Coffee House Culture
It’s coffee time…
Coffee house literature, rustling newspapers, heated conversations and the ever-present cigarette smoke in the air which is occasionally covered by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee: welcome to Austria or, to be more precise, the Viennese Kaffeehaus (traditional Coffee house)! Here marble coffee tables stand dotted between plush upholstered seating benches, Thonet designer chairs can be heard scratching the wooden flooring, ornate mirrors reflect the dimmed light of magnificently grand chandeliers and the guest really is king and spoilt in all respects – and this in a more or less friendly manner! A huge display cabinet filled with delicious cakes and pastries such as the classic Sachertorte, the ever-popular Black Forest Cake and Cream Slices draws the gaze in its direction, makes you long for something sweet and invites you to linger and enjoy.
Vienna, in particular, has always had a very special relationship with coffee as the Austrian capital is the true birthplace of the coffee house. The first Viennese coffee house was established in 1685 and is still an institution which can’t be compared with any other in the world.
“Vienna is a city built around a few coffee houses where the locals sit and drink coffee” – Bertold Brecht
The Austrian coffee houses offer not only the benefit of coffee but also all the comfort of a living room which is how long-standing coffee house regulars still describe them, even today. The coffee houses are a place of relaxation which awaken inspiration in all who visit. It is precisely because of this that they are a real oasis of well-being, a place of inner peace and calm where artists, then as well as now, follow their inspiration and let their creativity come to life. Coffee house regulars could be contacted by phone here, had their post sent here, and even welcomed visitors or worked here early in the moring with a delicious breakfast.
It is not by chance that the coffee houses are a place for poets and thinkers. In 2011, they were even listed by UNESCO as part of Austria’s intangible cultural heritage. Even the famous musician and composer Mozart enjoyed spending his free time here and “Johann Strauss Junior” also gave some of his concerts here. During the Biedermeier period, the Viennese coffee houses were described as the “epitome of a good quality of life” and a place “where time and space are consumed but only coffee is found on the bill.” This old adage, according to which you could sit for hours with only one cup of coffee without feeling pressurised to order anything else, is fortunately still true today. As coffee used to be boiled and not brewed in Vienna, the coffee house owners used to be known as “coffee boilers”, a description which is still known today and which lives on in the traditional annual “Viennese coffee boiler ball”.
Until the 18th century, there wasn’t a huge choice of coffee varieties and coffee was usually drunk black with whipped cream or milk and sugar. This was accompanied by a small bowl with two cubes of sugar – if you wanted a third cube you had to ask for it – and a glass of water which was all, of course, served on a silver tray. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the choice of coffee in the coffee houses grew and everything was offered which was equated with “luxury”. The Viennese elevated coffee drinking into a culture and a way of life – something which visitors to the Viennese coffee houses can still experience, even today. So, take your seat, relax and let yourself be spoilt in one of Austria’s coffee houses – with a “großer Brauner” (double espresso with milk or cream), a Melange (espresso with steamed milk) or a café latte. Be part of this way of life!
By the way, the Konditorei, or patisserie, is closely associated with the cafe. After all, nothing beats a delicious piece of cake or a pastry accompanying your coffee. A warm Apple Strudel or a piece of Altwiener Gugelhupf (Viennese Ring Cake) should, on no account, be missing. This close association led to a merging of the boundaries between the coffee house, patisserie and restaurant in the 20th century. Today there is hardly any establishment which doesn’t have a good range of coffees, desserts, snacks and warm dishes on its menu and cakes are often made according to traditional, old recipes.
To be able to bake like grandma used to is something which an increasing number of people today long for and many may also wish that they could still look over grandma’s shoulder to see how she bakes. She did, after all, know best how to make everyone happy. Crescent-shaped Pastries, sweet Yeast Breads and a tempting array of irresistible small Biscuits (e.g. jam filled) not only taste heavenly but also remind us of happy moments spent with family and friends. Discover sweet treats from grandma’s recipe collection and daydream and enjoy – regardless of whether you’re at home or in one of Austria’s coffee houses!