The name Decoa Balim comes from the combination of the words “decorations” and “cocoa balim,” which is some type of cacao. Owner Oh Seung Jin wanted to create a unique name that would capture the decorative interior of his shop along with the chocolate that is used in many of his desserts. While Decoa Balim has been around for the past 8 or 9 years, I was first introduced to it back in 2011, when my boyfriend took me on a cheesecake binge for my birthday, and I immediately fell in love with its cozy vintage flare.
Decoa Balim rests in what once may have been an extraordinary three story brick house and the interior still maintains it’s homelike charm. Inside, the walls are painted in a vintage mint green, with the occasional original brick work still visible in some places, while linens and quilts serve as doors barriers. The walls are stocked with shelves filled with old books, magazines, plants and a random assortment of decor and knickknacks. Real and fake flowers adorn the entire cafe, while the rest of the space is filled with worn wooden tables that are paired with a variety of mismatched chairs.
However, one of my favorite things about this place is how the ovens are situated in the seating area and a baking station can be found at the entrance. So, on any given day you can find Oh baking or decorating some of his delicious creations. An important thing to keep in mind is that many of his desserts are on the lighter side. While one might expect a rich heavy cream cheese from a tart, he uses a light whipped cream cheese instead. He strives to create desserts that are delicious without being too heavy or sugary; desserts he wouldn’t mind his young daughter eating.
It’s difficult to create a dessert that suits the palettes of foreigners and Koreans alike, but I think Oh does a pretty good job. He is always working on his recipes and finding ways to tweak and improve them to achieve the best results possible. On that note, the dessert that hooked me was the Real Cheese Cake ( ₩5,500). This simple dessert comes baked in a large porcelain cup. The texture is incredibly soft and creamy and practically melts in your mouth. While it’s a bit on the lighter side, it still has a sweet rich flavor and comes garnished with a cute little blueberry. The cup is served on a lovely porcelain dish that can sometimes be drizzled with chocolate.
The Strawberry Cheese Tart is one of their most popular desserts, not only for its attractive and photogenic composition, but also its exquisite flavor. The crust is the perfect balance of soft and crisp, making it easy to cut into while still keeping that crispy and slightly flaky texture that is signature of all tart crusts. The filling consists of a light, whipped cream cheese mixture. It has a light sweetness to it with a subtle tart aftertaste. A heaping pile of fresh strawberries tops it off, garnished with crushed pistachios. Overall it’s the best tart I’ve ever had and is easily the perfect dessert for two. At ₩6,500, it’s just too good to pass up!
The Earl Gray Cake would have to be my current favorite. This hunk of deliciousness is three layers of the moistest cake I’ve ever had (without being soggy). From the moment you cut into it, you can hear the moisture and see the tea gently seeping out. You can also see the specks of tea leaves generously sprinkled throughout. This is complimented by three dividing layers of lightly whipped cream cheese frosting, creating a perfect balance of sweetness and bold tea flavor. Topping off this delicate dessert is a light rim of crushed pistachios along the top, crunchy snack flakes along the bottom and a juicy strawberry as the crown jewel. A piece of this heaven will only run you ₩5,500.
The Dark Cherry Chocolate Tart (₩6,500) was a surprising favorite. I don’t really like anything that’s too chocolaty, but since the boyfriend is a bit of a chocoholic we have to compromise with our desserts. This tart has a crust that is very similar to the strawberry cheese tart’s, but a bit more firm and crispy. The filling is a 100% rich and smooth chocolate ganache with whole dark cherries mixed in. The cherries really add a sweet fruity balance to the chocolate, preventing it from being overwhelmingly rich. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it to any chocolate lover.
These are just a few of my favorite desserts, but they have around 15 to choose from, some of which I haven’t even tried yet. Now when it comes to drinks they have an even wider variety of coffees, teas, smoothies and even wines and beers. Personally, I always stick to two in particular. When I’m in the mood for something cold, I usually opt for their Vietnamese coffee or “Iced Cafe Vietnam.” They make it pretty well, so it always hit’s the spot when I have a craving. However, when I’m in the mood for something hot I always go for their signature “Decoa Milk-Tea.” I love their milk tea because it is so unique from other places. First, they brew it with LOTS of tea leaves and regular milk, this gives it a nice strong flavor. They also brew it longer than normal to achieve a creamier consistency. It’s much heavier and richer than most milk-teas, but that’s what I like about it. You get a nice teapot full for ₩8,000, which is a bit on the higher side, but it’s a pretty good amount.
The menu gets a few seasonal additions every six months or so, with rich warm hot chocolates and cakes in the winter and refreshing bingsu and smoothies in the summer. It’s definitely a place worth visiting year round. It’s also great place to meet up with friends, study or take a date. I usually find myself there at least once a month. So next time you’re in the mood for desserts that taste as good as they look, be sure to drop by Decoa Balim. Happy Eating!서울특별시 마포구 서교동 411-6 1층