The Viennese Coffee House (German: Wiener Kaffeehaus) is a typical institution of Vienna that played an important part shaping Viennese culture.
Since October 2011 the “Viennese Coffee House Culture” is listed as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” in the “Austrian Inventory” of the “National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage”, a part of UNESCO. The Viennese Coffee House is described in this inventory as a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.
Unlike some other café traditions around the world, it is completely normal for a customer to linger alone for hours and study the omnipresent newspaper. Along with coffee, the waiter will serve an obligatory glass of cold tap water and during a long stay will often bring additional water unrequested, with the idea being that you are a guest who should feel welcomed and not pressured to leave for another patron.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, leading writers of the time became attached to the atmosphere of Viennese cafés and were frequently seen to meet, exchange and to even write there. Literature composed in cafés is commonly referred to as coffee house literature, the writers thereof as coffee house poets. The famous journal Die Fackel (“The Torch”) by Karl Kraus is said to have been written in cafés to a large extent. Other coffee house poets include Arthur Schnitzler, Alfred Polgar, Friedrich Torberg, and Egon Erwin Kisch. Famous writer and poet Peter Altenberg even had his mail delivered to his favorite café, the Café Central.
The furnishings of a Viennese café can vary from plush and comfy to coldly modern and stylish. The classic look includes Michael Thonet chairs and marble tabletops.
Many cafés provide small food dishes like sausages as well as desserts, cakes and tarts, like Apfelstrudel, Millirahmstrudel (milk-cream strudel) and Linzer torte.
In many classic cafés (for example Café Diglas, Café Central, Café Prückel) piano music is played in the evening and social events like literary readings are held. In warmer months, customers can often sit outside in a Schanigarten.
Legend has it that soldiers of the Polish-Habsburg army, while liberating Vienna from the second Turkish siege in 1683, found a number of sacks with strange beans that they initially thought were camel feed and wanted to burn. The Polish king Jan III Sobieski granted the sacks to one of his officers named Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, who started the first coffee house. After some experimentation, he added some sugar and milk, and the Viennese coffee tradition was born. This achievement has been recognized in many modern Viennese coffeehouses by hanging a picture of Kulczycki in the window. Another account is that Kulczycki, having spent two years in Ottoman captivity, knew perfectly well what coffee really is and tricked his superiors into granting him the beans that were considered worthless.
Vienna’s first coffee house was opened by the Greek Johannes Theodat in 1685. 15 years later, four Greek owned coffeehouses had the privilege to serve coffee.
The new drink was well received, and coffee houses began to pop up rapidly. In the early period, the various drinks had no names, and customers would select the mixtures from a colour-shaded chart.
The heyday of the coffee house was the turn of the nineteenth century when writers like Peter Altenberg, Alfred Polgar, Karl Kraus, Hermann Broch and Friedrich Torberg made them their preferred place of work and pleasure. Many famous artists, scientists, and politicians of the period such as Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, Theodor Herzl, Alfred Adler, and even Leon Trotsky were constant coffee house patrons. In Prague, Budapest, Cracow, and Lviv (Lemberg) and other cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire there were also many coffee houses according to the Viennese model.
From 1950, the period of “coffee house death” or Kaffeehaussterben began, as many famous Viennese coffee houses had to close, in parts due to the popularity of television and the appearance of modern espresso bars, but mostly as a result of the Holocaust devastating a large part of what made the Vienese coffee house a cultural institution. Nevertheless, many of these classic Viennese spots still exist, and tourism and a renewed interest in their history have prompted a comeback.
- Kaffee Alt Wien, Bäckerstraße 9
- Café Bräunerhof, Stallburggasse 2 – Thomas Bernhard’s favourite café in Vienna
- Café Central, in the Palais Ferstel, entrance of Herrengasse 14 (corner of Strauchgasse) — Peter Altenberg’s favorite café and at times his primary address
- Café Demel, Kohlmarkt 14 – the most famous sweet bakery, less of a typical café
- Café Diglas, Wollzeile 10
- Café Frauenhuber, Himmelpfortgasse 6 – Vienna’s oldest café.
