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The bloom of Korean culture: Opening of local Korean cafe ’18feet’

By Talia Saley

I attended 18feet Espresso Bar & The Cheong, a local Korean café, which opened its doors to the public for its grand opening March 4 to 10. The café is located at 86 Gerrard St. E., a five-minute walk from the Rogers Communications Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). 

The café’s origin started as an 18-foot-long coffee truck at the University of Toronto campus in 2019. It then opened two locations across the campus, according to their Instagram. The latest location of the café is the first to open near TMU. 

“We tried to build this location to look like a truck, but it was hard because we had to bring the real truck over here [which] was impossible,” said James Kim, the branch manager of 18feet. “We tried to design everything. That was the hard thing.” 

At first glance, the front of the café has graphics simulating the original 18feet coffee truck—a clever visual to show their roots and history. 


18feet’s mission is to “elevate the presence of Korean cuisine worldwide,” according to an information guide sent from 18feet to The Eyeopener. “We are dedicated to introducing K-food to a global audience, fostering an appreciation for the rich flavours and culture it embodies,” it stated. 

“We tried to introduce Korean culture to university students with a budget,” said Kim. 

Like those memories I grew up with, 18feet is trying to share that love with Toronto

Luckily, their goal resonated with Samantha Ju, a Korean first-year business management student at TMU. “I think the drinks are pretty high quality and fairly priced compared to other cafés in the city,” she said. 

18feet’s main specialty menu item is the Cheong—a preserved sweet syrup originating from South Korea, composed of equal parts sugar and choice of fruit. At 18feet, they offer the cheong flavours in grapefruit, strawberry, yuzu and lemon. Joy Chun, an employee at the café, shared that the cheong is entirely homemade and preserved for two days until ready to be served.

I tried the “Lemon Cheong” and “Grapefruit Cheong Earl Grey” available on their menu. The lemon cheong was sweet and refreshing, and the lemon peel was completely edible and delicious. I liked the twist of incorporating grapefruit cheong with the Earl Grey tea, which meshed surprisingly well with the hint of bitter notes from the tea and sweetness from the sweet syrup.


Cheong was something truly special in my life when I lived in South Korea before I moved back to Canada in 2014. After my ice-cold walk from school in the winter, I would come to my aunt’s house to enjoy her friend’s preserved lemon cheong. I would mix the simple sweet syrup with hot water to create a sweet tea-like drink to enjoy all to myself. Like those memories I grew up with, 18feet is trying to share that love with Toronto, which is heartwarming to see—coming from my love for Korean culture.

The café offers other trendy Korean items such as the dalgona coffee, blueberry cream cheese bagel and triangle kimbap ­—also known as samgak gimbap


With the opening of this café near campus, it allows Korean culture to be recognized on a broader scale. However, the question to ask is: how do Korean and non-Korean TMU students feel about the recognition Korean culture is receiving? 

“The Korean pop culture wave—called the Hallyu wave—introduced many people to Korean culture like music, movies and TV shows,” said Ju. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Korean cinematography has been making waves on the international scale. Titles like Parasite and Squid Game helped spread awareness of Korean culture.

“That helps me learn more aspects of the culture that are not Americanized”

Catherine Wasik, a Polish-Canadian third-year biology major at TMU, said she’s noticed the TMU K-pop community and club grow over the years. “Even in my classes, I’ve noticed by talking to other people about their taste in music, more people are being exposed to it…and they talk about it with their other friends,” she said.

Iris Yeh, a half Japanese half Taiwanese fourth-year interior design student at TMU said young people are more familiar with K-culture. “There’s a younger generation that’s bringing that culture here and so they’re more aware of how to use it on social media. That’s why we’re more exposed to it,” she said.

Multiple new Korean restaurants have been opening near campus, such as Pizza Maru, which is a local Korean pizza location that opened in September of last year, said Ju.

“There’s a place also just north of Church and George [Streets] called Sinjeon Topokki and I know that they’ve also become a lot more popular,” she said, which opened back in 2022. 

Ju said growing up, she would often experience weird gazes when bringing her food, which would often smell and look different. “I think it’s definitely great that people have grown to appreciate it more instead of find[ing] it odd,” said Ju. 

Yeh shared that she learned about Korean culture through her Korean friends by visiting her friends’ houses and trying new foods that she wouldn’t easily get outside. “That helps me learn more aspects of the culture that are not Americanized.”

As a Korean TMU student, it’s heartwarming to see the love Korean culture is receiving now, including the openings of more Korean-owned locations near campus. 

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