Strolling into Friendship Macaron Cafe, the first thing I saw was pink. It’s so aggressively pink everywhere — the alcove, the door, the chairs — that it took a minute for me to absorb it all. The untainted bright white walls and the smell of fresh paint made the 18th Street shop remind me of one word: unapologetic.
The menu charts a wide array of tarts, coffee, puddings and, of course, macarons. The specialties of this store are impossible to miss — placed in the display case, the colors of the macarons are just as loud and opinionated as the store, with bright yellow, pink, green and blue dotting the display.
“The macarons we sell are from Korea!” the lady at the counter said. “Well, we make it, but our founder learned the technique there.”
To this, my little Korean ears perked up. “Is the owner Korean?” I asked, and the lady confirmed. As my friends mulled over their macaron choices, I asked if I could chat with the owner. “Sure,” the lady said before disappearing into the kitchen.
As I waited, I squinted at the menu on the wall and was immediately transported back to my favorite cafe in Gangbuk in Seoul, South Korea.
The owner and I immediately bonded, both of us giddy to be speaking in our native tongue. As we chatted over her mango yogurt and earl grey macarons, I learned that she immigrated to the United States after graduating college and meeting her husband here. She opened this restaurant in February 2019 with her husband’s encouragement to share her love for baking with the Washington, D.C., community.
“Honestly, I’m still really worried,” she said, looking down at her display. “We just opened, so there’s a lot still up in the air. I kept telling my husband, ‘Who would eat my food other than you and the kids?’ But he supported me when I went back to Korea to learn this technique of macarons and he supported me when I opened this shop.”
I take a bite and tell her how delicious it is, and it’s not because I’m trying to be polite; the macarons are just like the ones I’ve had in Korea. The earl grey macaron is buttery, crunchy and pleasantly true to its flavor, with pieces of earl grey tea leaves in the buttercream, which I found delightful, while the mango yogurt has a beautiful color and an intense yet natural mango flavor.
Immediately, her face brightens up as she recounts how the flavor was a customer suggestion that she worked tirelessly to bring to fruition. She picked up her tongs and carefully rearranged the macarons in the display, the wild colors glaring at me under the unforgiving LED light.
When I asked what her mission is for the shop, she replied that she wants to maintain the highest quality baking as each dessert feels like one of her children. On raising her actual children, the owner has been a stay-at-home mom for over a decade.
In this, Friendship Macaron is a risk, a new chapter of her life that she is passionate yet frightened about, but she trusts in the quality of her macarons. As I bit into her peanut butter macaron, with the light, buttery frosting bursting out, I vigorously nodded my head.
At the urging of the owner, I also tried the coffee offered on the menu. I ordered grapefruit coffee, which I chose simply because I was intrigued as to what its taste and aroma profile would be like. Would it taste like there was grapefruit juice squeezed in it? Or would the beans smell a bit of my Neutrogena grapefruit makeup wipes?
When the piping cup of coffee arrived, I’d already arranged my Oreo cream cheese macaron, a true-to-original reincarnation, and the berrylicious, a very berry treat with blueberry-studded buttercream. The moment I sipped the coffee, I was surprised by its slight hint of citrus and clean, well-rounded finish that leaves none of the bitter aftertaste that one usually associates with citrus and bad coffee beans.
As I devoured the berrylicious macaron, my friends motioned to me that it was time to leave. Wiping the buttercream off of my lips, I bowed to the owner, wished her the best of luck, and left the shop still licking my lips.
Ye Bin Won is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. After Hours appears in print every other Friday.