My love affair with Intelligentsia coffee began a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine checked in to it on Foursquare, a location-based social network, when he was in Los Angeles on a business trip. That sent me off on a search that was only possible in the information age and I’ve been hooked ever since.
A coffee lover but not an expert, I had never heard of the coffee brand before. The name that I only knew as a term dating back to the Russian communist era was highly intriguing.
After asking my friend about it, he sent me a message on Twitter saying that it is “one of the best coffee places in L.A. now.”
When I asked if there were any places in Seoul where I could try it, one of my followers cut in and told me to “go to Chan’s Espresso Bar in Hongdae [Hongik University area].”
Immediately afterward I rang up my sister, who was visiting Palm Springs, California, at the time, and asked her to visit the coffee house’s Pasadena branch, buy me two bags of beans – the Black Cat classic espresso and the Anjilanaka – and bring them back to me here.
Ever since their arrival a few days later I have started my morning with the Anjilanaka blend, an organic coffee from Bolivia that has a fruity aroma and sour aftertaste.
Then last week I finally paid a visit to Chan’s Espresso. I was disappointed to find that the coffee shop no longer carried Intelligentsia coffee, but I was told by Park Chan-gyu, who owns and runs the place on his own, that the coffee brand is served at Chan’s sister branch, ChansBros, which opened late last year in Itaewon. ChansBros is run by Park’s older brother, whose given name also starts with “Chan.”
|Exterior, top, and interior shots of Chan’s Espresso Bar, located near Hongik University. The shop serves its own roasted blend and Tim Wendelboe coffee, imported from Oslo, Norway. Its sister shop, ChansBros, in Itaewon. serves Intelligentsia coffee. By Seo Ji-eun|
And luckily, my disappointment didn’t last long. Chan’s Espresso serves another quality coffee brand called Tim Wendelboe, which is from a micro roastery of the same name based in Oslo, Norway. Chan’s Espresso also serves a blend that Park buys from a coffee guru living outside Seoul. Still, bags of Intelligentsia and Tim Wendelboe beans were on display and for sale at Chan’s.
Asked if there was any reason why he’d chosen the two foreign coffee brands, Park said nonchalantly that they were the only two out of a dozen brands that agreed to his export offer.
A former photographer, Park wasn’t originally a coffee lover. He said he still isn’t sure if he is crazy about drinking coffee. But this is his first business, which he started in late 2009 when he was on temporary leave from his job, and he said he wanted to do well. He said he is still learning about coffee from the aforementioned guru and that his goal is to one day serve coffee made from beans he has roasted himself.
As part of that goal, he has equipped the shop with expensive, top-notch machines and gadgets – from espresso and drip coffee machines to grinders, water purifiers and a beautiful orange vintage Italian refrigerator.
“It cost me a lot of money to purchase these machines. But I would say it’s just like buying a good racing car in order to get the best record on the track,” he said. “I didn’t buy these machines to earn a huge amount of money. Actually, I’m barely making a profit. But I just love making coffee and talking to my clients, many of whom come from far away just to taste of my coffee.”
Chan’s Espresso lives up to its identity as a coffee bar and serves no other drinks or desserts. It focuses strictly on coffee, just the way Park said he likes it.
Chan’s Espresso Bar
Hours: 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. (last order at 9 p.m.)
Prices: Coffee starts at 5,500 won ($5.06)
Directions: Sangsu Station, line No. 6, exit 1
Address: 409-10 Seogyo-dong, Mapo District, Seoul
Tel: (02) 333-3562
By Seo Ji-eun [firstname.lastname@example.org]