Cofioca: Where K-pop stars grab their bubble tea fix (Seoul, Korea)

 

Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 21, 2016, and has been updated to include newer information.

Although pedestrian-friendly, the Gangnam neighborhood made famous by singer-rapper Psy is a sprawling area accessible by three Seoul Metro stations totaling 21 exits.  Get out of one and you’re greeted by the shimmering rainbow disks of the flashy Galleria Department Store, get out of another and you’ll likely face an imposing plastic surgery clinic (or a poster for said clinic with directions).  Scattered across these jagged city blocks are the top K-pop and acting agencies in Korea, including Namoo Actors, SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment.

Frankly, it can all be a bit disconcerting for those looking for some authentic hole-in-the-wall hangouts, but thankfully such pockets do exist – and they tend to serve as a reprieve for idol group members and trainees taking breaks from long practice sessions.  Cofioca may initially look boarded up with its glass windows and door nearly completely covered, but those colored sheets of paper contain many an autograph from K-pop idol members, hailing from groups big and small.  Why?  It’s because the 15-year-old shop – according to the K-Star ROAD Guidebook distributed by the Gangnam Tourist Information Center – holds a bit of superstition.

It “is rumored to be a lucky place among newbie entertainers who believe that they would make it big if they drink bubble tea and paste up their autographs on the wall here,” the Guidebook states.  Apparently, those who have made it big still go back for more.  On a brisk March evening in 2016, the amicable woman behind the counter assumed that I was one of the many fangirls on the lookout for celebrity spottings, so she asked whether I was a fan of EXO.  When I told her, simply, “No,” she was a bit stunned.  (This is not, I must emphasize, a slight against EXO at all, who are extremely talented; I just don’t listen to their music.)  She then went on to say that EXO’s Sehun had just stopped by the shop earlier in the week on White Day (March 14) to pick up several drinks.

Rather than figure out what he ordered, I was intent to figure out what made the shop – and the drinks – tick.  Barely squeezing in several tables, an overhead television showing the latest drama, and a counter dividing the space from the kitchen, Cofioca very much is a grab-and-go place for customers to hop in with a request and out with a box of drinks.  Most beverages fall within the KRW5,000 to 7,000 range, which is about US$5 to $7.  (Those used to much lower prices in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taiwan – the birthplace of bubble/pearl/tapioca tea – should note that even franchises of famous chains like Gong Cha in Korea start charging about KRW4,000 per drink without all the fixings.)

 

 

The menu is divided into two parts, bubble tea/coffee and fresh juice, although there is a secret to this that the Cofioca staff member revealed to me: the only tea on offer is black tea.  No green, no red, no white or any other variety.  For those like myself who can stay awake for 24 straight hours from black tea, the fruit juices still include the giant tapioca bubbles minus the caffeine.  In my case, the Strawberry Colada was actually a thick strawberry smoothie – and a very delicious one at that, with the fruit dominating the taste instead of the artificial sweeteners that can be prevalent in Southeast Asia versions.  While the bubbles didn’t quite reach that happy medium between soggy and firm on a particularly cold day, they were still very decent and edible.  Mango features into three other fruit juice offerings, whereas others such as “Energizer” and “Beautiful Lady” will require in-person explanations.

About a year and a half later, this time during a very muggy summer, the bubbles were perfectly made in Cofioca’s Berry Berry drink (KRW7,500), the juice identical in consistency to the Strawberry Colada.  This time, the very kind owner sometimes referred to as the shop’s “auntie” or “grandmother” in various blog posts was at the helm, asking whether I enjoyed my drink and even walking out of the shop to bid me farewell after completing it.

 

 

All in all, Cofioca is a charmingly unpretentious independent bubble tea shop in an increasingly pretentious surrounding neighborhood.  Its K-pop star power may be the draw for some, but the drink menu alone sets it apart from the bubble tea chains proliferating across Korea.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Twitterverse let it be known that Sehun ordered three cups of regular milk tea, two Chocolate Coladas and one honeydew milk tea.)

Cofioca is open every day from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and is located at 31, Seolleung-ro 161-gil (phone: 02.515.3032).  The closest Seoul Metro stop is Apgujeong Rodeo on the Bundang Line, Exit 6.  It’s a slightly longer walk from the Apgujeong station, Line 3, Exit 2.

Photos: More autographs at Cofioca – Seoul, Korea
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine