I make chocolate by hand in a rural town outside of Seoul, South Korea.
Korea’s certainly not the first place you think of when you dream of rich, melty chocolate, but it should come to mind. I have lived and worked here for well over a year, and sometimes I need a break from the monotony. So I head to Seoul to eat someone else’s chocolate. Beyond the traditional European imports and cheap sweets, Seoul’s variety of fine foods and chocolates is immense. French-trained chocolatiers and self-taught chocolate makers are carving out reputations for themselves throughout Korea.
Though sometimes well-known in Korea, these chocolate masters are not so easy to find if you’re unfamiliar with chocolate culture. Some of them spell their names in English a bit differently, or are only searchable in Korean. You will not see Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on this list. Gone are the Godivas and Royces and Sees Candies. This is home-grown fine chocolate, at your service.
If you already know where you’re headed, click on a neighborhood in the table of contents or scroll down to the map and zoom in on your destination.
Table of Contents
Itaewon & HBC
Itaewon is often used generally to refer to the foreigner district of Seoul and all of its immigrant residents and imported foods. This is where I go for my fix of most any international product or cuisine imaginable, though the chocolate scene is unfortunately largely imported. Only a few chocolate masters find their base here, but each one is worth a peek & a nibble. Itaewon is a neighborhood in Yongsan-gu, which also encompasses the neighborhoods of Hannam and Bogwang.
Concentrated espresso hits your nose as soon as you walk into this elevator-sized coffee bar. Featuring strikingly colorful La Vie en Coco Chocolates, as well as coffees to go, Reply is a nice quick stop for a box of bonbons and a cold brew. The shop is the result of a collaboration between 3 small businesses working to share the benefits of a retail space. Only just opened in the summer of 2017, they boast a small coffee menu and four constantly changing flavors of chocolates. When I last visited, the selection was Orange Earl Grey, Classic Dark, Vanilla Milk, and Peppermint, with the winner for me being the Orange Earl Grey. The owner is sweet, and knowledgeable about coffee, though she doesn’t speak much English.
Address: 6 Usadan-ro, Bogwang-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Itaewon, Exit 3
Hours & Prices: 12-8pm, weekdays & 12-6pm, weekends (₩2500 per bonbon)
Years of espressos have permeated this massive shop to the point that I don’t even need to order coffee to stay caffeinated. From hot chocolate samplers to fluffy cakes and decadent truffles, Coco Bruni is a chocolate-lover’s paradise. My go-to is a cream latte, but I’ve also been known to enjoy the Single Estate Saint-Domingue, a liquid dark chocolate bar with balanced bitterness and muted fruit. Most of their treats are on the sweeter side, including their light macarons and my favorite bonbons: the Double Raspberry and the Passion Fruit. The small cafe chain has several locations at the moment, and each one is packed on weekend nights, though relatively calm before noon. Bonus: it’s open before most of the coffee shops, and there’s seating for 50-60 people.
Address: 683-136 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Hangangjin, Exit 3
Hours & Prices: 9am-midnight, daily (₩2500 per bonbon)
One gelato cart greets you at the door, and four chairs line the table against the wall, but as you walk further suddenly two dozen truffles line the display case in front of you. Cacao Boom is one of the oldest— and I believe one of the best— chocolate shops in Korea. Fourteen years ago, the proprietor & head chocolatier Go Youngjoo opened one shop, and later another. The staff is very friendly and the lighting is great, though most importantly, the chocolates are worth hunting down. Their chocolate bars and decadent truffles are ones I keep coming back to, and not just because they source fine French chocolate as their base material. My personal favorites from their vast collection are the Silky Boom (praline ganache) & the Tea-ticaca (earl grey ganache), though nothing I’ve tried has been less than delicious. They also sell chocolate recipe books authored by the owner, in Korean, and chocolate salami.
Address: 648 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Noksapyeong, Exit 2
Hours & Prices: noon-11pm, daily (₩1800-2500 per bonbon)
Famed for the 2012 hit Gangnam Style by Psy, which I still don’t quite understand even after moving to Korea, Gangnam is a region of Seoul whose name means “south of the river.” It is known for its nightlife, and expensive shopping in the streets and malls, as well as it’s fine food. Gangnam-gu encompasses the neighborhoods of Sinsa, Apgujeong, Cheongdam, Samseong, and Yeoksam.
