There are aisles in grocery stores stocked solely with instant coffee, which is sold in small packages mixed with prim, which to my understanding is artificial sweetener, and a powdered creamer. Women carry it in their purses and boxes of it are stored in offices.. it's just as necessary as A4 paper or ballpoint pens for workplace production. It's also a popular gift during important holidays, like Lunar New Year and Chuseok. And, as you can imagine, there are endless commercials starring the latest K-pop heartthrob sipping it down seductively.
Coffee shops have also blossomed throughout the country; it's impossible to walk down any street block without coming face-to-face with a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or Tom and Toms. Competition for customers is high so it's not surprising that entrepreneurs have begun to try out creative methods to make their business stand out from the rest. So... what to you get when you mix creativity, competition, and coffee? Themed cafes, of course, and finding them has become my most recent hobby.
I found myself wandering the back alleys of Hongdae recently when I came across an adorably decorated building marked with a sign which identified the place as "Hello Kitty Cafe." Immediately my mind began to conjure up images of Sanrio and its various characters I adored as a child. My instincts told me to go inside, which I did, only to be greeted by a whimsical interior of femininity and lots and lots of pink. This was, in fact, a cafe dedicated to Hello Kitty in every aspect, from the character-shaped chairs to the window panes cut to resemble the famous cat's face.
***See the follow-up post, "Coffee with Character, Part 2" here to read about even more themed cafes in Seoul.