A Traditional Tea House in Insadong: 신옛찻집

by Audrey on February 22, 2013 · 19 comments

Audrey-at-a-traditional-tea-house-in-Insadong

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.

shin-old-tea-house-insadong-신옛찻집

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.

shin-old-tea-house-insadong-신옛찻집

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.

interior-design-tea-house

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.

drinking-ginger-tea

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.

sticky-rice-cakes-puffed-rice-cakes

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.

Shin-Old-Tea-House-Insadong

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.


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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Zhu February 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Lovely place, looks very cozy!

Unrelated but I love your ring on the first pic. I had to say it.
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Audrey February 23, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Thanks! My aunt actually made that ring for me. I really like it too! :D

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Nico February 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Looks like a great place to spend a few hours relaxing. At the moment I’m spending my afternoons going theoguh he different coffees of Indonesia, instead of teas. If I ever get around to visiting Korea I could happily do the reverse.

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Sofie February 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Looks like a cozy place indeed!
I love a good cup of tea. It always soothes me, somehow. Haven’t had the chance to go to a traditional (here’s the word) tea house yet, but it’s definitely on the bucket list!
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Audrey February 23, 2013 at 9:16 pm

And that was my first ‘traditional’ tea house after a year in the country… ;)

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Kaleena's Kaleidoscope February 22, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Aww, that sounds so lovely! Wish you’d posted this just a few days sooner as I was just in Insadong last week and would’ve loved to check this out. Oh well, just an excuse to go back to Seoul for a visit. :)
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Audrey February 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Aw, that’s a shame! But it gives you a great reason to come back to the city. ;) I also wish I’d found it sooner – it’s the kind of place that is worth revisiting.

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memographer February 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm

A nice one. I would love to have one of those sticky rice cakes. And sweet plum tea too!!! Looks like a very relaxing place.
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Audrey February 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm

They sure had some good rice cakes! It was a nice little hangout for a winter afternoon. ;)

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Julika February 23, 2013 at 5:49 am

What a cute place! Looks like the perfect location to spend a freezing winter afternoon!
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Audrey February 23, 2013 at 9:17 pm

It really was! Especially with the heated floors – I didn’t want to leave.

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Jessica February 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I love it! Sometimes the simplest things, like warm tea and comfy pillows, bring about the best experiences.
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Maria February 24, 2013 at 2:12 am

Looks like a spot worthy of repeat visits. Cozy and inviting… would be difficult to leave it.
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Colleen Brynn February 24, 2013 at 4:24 am

What a beautifully written post, a treat to read! A nice homage to your home for the last year…
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Aryn February 25, 2013 at 5:21 am

How adorable! It’s my dream to go to an authentic tea house!
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Ceri February 27, 2013 at 4:30 am

Tea houses are just my absolute dream places to go to. This places looks so magical – I can’t blame you for wanting to whisper. You set the scene so perfectly. <3
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Dariece - Goats On The Road February 28, 2013 at 11:30 am

It sounds like a perfect, cozy place to reminisce and chat about future plans. You’re right, sometimes the best places are literally just down the street :)

Cheers.
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TammyOnTheMove March 1, 2013 at 11:20 am

I would love to go to a proper tea house. I went to one in China once, but it was with a tour group and everythign was so fake and touristy. And of course in the end they asked us to buy some tea. Can’t wait to read about your adventures in Malaysia. I love that country!
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