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Hẻm Gems: Sip on Mugwort Lattes, Make Ceramics, and Unwind at Haru Cottage

“I’m basically Demi Moore from Ghost,” this intrusive thought plagued my mind occasionally during our visit to Haru Cottage to participate in the cafe’s ceramic class.

The sensuous, supernatural romcom was the highest-grossing film of 1990 and single-handedly catapulted pottery wheels into one of the hottest intimacy devices of the 1990s. Moore plays a ceramist and the romantic scene involving her, a shirtless Patrick Swayze, and a spinning wet vase is forever entrenched as the most memorable pottery sequence in cinematic history.

Haru Cottage's outdoor studio space.

Our class at Haru Cottage didn’t feature any pottery wheel, took place to the soundtrack of soft Korean indie tunes instead of ‘Unchained Melody,’ and taught us to make adorable clay brooches in lieu of phallic vases. I’ve come to realize that there’s an inherent intimacy to pottery that might elude other art forms. Of course, with the right person and chemistry, one could seek to replicate the kind of sensual experience à la Demi and Patrick, but even working on cutesy things with friends can afford us a sense of quiet intimacy that can only come from being in touch, quite literally, with art.

Based in a modernist house in Bình Thạnh, the cafe focuses on a rustic vibe.

Opened just a few months ago before the rainy season, Haru Cottage is the newest location from the team behind Haru Cafe, the charming cafe nestled inside the old apartment at 14 Tôn Thất Đạm. Cottage checks all the boxes that have endeared us to Haru Cafe — i.e. coziness, good drinks, and a fluffy ginger cat — and expands into providing on-site pottery sessions that one can attend while sipping on their favorite drinks. Despite the name, the cafe is not based in a cottage on a meadow somewhere, but a sleepy modernist house deep inside a hẻm in Bình Thạnh. It does, however, embody the calming spirits and easy-going personalities of a rustic house in the countryside.

Haru Cottage is awash in shades of green. A pastel mugwort-colored gate welcomes visitors into its front yard, where a spacious table and a shelf full of ceramic knick-knacks await in the Cottage’s open-air studio space. There’s an indoor studio room for those who want to hide from the summer heat as well. Just a few steps more from the gate, one is greeted by the front door, tinted in bright green and casting an emerald hue onto the interior. And of course, plant pots dot the many tables and shelves across the dining area. If you’re lucky, you might be graced with a few playful meows and zoomies from Cottage’s resident cat, a recently adopted creamsicle gremlin named Gona — after Dalgona, the famous Korean candy and now foamy coffee drink. 

Kim Ha-kyung, nicknamed Haru, studied Ceramics in college before moving to Saigon with her family. She first rented a small space in District 7 to make art.

While the ceramic studio might seem like a new amenity for some customers, for Haru, the South Korean founder of the place, it was the first spark that brought everything into motion. Haru is the nickname of Kim Ha-kyung, the creator of Haru Cafe and main artist behind most of the place’s ceramic products. She gave herself the name, meaning “one day” in Korean, as a simple word so everybody from Japanese to Vietnamese can pronounce it.

When Haru first moved to Saigon, she worked as a graphic designer for a Korean cosmetic brand. As a ceramics major in college, she has always been passionate about the creative world, especially drawing and making pottery. So, following her mom’s suggestion, Haru rented a location in District 7 to establish a small studio as a sanctuary for herself to create art. To her complete surprise, the presence of the studio caught the eyes of a few young Saigoneers who visited the place and offered to help around, and even a South Korean art teacher who wanted to collaborate with Haru to organize ceramic classes.

At Haru Cottage, one can relish their beverages alongside a friend, a good book, or even during a session at the studio making their own ceramic tchotchkes.

