoo, from chimpanzee to log cabin,” says Zhang.
Servers’ sexy uniforms feature Korean-style fashions, represented by skinny white shirts with the top two buttons unfastened and black aprons.
Coffees are generally the same as those in America and Europe, except that some are lattes with distinctive Asian flavors such as sweet pumpkin, misugaru (consisting of black sesame seeds, black bean, black rice and barley), taro and yam.
Besides coffee, these cafés serve some Korean drinks like aloe honey iced tea, pomelo soda and red bean sorbet.
Most of the foods in the cafés are Western yet not served in an authentic Western way, especially waffles and toast.
Generally, three to four pieces of waffle are served in a big plate together with two scoops of ice cream (usually chocolate and vanilla), two egg rolls and a half of sliced banana topped by a layer of caramel sugar. Toast is hollowed out and filled with either ice cream or cinnamon flavor cream.
Some cafés stick to traditional Korean flavors, serving spicy rice cakes and deep fried chicken wings and pork chops.
Korean Café in Shanghai preserves the authenticity of style yet varies slightly according to location. Many are in Hongqiao and Gubei, two areas with the largest number of Korean expatriates. Cafés there are authentic, copying every detail from South Korea.
Some in the former French concession are adapted to the locale to some extent, combining a café and wine bar.
The loft-style café is designed as a childlike and playful jungle zoo. Sculptures of dolphins leaping out of the water form its front door arch.
A giraffe sculpture five meters high inside is notable. Walls are painted with lions, elephants and night owls. Horse and zebra sculptures, both around two meters high, are at the corner. Parrot toys are placed on chandeliers, making them look like they are flying in the sky. Banana leafs divide seating, ensuring customers’ privacy.
Customers can see and hear animals created by a slide projected on the wall. The staircase wall is covered with giraffe toys in various sizes made from various materials.
There’s also a counter inside selling animal toys. Some of their coffees are overly sweet, and there is a lack of variety in the foods.
Must-orders: Oreo sorbet (drink is topped with a thick layer of cream and flavored by chocolate sauce); matcha latte, Belgian waffles (served with cream and jam)
The café, a bright and spacious two-floor loft with floor-to-ceiling windows, makes visitors feel like they’re on a road trip across the world.
License plates of different countries, from China to the United Kingdom, are used as their food trays. The staircase wall going up to the second floor is covered with photos from all over the world.
The backs of the sofas on the second floor are painted with various national flags. A wall of books in different languages and a vintage telephone designed like SpongeBob Squarepants stops you in your tracks. The café also functions as a wine bar.
Must-orders: Pumpkin latte (with a distinctive, sweet aroma), spicy rice cakes (the cakes are filled with cheese so that each bite has a rich texture), bulgogi pizza (topped with Korean barbecue), chocolate banana waffles, spicy herb potatoes (French fries with a spicy Korean touch)
Initial Restaurant & Wine
The café is in a glass house under the parasol trees. Although its owner is from Hong Kong, the style is typically Korean, represented by a crystal chandelier, white lace tablecloths and curtains, and baroque-style wooden chairs.
Servers dressed up in Korean styles are appealing. There are five outdoor seats that are recommended for sunny days. The establishment is known for their flavored coffees, especially some that have liqueur added.
All of their coffees can be served both hot and iced. Foods combine Asian with European influences.
Must-orders: Black-and-white chocolate coffee (presented as stripes of white alternating with stripes of black in the glass; flavors are balanced when blended), lychee espresso (slightly sour lychee liqueur balances the deep flavor of the coffee and gives the taste more complexity), mushroom cappuccino (it’s actually a mushroom soup with foam featuring a creative presentation), seafood pasta (they use a small sea-colored enamel pot to serve the food, ensuring both the serving temperature and presentation), pot plant drink (with milk covered with a layer of “soil” made from crushed nuts, pistachio and Oreo cookies)
Wooden tables and chairs together with green plants create a natural atmosphere. Coffee is their highlight. Coffee beans are from Brazil, Bolivia and Zimbabwe.
The owner medium-roasts the beans first and then blends them to preserve the original flavor. Waffles and gelato are their signature foods.
Must-orders: Latte, green grape mojito (non-alcoholic drink with a fresh taste), waffles with cream, deep fried pork chops
That romantic kiss on the window in the South Korean drama is shot at a MANGOSIX Seoul branch. The bright and spacious loft café has the ambience of tropical beach, filled with straw sofas, beach sunshades, green plants and replicas of coconut trees.
A cute chimpanzee in the shop is an attraction, and is said to be the café spokesperson.
Korean drama lovers insist on ordering their blue lemonade soda just as Seo Yi Soo did in the drama as she waited for her love. The café is known for using quality Hawaiian Kona coffee beans to brew coffee. Their iced drinks made from mango also are a highlight.
Must-orders: Blue lemonade soda (with a refreshing taste and a charming bright sea color created by adding Curaçao Liqueur), mocha, latte, mango coconut milk (balanced sweet and sour flavor), fruit waffles (topped with banana, kiwi and mango, featuring a light and fresh taste), mango flavor tree cakes
The café is decorated like a dreamy fairytale. It’s in a log cabin with an outdoor corridor covered with flowers and with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Bare brick walls, shelves of books and a chandelier with tree branches wound around it make customers feel like they’re in a forest. After customers place their orders, they will get a cute bear toy in varied colors as a receipt.
Seats on the second floor and those in the outdoor corridor with sunshades are recommended.
Some of their waffles and the toast are served in a set, which is recommended as an option for Sunday brunch.
Must-orders: American coffee, hazelnut caramel latte, cheese waffles (filled with cheese, making each bite less dry; it’s served with blackberry jam, honey and fresh cream), waffle set (four slices of waffle served with fresh greens, sweet corn, bacon and sausage)