According to Alfred Polgar, a coffee house is a place where people want to go alone, but need company to do so. Of course, the famous Austrian writer was talking about the traditional Viennese coffee house (Kaffeehaus – as it is called in Vienna).
In the moment you enter, you will feel not only the aroma of coffee but also a blow of the faded glory of the past and nostalgic flair. No place for hecticness, just a calm atmosphere and the whisper of talking guests. Nobody is in a hurry, guests are allowed to sit for hours with one drink only, talk, reminisce, meditate, think, click on their notebooks or better to play cards or billiards. This is also a reason why cafés are mostly located in corner buildings and have an L-shape. Coffee used to be served in the first room while a billiard table was standing in the back room.
Simple wooden chairs. Plush sofas for those who want to have more comfort alongside the line of huge windows. People and cars behind them at their usual hot pace. Guests slurp their coffee watching the street outside. Their stomachs become warmer both by the hot drink and the feeling that they escaped that stress at least for a while. Actually, the Viennese Kaffeehaus is described as a place where time and space are consumed but only coffee is found in the bill.
Newspapers and magazines in the wooden frames hang like clothes for a fashion show patiently waiting for the moment to help somebody with all that information in their contents. In the past without internet, the offer of newspapers was even more important than the quality of served drinks. Often, there were also encyclopedias for guests – passionate crossword solvers.
The piano stands here open, waiting for its time when the fingers of a pianist will touch its keys to spread a pleasant melody into the room which will whirl up the nostalgic blast dozing on the old clock, flowers in the vase and even on some guests… By the way, the music of Johann Strauss was also played to an audience in a coffee house for the very first time!
A nimble waitress is busy behind a counter with glass showcases where alluring cakes cut in beautiful triangles dominate like precious crowns for noble heads. Or there are desserts in huge portions in which cream and fine dough are changing in layers. Very often, they are specialities of the house. It is very difficult to resist such sweet temptation. Better to postpone the diet programme for tomorrow.
There are so many coffee specialities on the menu of drinks, some of them with milk or whipping cream, some with rum, liqueur or yolk. In the beginning of the 90s, the choice was lightened by 20 coloured cards – you could choose any shade from light beige to dark black.
A pale waiter – after all, he is spending his days just here in the interior of the coffee house – skilfully balances a small tray and gracefully puts it on the small marble table in front of you. According to the category of the house, the tray is either of aluminium, stainless or silver. Next to the cup of coffee, there is a glass of water and a small spoon is crosswise laid on it. Serving water dates back to the time when coffee was offered to the noble aristocracy only – it was unthinkable to mix the drink and then to put the spoon on the plate or even lick it! It doesn’t show good manners at all! Instead of that, you should have put the spoon into the water in the glass.
I hope I have whetted your appetite enough for having a cup of coffee in a reputable coffee house when you visit Vienna next time (we would like to present some of them on our blog to you). However, you have to keep in mind that you will pay at least 5 € for a coffee.
To help you with your order, here you have the Viennese coffee dictionary:
Schwarzer – small or large – black coffee without sugar or milk, actually espresso or mocca
Verlängerter – Schwarzer (black) coffee with a double portion of water
Brauner – black coffee with some milk
Kapuziner – black coffee with a very small portion of milk or one drop of cream
Melange – the most favourite coffee in Vienna, actually Italian cappuccino, black coffee with a large portion of milk and whipped milk foam sprinkled with cocoa powder
Einspänner – the name means a coach pulled with one horse. It is black coffee with a huge hill of whipped cream served in a glass mug – when a coach driver is waiting for clients, the dick layer of cream keeps the drink warm longer. When some clients appear, he just can mix it with coffee.
Fiaker – this is the word for a coach with two horses. The coffee is similar but with an additional shot of rum or brandy
Maria Theresia – orange liqueur is added into black coffee
Franziskaner – a small Schwarzer (black coffee) with a very large portion of milk and whipped cream sprinkled with cocoa powder
Kaisermelange – „imperial” melange coffee – black coffee with yolk and cognac, sometimes honey is also added
Eiskaffee – iced delicacy for hot summer days – cold coffee with ice and vanilla ice cream
The Kaffeehaus – this typical Viennese institution has survived the monarchy, two world wars and also a big crisis in the 60s of the 20th century when espresso found its way from Italy through the Alps to Austria. It is a strong small coffee in a small cup which you can drink quickly. Even people in Vienna who actually hold by tradition succumbed to the new fashion. The crisis was caused not only due to the popularity of modern espresso bars but also of television! Suddenly, people prefered sitting and drinking coffee at home in their slippers in front of the TV-set. The tradition started to revive at the end of the 80s. People began to meet more again, especially at a cup of good coffee. After all, a coffee house was always a place where intellectual circles met and new ideas were born.
You don’t just drink your coffee in a typical Viennese coffee house, you relish it. There are more than 1,100 cafés of different categories, almost 1,000 espresso bars and more than 200 café-confectionaries in the city. However, not every café is a Kaffeehaus, there are several conditions (mentioned above) to be met.
Today, the Viennese coffee house culture is listed on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (since October 2011).
If you want to know more about how coffee came to Vienna and who established the very first coffee house in the city, read our post: here
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Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri