Several years ago, I have followed an acquaintance along a shady alley and found a hidden gem, Coffee Hanyakbang. It now has become an “it” place and I can rarely get a seat. When I heard that it has branched out into dessert, though, I went to check out. The owner surely does keep one step ahead of the trend. He has brought the butter cake of 1970s back to life. Hyemindang’s desserts do taste good — they do Taegeukdang (one of the nation’s most storied bakeries), dare I say, better than themselves – but the showcase at the entrance alone can stir up the treasured moments from my childhood deep down in the memory.
Entrance of Coffee Hanyakbang. A sign reminds visitors that this is the former location of Hyeminseo, where Joseon Dynasty’s most prominent physician Jun Hur treated patients. A signpost of Euljiro Building that was built on the site in 1970s and a vintage-style chandelier. And an old wall that brings all these into line.
Hand-drip coffee bar
An assemblage of cabinet fronts inlaid with mother-of-pearl, thought out of fashion and thrown away in 1980s, now adds character to the counter wall.
White tiles, stained glass and an old telephone. Once familiar objects but now rarely seen. Next to the Dutch coffee maker is an antique chest that looks like a cabinet for Oriental medicinal herbs or a library’s bookplate storage.
If you are lucky, you can observe them roast the beans. The aroma is utterly delightful but brace yourself for a smoky fume.
Dessert specialist Hyemindang in front of Coffee Hanyakbang. Probably an homage to Hyeminseo.
A display case that harks back the memory of a bakery shop owner that made a rose blossom or wrote a message expertly squeezing and unsqueezing a pipe filled with buttercream.
More modern takes including tiramisu, cream puffs, tarts and fromage on display.
Flower-patterned wallpaper and furniture, 1920’s style lighting reminiscent of a tea house in Hong Kong. Cakes and desserts must be made on the spot in the kitchen seeing from the syrups and liquors for baking neatly lined up.
A cup of coffee from Coffee Hanyakbang, a cream puff and a slice of cake. This is how the afternoon in central Seoul changes.