The first time I went to Cacao Bean, I found it necessary to professionally taste each of the ten bonbons we ordered, and rate them on a numerical scale. This quickly melted into a frenzy, and picking a favorite was impossible. Everything was so impressively flavorful, and none were too sweet, a trap that many Korean chocolates fall into. The two which merited perfect tens were the Yuzu and the Dominique. Their current offering of 19 ganaches and pralines includes other inventive flavors such as the Dulcey Caramel (like a cooked, fluffy caramel with substance) and the Casablanca (Morrocan mint tea with bergamot). The French-style shop stays true to its inspiration by using Valrhona chocolate, offering hot chocolates & macarons, and inviting patrons inside with bright Parisian decor. These are the ganaches I would strive to make in my own shop one day.
Address: 544-28 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Apgujeong, Exit 4
Hours & Prices: 11am-9pm, daily (₩2500 per bonbon)
Down an alley in Gangnam, the shops surrounding Haas Chocolate Atelier don’t exactly scream fancy food store. Yet I recommend you take a look, anyway. The shop sells macarons, truffles, and cute flavored chocolate bars, all made using Valrhona and Felchin chocolates. I had a whole box of twelve of their flavors and enjoyed it thoroughly, though I confess that this won’t be my first stop next time I head to Gangnam. They are only open on weekdays, but that’s because they also offer classes in chocolatiering for kids and adults (Korean language-only). If you’re in the neighborhood I recommend you try my favorite flavors: the Noisette Craquant and the Praliné au Miel. The owner is friendly and speaks some English.
Address: 19 Samseong-ro103gil, Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Samseong Jung-ang, Exit 7
Hours & Prices: 11am-7pm, Mon.-Fri. (₩2500 per bonbon)
Piaf’s are some of the few chocolate truffles recommended to me by a local chocolate maker. This is not my personal favorite chocolate shop in Seoul, since there’s nowhere to sit and the shop can be tough to find. But once you arrive, it’s a seamless in-and-out sort of scenario. Piaf offers elegant French-style truffles with high-class aesthetic, and the staff speaks basic English. They also maintain a wide selection of luxurious chocolate bars and gift items, and sell hot chocolate in the warmer months (ask for chocolat chaud). My favorite flavors are the Caramel et Passion (subtle melty passion fruit in milk chocolate) & Figue et Porto (tiny bits of fig mixed with a red-wine imbued dark chocolate); the truffles really are fantastic. No coffee menu, at present.
Address: 523-31 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Sinsa, Exit 6
Hours & Prices: 11am-7:30pm, Mon.-Sat. (₩2500 per bonbon)
~Gangnam is also home to another location of Coco Bruni (9am-10:30pm, weekdays & 9am-10:30, weekends). Follow the link to see a Google Map of the location.~
Hongdae is my haunt when I’m in Seoul, and it’s my personal choice for any self-guided chocolate tours of Seoul. Check out the map at the bottom of the page to plot out your itinerary. The university area is a hub for Seoul nightlife and the home to several of Korea’s preeminent educational institutions, as well as many of it’s student-oriented stores, eateries, and guest houses. In addition to Hongdae, Mapo-gu encompasses the neighborhoods of Hapjeong, Mangwon, Yeonnam, and Sangsu.
Like most places that last for the long haul in Korea, 17Dossi— meaning “17°C” in Korean— is completely instagramable. From the all-white tables that backdrop boxes of bonbons to the display case in the counter, white is the theme of choice. The flavors of their chocolates range from Honey Chestnut to Passion Fruit or Mojito. 17 sports a modest coffee and chocolate drinks menu, as well as a chocolate bingsu (shaved ice) special. Honestly, their truffles are good and the ambiance really is nice, but I keep coming back for their earl grey hot chocolate, even fifteen minutes before closing. It tastes like a sweet melted earl grey ganache, thinned out with steamed whole milk. It’s scrumptious on a chilling winter evening, or poured over ice in the summer. Even if you can’t snag one of the two dozen chairs, stop by for a cup of hot chocolate.
Address: 38 Donggyo-ro 29-gil, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Hongdae, Exit 3
Hours & Prices: 11am-10pm, daily (₩2500 per bonbon; ₩7000 for Earl Grey Hot Chocolate)
Tucked away in a corner of Hongdae is international award-winning chocolate maker Cacao Dada. Boasting bars made with cacao from Peru, Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominica, and Ghana— whew!— the shop also sells coffee & chocolate drinks, as well as cacao nibs & beans. My chocolate chip cookies didn’t even make it a block before I broke into & finished off the bag. You can even see his bean to bar chocolate making operation from the sitting area. If you decide to pick up a cookie or some caramels, check their Instagram feed for a hint on what new flavors they’re working on. The owner might not speak much English, but he is always coming up with something new and beautiful, and the open design of his cafe reflects that. I only wish I could bottle up & sell the chocolate smell constantly wafting from his creations!
Address: 15 Huiujeong-ro 10-gil, Mangwon 1(il)-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Mangwon, Exit 2
Hours & Prices: noon-9pm, Tue.-Sat. (₩12000 per 80g bar)
Situated on the second floor of a nondescript building in Hongdae is a parliament of owls. These birds are molded out of chocolate & individually-wrapped after being tempered by a hand in a tiny chocolate shop. Among the owls are also nestled a variety of bars and barks, as well as baggies of chocolate pearls, and boxes of bonbons. The owner, a chocolatier with over seven years of experience, has 4 flavors are regularly on offer, though the full range of 10 is available around Valentine’s Day. She was sold out of truffles when I appeared just before closing, but the chocolate owls I bought were yummy. Although only open Friday through Sunday, I found Bittersweet9’s owner to be sweet and the treats to be an affordable luxury.
Address: #201, 20 Deunggyo-ro 30-gil, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Hongdae, Exit 3
Hours & Prices: 1-7pm, Fri.-Sun. (₩3500 per owl)
Among the scant number of Korean craft chocolate makers is a coffee roaster. Relatively new to the scene, this master offers six origins of bean to bar chocolate, as well as bags of freshly-roasted coffee. The retail space is truly tiny, but they prominently display their wares, and freely offer samples of each chocolate, an 80g bar of which comes in at ₩15000. Stop in and try some of their award-winning Costa Rica bar, or grab a little bar as a present. They also offer beautiful boxes for sets of 4 small bars.
Address: 33 Wausan-ro 3-gil, Dangin-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Sangsu, Exit 4
Hours & Prices: 10am-7pm, weekdays & 1-7pm, weekends (₩14000 per 80g bar)
I’ve never been in a cafe that gives off more cozy Parisian cafe vibes than this tiny shop, and I’ve been to Paris— twice. The owner’s face welcomes you inside, smiling from behind a display case of hand-rolled truffles. Next, a cup of classic drinking chocolate finds its way into your hands, chosen from the small selection of teas and coffees. Tae Hee Lee (이태희), the owner of Chocolatique, crafts each of her rotating flavors herself. From Raspberry Rose to Bitter Coffee, my favorite is a tie between the Cinnamon Milk and the Himalayan Salty Caramel. Also on offer are chocolate-covered nuts and nibs, and three types of melty, chewy caramels. I wish I could order these caramels for delivery. The owner just opened in September 2017, after ten years working at a premier pastry shop in Gangnam, and speaks conversational English.
Address: Yeonhaedong130-13, Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Hongdae, Exit 3
Hours & Prices: noon-9pm, Tue.-Sun. (varies by weight; ~₩1600 per bonbon)
Though Seoul is not solely comprised of Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae, sometimes it seems like it is. Not living in the city, much of my time in Seoul is spent in one of the aforementioned locations, and I’m sure many other expats and tourists feel the same. But Seoul is massive, and the tasty, tasty beauty of her food is not limited to the center. In other neighborhoods of Seoul are some tasty treats, including one of my favorite cafes in Korea.
This is still one of the most positive experiences I have ever had in a chocolate shop, and I’ve been to many dozens. Open since July 2017, Vida Feliz is located in an almost residential neighborhood dotted with high rises. Using Swiss chocolate to make their macarons, cakes, hot chocolate sticks and bonbons, the small shop’s treats have taken on a life of their own. The nutty Vips bonbon is a play on commercial Crunky bars, while the sweet Coconut is a ganache coated with desiccated coconut. My favorite is the Raspberry Truffle, featuring a generous layer of patê de fruit. This newer kid on the block also offers a range of chocolate- and espresso-based drinks, with seating for eight. Vida’s 8-flavor portfolio changes on a monthly basis, and I look forward to tasting it continually grow. The staff all seem genuinely excited to be there, and are happy to answer any questions using their limited English.
Address: 188-108, Mapodae-ro11gil, Gongdeok-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Gongdeok, Exit 4
Hours & Prices: 10am-9pm, Mon.-Sat. (₩2500 per bonbon)
Mirabeau reminds me of a cozy log cabin, with lots of natural light & plenty of photo-ops, but with a classy face lift. The whole shop opens up when you enter, thanks to white walls and the attention-grabbing chocolate display case. With nearly 20 different options stacked in two rows, the bonbons & truffles leave just enough room to show off the macarons & chocolate-covered nuts at the end. My favorite of their myriad of flavors are the Cinnamon and the Earl Grey, though admittedly I’m a sucker for classic combinations. They maintain a good variety of drink options and of chocolates in their collection, with strong, clear flavors. Their lattes are bitter, their wifi’s stable, and they have two (small) levels of seating, a luxury in Seoul. You can’t miss Mirabeau, and not just because of the famous chicken soup restaurant across the street.
Address: 34 Chebu-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Gyeongbokgung, Exit 2
Hours & Prices: 10am-9pm, daily (₩2500 per bonbon)
In the touristy area of Gyeongbok palace, this tiny shop on the main road attracts eyes mostly thanks to its berry red exterior. It has a few locations, but I don’t think the quality is worth showing them off here. Inside is a case of a couple dozen flavors of chocolates, not all in stock at the same time & individually-wrapped. When I went, it was only on the third try that one of the chocolates I was interested in was available, and when I got home I wasn’t impressed with it. However, the “fresh chocolate” I tried tastes like brownies, and are worth ordering a couple of. The shop also boasts a menu of chocolate drinks and coffee, and some educational material on chocolate production. The staff is nice and speaks English, though there’s not much space to sit.
Address: 147-9, Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Gyeongbokgung, Exit 2
Hours & Prices: 10:30am-9:30pm, Mon.-Sat. & 11am-7pm, Sun. (₩1800 per bonbon)
Founded in early 2015 on the basis of educating the Korean public about chocolate and it’s origins, P.Chokko is one of the more unique chocolate shops in Seoul. Here, brothers Jon & Dan hold seminars, available in English by request, on chocolate making & cacao growing. They put an emphasis on Venezuela, where they were raised. Their current offerings include bags of El Rey Venezuelan chocolate, their line of flavored bars, chocolate treats on daily rotation, and drinking cocoa made from their own bean-to-bar chocolate. My personal favorites are the caramelized chocolate-covered almonds and earl grey milk chocolate bar. The brothers are passionate about delicious chocolate with a purpose, and working on expanding their business into Venezuelan cacao distribution in Korea. I look forward to keeping track of their efforts.
Address: 685-315 Seongsu 1(il)-ga 2(i)-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul (Google Maps)
Metro Stop: Ttukseom, Exit 8
Hours & Prices: noon-3pm, Mon.-Sat. (₩13000-14000 per 60g bar)
An annual event started in Paris in the 1990’s, Seoul now has its own version of the Salon du Chocolat. Held at the CoEx event hall in the Gangnam Neighborhood, it is the largest chocolate fesival in Korea, and offers attendees access to chocolate from around the world. But you won’t find any Lindt or Ghirardelli here. Oh, no. This chocolate show offers bean-to-bar chocolate, hand-crafted chocolate treats, and raw cacao. It also doubles as an industry tradeshow and a choco-fashion show, with daily tastings & lessons available for a small additional fee. I found the event to be very family-friendly and full of free samples. Addmission is only ₩10000 (~$9USD) per person, or free if you pre-register online.
The next Salon is from January 18-21, 2018.
Read about last year’s here.