The cafe element would come into the picture later, as a space for more local customers to use and enjoy handmade ceramic products, from mugs to tiny little spoons. Patrons can pick a favorite mug to go with their drink of choice, from the cafe’s range of classics like cà phê sữa or a Haru signature like apple cinnamon tea. Apple slices are simmered in a sugar syrup with cinnamon, to be enjoyed with black tea or soda for a glimpse of Korean autumn. Another unique flavor at Haru’s is the vegetal taste of mugwort (ngải cứu), a herb that northern Vietnamese and Korean cuisines share. If Hanoians are fond of fresh mugwort in their omelets, Koreans powderize the leaves and use it in desserts the way one would employ matcha. The cafe integrates mugwort powder in a fluffy cream on lattes to create an unfamiliar but surprisingly pleasant drink.

Latte with mugwort cream is a signature drink.

At Haru Cottage, one can relish their beverages alongside a friend, a good book, or even during a session at the studio making their own ceramic tchotchkes. The most affordable and easier class for absolute beginners like me entails the making of five clay brooches, so that was exactly what we did. From a small ball of wet clay that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, I managed to sketch, roll out, shape, and paint a watermelon slice, a pig, a cat, an avocado, and a bum gun into existence. As my Saigoneer colleagues and I hulked over our own little clay brooches, I felt the coolness or the wet clay seep into my fingertips, soothing my mental state and reminding me of the importance of touch in the human experience.

The indoor ceramic studio.

This revelatory connection with tactile art was probably what Haru felt too when she first encountered clay. “When I was young, I really loved to draw, so I wanted to be a fine artist, like a painter,” she recalled. Fine art, however, was too competitive a university program for her when it came time to enroll. “My mom wanted me to have a passion for ceramics, so she let me try out for one month in a ceramic studio. I was really stressed, but I went there, made ceramics and felt really relaxed, so I changed my mind. I realized later that it’s a really good match for me.”

My brooches slowly taking shape and colors.

Sitting at Haru Cottage amidst the energetic cat, cordial murmurs and the occasional hum of beverage machines, it’s obvious that fondness for drawing is still very much alive. Many sketches and paintings on the walls, and even the quirky menu, were created by the owner herself. There’s also a dedicated space upstairs equipped with paper sheets and crayons for guests to try their hands at a little art therapy. Overall, that sense of coziness often found in Korean coffee shops is present across the drinks, activities, and decorations of Haru as well. It’s a little ironic that for such a stressful society, Korean-style cafes are often known abroad for being adorable little… cottages. Perhaps it’s to make up for the cutthroat pace of life and unnerving societal expectations out there.

Desserts and snacks are also available, such that this portion of mayak toast (egg and bacon).

It was precisely these aspects of living in urban South Korea that Haru couldn’t adapt to due to her family history of living abroad from a young age. Her father is in the clothing manufacturing sector, so when she was a little girl, the family moved to Qingdao, China where the factories were. For 10 years, she studied at Chinese schools in huge classes with 70 students and two Korean nationals. Her parents later resettled in Saigon, and she joined them after graduating from college.

To Haru, the owner, opening a ceramic studio in Saigon is a happy development in her life.

“Seoul is not easy, that’s why I think I want to live with my family, that’s why I wanted to move to Saigon,” Haru explained to me. “In Korea, there are many guidelines, you have to do that, you have to wear that — I’m not good at that. Living in Seoul is very stressful, you wake up early, go to the subway, go to work. Qingdao is like Saigon. I really enjoy living here.”

Two weeks after our session at Haru Cottage, just as I was starting to forget about them, my clay brooches arrived in a paper bag, all sturdily baked and covered in a shiny glaze. They are imperfect and might not compare to whatever Demi Moore was making as foreplay with Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost,’ but they serve as the perfect reminder of a time in my life when the stillness and intimacy of quiet moments triumphed over the weights of living.

Haru Cottage is open from 9am to 10pm. Ceramic classes need to be booked in advance.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 3/5

Khôi loves tamarind, is a raging millennial and will write for food.

Haru Cottage

15/10 Nguyễn Huy Tưởng, Ward 6, Bình Thạnh District, HCMC

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