- Café Griensteidl, Michaelerplatz 2 — newly opened at the site of the classic Café Griensteidl (1847–1897) in 1990
- Café Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6
- Café Hummel, Josefstädterstraße 66
- Kleines Café, Franziskanerplatz 3. Considered the smallest café in town. Known from the movie Before Sunrise.
- Café Korb, Brandstätte 9
- Café Landtmann, Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 4 – Sigmund Freud’s preferred café.
- Café Mozart, Albertinaplatz 2 (opposite the Albertina)
- Café Museum, Operngasse 7
- Café Prückel, Stubenring 24 (at the corner of Dr. Karl-Lueger-Platz)
- Café Raimund, Museumstraße 6
- Hotel Sacher, Philharmonikerstraße 4 (a café part of the Hotel Sacher)
- Café Schottenring, Schottenring 19
- Café Schwarzenberg, Kärntner Ring 17 (at Schwarzenbergplatz)
- Café Sperl, Gumpendorferstraße 11, Adolf Hitler’s preferred café.
- Café Tirolerhof, Führichgasse 8
- Weinwurm/Café Weinwurm, Stephansplatz
- Aida, a well-known chain located all over the city. Fairly inexpensive compared to the other options. A popular location is right beside Stephansplatz.
On the Art of Ordering Coffee in Austria
There is no coffee in Austria. That′s right: there are easily a dozen of coffee variations available in a decent café and ordering simply “coffee” might make the waiter slap you in disgust. If you want to shine in a café in Austria, you will have to get prepared to order something more specific. To help resolving the worst confusion, here a quick overview on the most common coffee specialities:
Kleiner Brauner and Großer Brauner: Means “little brown one” or “large brown one” and comes close to what people consider to be ordinary coffee: black with a bit of milk, yet typically not filtered, but steamed like espresso.
Melange: The king of coffee, a mix of frothed milk and steamed coffee similar to the Italian cappuccino, but consumed at any time of the day.
Milchkaffee or Café latte: A large coffee with frothed milk, has been around for a long time, but recently gained popularity probably due to its fancy Italian name that sounds much cooler than “Milchkaffee”.
Einspänner: Strong, black coffee typically served in a high glass with a dash of whipped cream.
Fiaker: Named after horse-and-carriages, the Fiaker is a rather not-so-common drink of coffee with a shot of Austrian rum and whipped cream.
Mazagran: A cold Fiaker-variation, coffee, ice, a shot of rum – and possibly a bit of sugar. A wonderful boost of refreshing energy in the summer.
Konsul: An even less common creation than the Fiaker, a black coffee with a small spot of unshipped cream.
Verlängerter: A diluted and thus weaker, but larger version of the Großer Brauner, typically served with milk. Means “extended one”.
Schwarzer or Mokka: Strong, black coffee, normally consumed with a lot of sugar, but served without.
Kurzer or Espresso: The same coffee, in recent years the Austrian term “Kurzer” (meaning “short one”) has almost gone extinct and these days, the international “Espresso” is to be found on the menus much more commonly.
Türkischer: Meaning “Turkish one” and is just that – grated coffee boiled for a long time in water with sugar and served as a very hot, strong coffee with the grains still in the cup.
Eiskaffee: Cold coffee with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and whipped cream – served typically in the summer months, but ideal for the hot season. Only ice tea is more refreshing.
Cappuccino: What is sold in Austria under that name is NOT the Italian (thus not the international) version of a cappuccino, but a regional variation made from coffee and whipped cream rather than frothed milk.
The coffee consumption of Austria in cup per capita is among the highest in the World – higher than in Italy, which might surprise some of you. Even more surprising are those nations that beat us: Norwegians, for example, drink even more coffee than Austrians. So do the Finish, Danish and Germans.
Over-all, there seems to be North-South gradient running across Europe in terms of coffee aficionados. Coffee beans in Austria are typically roasted until they are very dark, almost black. This is called the “Italian” or “French roast” and the most common tan for coffee beans.