The Coffee House Culture of Vienna

The Coffee House Culture of Vienna

Vienna Coffee & PastriesIf you're planning a weekend break to Vienna, here's some advice: leave the calorie calculator at home. The lure of the Viennese Kaffee Hausen, or "Coffee Houses", will rob you of all your self-control once confronted by the vast array of cakes and pastries that are an essential ingredient to this traditional Austrian experience. Forget any coffee chain you may frequent when at home... Viennese coffee shops are a complete game-changer.

The Turks are credited with bringing coffee to Vienna in the latter part of the 17th century. The retreating Ottoman armies, in their hurry to abandon their outposts, left behind several sacks of coffee beans. The curious Viennese decided to try coffee for themselves and have been hooked since.

By the beginning of the 20th century there were over 500 coffee houses in the city, offering not just coffee and cake, but newspapers, chess boards, and in some cases, even billiard tables. Coffee houses were known gathering places for both the literati and the businessmen.

Sadly, in the past twenty years dozens of coffee houses have been forced into closure and even today some of the sites of centuries old coffee houses are now occupied by international coffee chains and fast food outlets. Nevertheless, many are still flourishing, which is lucky as no visit to Vienna would be complete without a coffee and cake pit-stop in between sightseeing. Many coffee houses still provide newspapers, and once seated there is no pressure to drink up and move on. The Viennese believe that coffee drinking is a social event, so friends meet and catch up in a leisurely manner.

Having selected your coffee house and found a seat, preferably in the window if you can manage it, you will be confronted by a long list of coffees, and an even longer list of waistband-stretching pastries. Don't think you can get away with ordering just 'a coffee'. This will mark you out as an amateur. There will, in all probability, be at least a dozen varieties on offer, and you'll be expected to make a considered decision. Although this list is incomplete by far, these are a few of the options you will find on an average coffee house menu:

Schwarzer — Strong black coffee, much like an espresso
Kleiner(small) or Grosser(large) Brauner — coffee with cream
Kapuziner — coffee with a dash of milk
Melang — coffee with frothy milk similar to a cappuccino
Einspanner — mocha coffee with whipped cream
Fiaker — mocha coffee with brandy...a must-have if you're in Vienna on a cold winter's day.

Delicious coffee must always be accompanied by something, the sweeter and more calorific the better, so don't forget to order a cake or pastry to go with your coffee.

The mention of the word 'Austria 'conjures up images of mountains, Mozart, but also of sacher torte, that most Viennese of confections. Invented by Fritz Sacher while apprenticed to the court of Prince Metternich at the beginning of the 19thcentury, the best place to enjoy sacher torte (with a dollop of whipped cream, of course!) is the Cafe Sacher in Philharmoniker Strasse. Try to get a seat in the conservatory as it opens on to the Opera House, order an Einspanner coffee, and sit and watch Viennese society go by.

Or maybe you'd prefer linzer torte, another mouth-watering Austrian speciality? Reputedly the oldest tart in the world, with its first historic reference dating back to 1653, it is a deliciously light confection comprised of two layers of buttery almond pastry filled with plum or raspberry jam. Apelstrudel is another popular favourite: butter-light paper-thin pastry layers filled with apples and dried fruit.

Small pastries are just as varied... try a golatschen — a flaky pastry slice filled with cream cheese, or a zimtscnecke — a spiral shaped pastry filled with nuts. The list is endless and you really will be spoiled for choice.

Kaffee Hausen are scattered all over the city, and there is bound to be one near your hotel or on the tourist trail. Nevertheless, we encourage you to try and visit the genuine article. Some of the most famous and beloved by locals are:

Cafe Central... one of the best known, so by definition perhaps a little 'touristy.' However, its magnificent vaulted ceiling more than makes up for the tourists. Past clientele include within their ranks Beethoven, Goethe, Mahler and Trotsky, so you'll be in good company. There is also usually a resident pianist. Cafe Central can be found on the corner of Strauchgrasse and Herrengrasse but it's so well known it will be hard to miss.

Cafe Pruckel overlooks the Stadtpark at Stuberning 24.....a traditional kaffee hause with high ceilings and great pastries.

Cafe Sperl, on the Gumpendorfer Strasse ....the Viennese rate this cafe as one of the few remaining original coffee houses of Vienna. The interior is original to its 19th century inception so it has plenty of atmosphere, as well as a great selection of cakes.

If you would like a master class in making the perfect 'apfelstrudel' the Cafe Schottenring (Schottenring 19) offers tuition in the art at 18:30 for a mere 13 Euro. Check with the tourist board in the city centre or at your hotel for reservations.

Coffee houses are the perfect antidote to a long afternoon taking in the Hapsburg splendour of Vienna and a great start to an evening of Viennese culture. A sampling of coffee and cakes will also help get you in the mood for a night at the famed Viennese opera.