Such habits are easy to break when I'm out and about, as temptation calls my name from just about every bakery and snack stall that I walk past. Which is why I was delighted to find Tea Therapy (티테라피) on a recent jaunt to Samcheongdong. Tucked away on a side street, Tea Therapy is a respite from the crowded alleys of the touristic neighborhood and promises visitors a healing experience unlike any other conventional restaurant can.
Upon entering Tea Therapy, one instantly feels at ease in the airy, high-ceilinged dining room. An abundance of natural light highlights the ceramics organized neatly on shelves and the striking hangul tapestries that hang on the wall.
After taking a few steps further into Tea Therapy, it becomes clear that this is not just your average restaurant. Lining the counter is an array of herbs, most unbeknown to me, displayed in small bottles and decorated with tags identifying themselves as healing teas. Along with the names of the herbal concoctions are descriptions of their purposes: stress reduction, stamina inducing, cold prevention, weight loss and hangover-curing.
It should be noted here that these blends aren't just thrown together by any old barista. The owner of Tea Therapy is, in fact, a certified Oriental medicine doctor, who places great emphasis on creating his own brews, concentrating on the ingredients while maintaining a nice balance of flavor and aroma. His medical background is only substantiated by the enormous cubby of herbs, roots and dried fruits behind the counter, a storage unit commonly found in Oriental medicine shops.
I settled on the lunch special (7,000 won/ $7USD), offered on weekdays from 11:30am to 2pm, and was given the option of choosing curry rice, flying fish roe rice, taco rice or a BLT as my entrée. The server recommended the taco rice, which I ordered. I'm always a bit hesitant of eating Mexican food in a non-Mexican restaurant here in Korea, but the dish, consisting of a generous portion of rice topped with ground beef, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and tortilla chip bits, was pretty good. It was served with a side of radish-miso soup- an odd pairing- and some perfectly spiced pickled radishes that I desperately wanted to request seconds of. Although the meal was good, I didn't find it particularly healthy.
What was healthy were the teas that came with the set. There are two daily self-serve teas and both offer medicinal benefits. The gyepi daechu (cinnamon jujube) option, served at room temperature, had a subtle spiciness to it but wasn't overpowering, as most cinnamon teas usually are. I slurped it down, hoping its anti-stress and anti-fatigue properties would kick in quickly. I followed it up with the hot doraji (bellflower root) blend, a common treatment for coughs.
Yet, the most memorable part of the lunch set was the foot bath that followed it. Yes, a foot bath. In a restaurant. Or, outside the restaurant, to be more precise. The servers explain how to use the faucet to control the temperatures and give you the option of adding a medicinal mixture to your bath to either improve blood circulation or decrease stress for an additional 5,000 won ($5USD). The bath can be used by all patrons but is limited to twenty minutes to keep other customers from waiting for too long. I quite enjoyed my few moments of peace, and it was only slightly awkward when tourists walked past and took pictures of me.
I felt so relaxed after my healing lunch and revitalizing foot bath that I actually walked out the restaurant without paying. Fortunately, the servers calmly chased after me instead of calling the police.
Tea Therapy is a healthy alternative to the over-sugared cafes and dessert shops that Samcheongdong is otherwise known for. Consider it for lunch or simply a pit stop to rest and enjoy a revitalizing cup of tea while exploring the neighborhood and checking out the beautiful hanoks of Bukchon Village.
Hours: Open daily 10am-10pm; Lunch 11:30am-2pm
Address: 6-1 Anguk-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Website: Click here
Telephone: 02-518-7506, 02-518-7507
Directions: From Exit 1 of Anguk Station (Seoul subway Line 3), turn right. Turn onto the road between Starbucks and Amandier. Walk straight for about 5 minutes until you reach the end of the road. At the fork at the end of the road, veer right and walk straight. Tea Therapy will be on your right.
Gangnam Location: Ago Building 1F, 616-6 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 135-894
Map: From Anguk Station exit 1 to Tea Therapy:
Disclaimer: The information above is accurate as of September 17, 2014.
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.