In a city full of chain cafes, both big and small, I sometimes crave the uniqueness of independent coffee shops. This morning was one such time and in the short window of time before work I found myself walking to imi, one of the only independents in Yeosu.
imi sits in the middle of a block along a busy one way road. The exterior of imi draws the eye, even from a distance. Its warm wood boards contrast against the masses of cold cement shop fronts up and down the street. It beckons you to enter, and so enter you do. Bells whisper your arrival into the open room. Upon first glance one thing is clear: the art of simplicity is at work.
And it is succeeding.
The floor beneath your feet is wood, the boards worn but not old. They are unwaxed, only stained in a warm hue, like sunlight in the late afternoon. The counter, sections of the wall, baseboards and tables are all wood. The white walls are mostly bare except for a bundle of flowers, a couple of antique signs and one framed photograph of flowers. Three bookshelves, short with nice, empty spaces between gatherings of books, sit next to several of the tables. Seven tables are settled around the room. Assorted chairs and couches gather around the tables. Pillows mimicking cross-stitch patterns rest on the couches. A large counter made from the same warm wood as the floorboards takes up the majority of one wall. Counters at nearby cafes are small, crowded and flooded with merchandise. This counter is equally as crowded, you notice, but it is larger, a true workspace equipped for the creation of exquisite coffee beverages.
As you approach the counter you count six towers sitting along the outer edge: three facing the door, two on the corner and one by the register. The towers are carved from pale wood and hold three glass vessels each. You recognize these as drip coffee systems. You watch the tower by the register. The top glass vessel drips clear, clean water into the middle one which holds coffee grounds. The drip dissipates into the grounds. At the bottom of this vessel a single drop of coffee makes its way out a coffee-tinted spout into the glass bottle below. The bottle below has many thousand more drops to go before it is full. So elegant, you think. So beautiful. The epitome of stopping to smell the
The owner looks up from wiping off a mug. He greets you and takes your order, a smile on his face, so welcoming that you feel like a regular here even though you have only visited a handful of times. Order placed, you settle at the round table in the front window to the right of the door. The door is inset from the sidewalk, creating a little nook beside each front window. The front windows stretch from the floor to the grey-blue ceiling. White curtains with lacy bottoms adorn the windows. They are tied back to allow in more sunlight. In the window where you sit there are short shelves on the windowsill. They barely reach your knee when you sit down. Trinkets dot the shelves: little round glass bottles filled with green coffee beans, grey ceramic teddy bears, a plant in an off-white pot.The antique-looking sign on the wall behind the table reads ‘Coffee..Always Fresh. Always hot. 5¢’.
The rumble of the silver expresso machine overpowers Norah Jones’ quiet voice coming from the speakers on the shelves behind the counter. At the closest table sit two foreigner teachers you have seen around town. Their conversation about family, particularly their fathers, cuts in and out. Two women, middle aged, sit at the table behind them. One is Korean and the other a foreigner. They speak in English, hands clasped on the table top. At first glance you can tell they are church ladies, an air of faithful assurance about them. Snippets of their discussion about religion and marriage drift to you, weaving in with the other conversations in the room. At the back of the room, behind one of the bookshelves, three Korea women gather around a rectangular table. They are absorbed in the world created by their laughter and high-speed sentences.
Service is slow, but you don’t mind. Care and dedication are poured into each white mug, perfection in each drink. It is worth the wait. The owner doesn’t believe in rushing and so time slows down in imi. You sit back and enjoy the room, the people around you, the sunlight breaking through the clouds to touch your face. When the beverages arrive they are brimming with foam. Your cappuccino is topped with an even layer of cinnamon, your macchiato with a drizzle of caramel. The mugs sit on saucer thrones. A short shallow spoon stamped with ‘CAFE’ escorts each mug. The first sip touches your tongue and time stops completely. You are in the moment, frozen in simplicity. This is what imi is all about.