Buried down one of the many alleys that make up the back streets of Insadong is a quaint little tea house that appears almost forgotten. Its exterior is not particularly impressive, nor does it do much to advertise itself; it’s not until you are standing in front of the entrance that you notice the small wooden sign that reads “신옛찻집” – Shin Old Tea House.
I pull the door open and a bell alerts the shop owner that two customers have arrived. The sweet ajumma smiles at us, her only guests on this chilly afternoon, and invites us to take off our shoes. We leave them on the concrete ground and step up unto the creaky wooden floors.
Inside it is a warm repose from Seoul’s wintry streets.
We plop ourselves down on bright silk pillows in front of a rustic table that sits just a few inches off the ground. My eyes wander in all directions: colourful tapestries, ceramic teapots, a goldfish swimming in a tank, a large wooden chest, hanging lamps, beaded space dividers, a quirky frog sculpture, and more pillows and more knick-knacks.
Between the dim lighting and the heated floors, it’s difficult not to sink back into the cozy space.
While I’m still gazing at my surroundings and making mental notes of wallpaper designs and pillow patterns, the ajumma returns with a menu.
Ice teas and hot teas, citrous and sweet – each item listed sounds more enticing than the next.
I order the plum tea off the menu, and Sam opts for the ginger tea.
Our sweet beverages are accompanied by sticky rice cakes and puffed rice. I haven’t enjoyed a single rice cake I’ve tried over the course of my year in Korea, but somehow paired with my sweet plum tea the combination is just right.
The ambiance is so serene that I find myself whispering and trying to laugh quietly even though no one is listening to us and there is no one to disrupt.
This is our second last weekend in Seoul and it feels nice to be doing something traditional yet low-key. Sipping on our teas we reminisce about the past few months together, while plotting the adventures that await us in Malaysia in just a week’s time. This little tea house is the perfect place to end our time in Korea.
Just a street away Insadong’s main strip is buzzing with activity, but seated in this cozy little tea house I feel like I am miles away.
Sometimes a neighbourhood’s best kept secret lies not too far off the trodden path.