The price of drugs and tea

This weekend, Tim and I had one goal in mind: go to the local Dammann Frères tea shop to buy our French tea we’d been missing so badly. You would think in Korea that we would be able to find a good, or perhaps better, substitute, but so far it has been difficult for a couple of reasons. A, we can’t read the labels on the tea boxes in stores; B, they don’t seem to be loose leaf; C, most of them look like green tea whereas we are big black tea drinkers. The commissary was just as bad, the tea selection is quite pathetic.

Resolved to fix our tea situation ASAP, we headed downtown to the one location in Seoul where we could get the good stuff. Of course, we got there about 30 minutes too early, so we took some time to appreciate the lively activity swarming around us: music playing, dancers, a flea market, a movie being filmed, food stands tempting you with fragrant Korean street food, and even a quiet demonstration marking the 3 year anniversary of the ferry tragedy that left 302 passengers (mostly high school students) and crew members dead. It was quite a sobering moment, with pictures of each of the victims hung around the various tents. To this day, there are people (families mostly I imagine) who are demanding to know the full truth about how this tragedy happened.

Following our look around the square, we headed back to Dammann Frères eager to get our tea. We walked in like kids in a candy shop, opening and smelling pot after pot to see what we would buy. We were nearly set with our selections when Tim asked, “Does that say $35 for 100 grams?” Shocked, I double-checked. Sure enough, it did. To put this in context, in Paris we paid $10 for the same amount. Floored, we desperately searched for perhaps another tea that might be cheaper, but all we managed to discover was that the whole place was full of tea at an outrageous mark-up.  How is it this expensive?! I’m pretty sure some drugs don’t cost that much! With heavy hearts we backed away, tea-less.

We found another tea shop nearby, but the tea didn’t seem as good of quality and it was still $18 for 100 grams. Cheaper, but still we didn’t think worth it. When Tim Googled why tea was so expensive here, he learned that Korean tea isn’t considered as high of quality as teas from China, Japan, or India so there is a lot of importing, and consequently, a steep mark-up.

Following the tea fail, we stayed in the area to explore, and came across the Seoul National Museum, a free museum which provides an overview of life in Seoul across the centuries. Be sure to click on pictures for a closer look and captions.

After the museum, we were beyond hungry, and so we wandered our way towards the Insadong district where we treated ourselves to some wonderful Korean dishes and iced coffees to finish them off. Fun fact: in Hangul, a coffee is called a “kopi” because they don’t have the letter ‘f’ in their language.

Following lunch we walked the streets with no destination in particular, and when I saw an Office Depot, we stopped to go in with the hopes that I could find my elusive Korean/English day planner. I didn’t find it, but I did find this gem.


I don’t know about you all, but I’ve always wished I could find a notebook to fit my “sensuous” personality.


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