When I entered through the front gate on a seemingly mundane street, I was awe struck by what I saw. Stepping through that gate felt like stepping outside of Seoul and into the countryside. There was just no way that such a beautiful wooden hanok with a garden would be located in a busy city like Seoul.
And yet it is. Suyeonsanbang (수연산방) used to be the home of Yi Tae-jun (1904 - approx. 1970), one of Korea’s first modern novelists. He defected to North Korea before the Korean War and his descendants have transformed it in a traditional Korean teahouse. Suyeonsanbang means a small cottage in a forest where literary people used to meet, and that atmosphere still lingers. It's quiet and secluded. I can definitely see myself reading books and discussing them with others while sipping on a Omija tea, if it wasn't for the time limit they put on your visit. I will discuss the rules of visiting this place later.
When I entered the gate and saw the beauty of the teahouse, I immediately started to take pictures. This alarmed one of the staff somewhat. He approached me while asking me in Korean if I was coming for the tea. I don't know what it is in Korea, but this wasn't the first time a staff member or owner wasn't very keen on me taking pictures near or on their property. When I responded in Korean that I did came for the tea, but the building was just so beautiful that I had to take pictures first, he immediately changed his manner and cordially invited me inside. I walked up to the stairs, took my shoes off, and went inside. I could pick any table I wanted and I chose to sit by the window.
When I sat at the table I was presented with a cup of barley water and the menu. Now, the menu didn't only contain the drinks, but also a set of rules that may be important to you when you visit:
- You are only allowed to order one drink per person. You won't be getting a second.
- You are allowed a maximum stay of two hours per visit.
- For four people or more you have to make a reservation.
In the menu they explained that these rules are to preserve the tranquility of the place and at the same time let everyone have a chance to experience the atmosphere and beauty of this teahouse. In other words, this isn't your local Starbucks where you can buy a drink and play games on your laptop all day. I was there on a weekday so it wasn't very busy, but in the weekend there can be a lot of people wanting to visit, so these rules made sense to me.
As for the tea I ordered, it came in a traditional styled cup with a complimentary traditional Korean snacks. Both the tea and the snacks were delicious. Prices start somewhere around 10,000 Won and go up from there, so it is kind of pricey, but you're paying as much for the location as for the tea itself. If you want to have a unique date, but don't want to travel out of Seoul, I recommend you go here.
How to get there
Go to Hansung University Station (한성대입구역) on line 4 and get out at exit 6. From there walk until you see a bus stop. Take bus 1111 or 2112 and get out when you see this coffee shop on your right.
When you get out of the bus turn around and start walking towards where the bus came from. You'll pass that cafe again. After passing that cafe walk some more and go left at the first opportunity. At the beginning of the street at your right hand you'll see the gate that leads to the teahouse. Click here to see a video with directions.
8, Seongbuk-ro 26-gil, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 성북구 성북로26길 8 (성북동)
For more info visit the Korean tourism site.