It’s become my personal tradition to go to a Korean coffee shop after eating Korean barbecue. How can I resist when they are always conveniently located in the same shopping center, mere steps apart? How can anyone turn down a delicious pastry and a cup of coffee even after being rolled out of a BBQ restaurant? The answer is, you can’t.
On my last visit to So KBBQ in Centreville, Virginia, the tradition continued. Even though Xak, Barb, Buford, and I just finished 1.5 hours of consuming pounds of bulgogi, brisket, and pork belly, we still had just a bit more room for some coffee and bread.
A few doors down from So is a Korean bakery and coffee shop called O Bread and Cake which also has a location in Annandale, Virginia. In addition to bread and cake, they sell plenty more options including coffee, tea, smoothies, milk shakes, and a Korean shaved iced dessert called bingsoo (also known as bingsu). I guess they couldn’t fit all that on the store sign.
Note: Our visit took place during the first week of September 2023.
The Cafe Interior
When entering the bakery, there is a beautiful sight of various tarts, breads, cream filled sweet treats, and savory bakes nestled on trays covered in checkered cloth. Each item has a sign with the name of the item in English and Korean, the price, and the ingredients, which are organic.
The refrigerated counter next to the check out register showcases the various available cake flavors, croissants, and some other individual portioned desserts.
The selection can be a bit overwhelming if this is your first time. Even when it’s not your first time, it can still be overwhelming because everything looks so tasty! Since we were dropping by in the evening, options were a bit limited with some breads completely sold out for the day. Still, there were plenty of choices to fret and choose over.
As you may have guessed, I have a go-to for Korean cafes just like how I have a go-to at every other eating establishment I frequent. At Korean cafes, I usually get an Americano so I can feel like the people I watch in my kdramas (yes, seriously 😄). I also have a go-to order for my bread.
My delayed Love for Red Bean
During my first trip to Asia at a very young age, I remember being given chocolate ice cream. I was excited until I realized there were unidentifiable chunks in the ice cream. At first, I thought the chunks were pieces of chocolate, but then I realized they were beans! I was very upset and ended up spitting out all the beans and crying for another ice cream (and being denied). Now that I’m no longer 4 years old, I’ve learned that my favorite delicacy at Asian bakeries is… a red bean bun. It’s a sweet bread filled with red bean paste and is wonderful with a cup of coffee. I’m glad my food palate has expanded over the years. If I go back, I’ll definitely give red bean ice cream the chance it deserves.
Ordering Bread and Drinks
Red beans are common in Asian desserts and there’s a specific word for “red bean” in Korean: 팥 (pronounced ‘pat’). You’ll likely see the word a lot in a Korean bakery.
O Bread has a lot of options that include red beans, including Red Bean Cream Cheese Brioche and Red Bean Ciabatta, however my favorite is definitely the humble red bean bun. Ever since I introduced Xak to the wonderfulness of a red bean bun, we always make sure to get one for each of us during every visit. I refuse to share!
In addition to picking up our standard order of red bean buns, Xak also decided he wanted an almond croissant. This was new for us since we typically prefer plain, buttery croissants or a pain au chocolat (yum!). This croissant was filled with almond paste and also topped with some additional slivered almonds. Xak tends to enjoy a lot of nutty desserts (like povitica), so he was very eager to try this one out.
Barb also has a go-to at Korean bakeries. She loves soboro, which is a type of sweet bread with a peanut streusel topping. At O Bread, you can even get a red bean soboro (yum!). I’m so used to Barb wanting soboro that I started to put it in my bread basket. However, Barb had other plans for today. Instead, she wanted to try a Banana bun which was filled with custard cream.
There are plenty of other tantalizing treats including some savory options like pizza bread and spicy hot dogs. There’s also a large selection of cakes you can choose from including strawberry shortcake and tiramisu. It can take a lot of willpower walking past all the delicious smells and sights when checking out. Luckily the bread basket you pick up at the door to shop can only hold so much.
To go along with our treats, Xak also got a Milk Tea latte and Buford opted for an iced chai latte.
The Free Mini Croissants
When we went to check out, the employee mentioned they were offering free mini croissant samples with all purchases.
Since I had been momentarily distracted by the dessert display (the choco mousse cup looked amazing), at first I was confused thinking something was wrong with Xak’s almond croissant order. Once I realized we were getting FREE croissants, I immediately agreed and accepted. The only thing better than a croissant is a free croissant.
We walked over to the seating area with our treats and to wait for our drink orders to be complete.
Seating Area and Decor
The cafe is mainly occupied by rows of baked goods, but there is a decent sized seating area with long bench seating along the wall, a large community table, seating along the front window, and smaller circular tables. Cute artwork and inspirational signs adorn the walls, making the place feel like a more whimsical version of a Home Goods store.
Due to the size of the cafe and the shared space between the seating area and the baked goods displayed, I wouldn’t necessarily want to set up shop and plan on working for hours at a time here. However, this is a great place to come after 1.5 hours of stuffing your face with bulgogi, or if you’re trying to meet up with a friend for a coffee date.
There’s also two clean and spacious bathrooms which is always a plus for a coffee shop.
After our numbers were called to pick up our order, we sat back down to enjoy our drinks and I gushed about how awesome it was to get free mini croissants. I also realized that our weekend Coffee and Trek was the next day and my bread would go great with that!
Barb and Buford are both fans of bingsu and were eager to order some. I haven’t eaten bingsu in quite some time, but since I was holding off on my bread, now would be a great time to rectify that.
There are other places nearby that also serve bingsu, however it’s not always available when you want it. According to the menu, bingsu is also only available seasonally at O Bread, but luckily for us, it was available the day we were there.
As we went back up to the counter again to order bingsu, I saw four different flavors:
- Red bean (also known as 팥빙수 pronounced patbingsu. Yum!)
- Mango Cheese
- Yogurt Berry
Since I planned on satiating my red bean craving the next day, I debated between the curious Mango Cheese and the Strawberry, ultimately allowing my simplistic preferences to win over curiosity. Perhaps my palate is not as developed as I thought. Barb also chose the strawberry to share with Buford.
Since I had paid for the bread and drinks, Buford offered to pay for the bingsu and he and Barb were surprisingly gifted with not 2, but THREE free mini croissants! We returned to our seats to wait for our orders, giddy with glee yet again for free croissants.
When our orders were called, Buford and Xak walked to the counter and returned slowly with two trays of milky shaved ice mountains piled precariously high in a bowl along with a smaller bowl filled with a syrupy fruit puree and rice cakes.
In the past when I’ve had bingsu, it’s usually pre-drizzled and decorated with toppings on top of the ice so all I have to do is dive in. With the way this was set up, I realized I had options: I could either 1) take a spoonful of the ice and dip it into the bowl, or 2) I could pour the bowl of fruit on top and hope I didn’t make a huge mess on top of the tray.
I decided to go for option number 1 because I am not the cleanest eater.
Taking a spoonful of the ice and dipping it into the bowl turned out to be great. I could eat just ice if I wanted (Remember, it’s not just plain ice: there is a milky flavor in it), and I was able to control how much sweetness I wanted to add by dipping it into the fruit bowl. I also was not making a (huge) mess which is definitely a plus.
Buford and Barb decided to pour on the toppings to enjoy their bingsu. I’m not sure which way was ultimately better but one thing is for sure: if you decide to get bingsu, make sure you’re comfortable sharing it with someone who’s going to double dip.
After finishing up the bingsu, it was time to say goodbye to Barb and Buford and head home so I could eat the Cheez-its in my pantry. Just kidding, my stomach was officially out of room.
Bonus: Coffee and Trek featuring Red Bean Bun and Almond Croissant
Like we do every weekend for Coffee and Trek, we pop a Kcup into the Keurig (usually Starbucks Creme Brulee) and eat some treats while watching the Enterprise crew explore the depths of space.
This time, we would finally eat our treats from O Bread, meaning a special edition of Coffee and Trek: Picard and Pat (팥 – red bean).
While my red bean bun was delicious as always, Xak was not as excited about his almond croissant, but luckily had a fallback bun. This is exactly why we buy multiple red bean buns: you’re always guaranteed a tasty time and I don’t have to share mine! 😏
Educational Bonus: Bread Barbershop (브레드 이발소)
If you’re interested in learning more about Korean bread, pastries, and desserts, the best way to do that without eating a ton of calories is to watch a South Korean children’s cartoon called Bread Barbershop.
As a previous Korean language student, I watched the show for “educational” purposes (ahem). There is an English dub available, but I’ve only seen it in Korean. The show is about a master barber named Bread Pitt (yes) and how he transforms his customers living in Bakery Town into wonderful looking desserts, giving them the confidence they need to face life. The show is absurd, ridiculous, and… I can’t wait for the next season! 😄