It’s been over 3 hours since I have been sitting here in a café, only having ordered a cup of coffee. Within minutes of placing my order, a well-garnished cup of coffee was placed on the table, next to my laptop.
It stayed still until I hit the send button for a couple of emails and then I slowly started munching onto the little cookie that came along the coffee. I added a bit of sugar, stirred it and took a sip of my coffee. The cup was back on the table in no time with more than half the coffee still in the cup.
I continued to stare back at my screen, hit back at the keys on my laptop like a true keyboard warrior. Of course, there was a notebook for my old school habit of handwritten notes and the periodic rings coming from the phone.
This has been a routine for years now.
A lot of my life is lived in a coffee shop. And I absolutely love it- the vibe, the people watching, the freedom to pick a new spot and the energy of the place in general brewed with strong cups of coffee.
I am a coffee person. Have been so ever since I learned to differentiate between tea and coffee. Initially, it was just about the beverage, it’s strong bitter taste, an even stronger aroma and the effect it had on me. Slowly, as I was growing up, coffee became the reason to visit coffee shops instead of a canteen, sitting with friends and enjoying a cup of coffee with some conversations. Back then, the best part about coffee shops was that you didn’t have to get up as soon as you finished your coffee/meal. You could sit and chat only to get up when you wanted to leave and pay the bill. This was not the tradition in hotels or eateries.
I also owe it to these coffee shops for giving me the confidence to sit alone with my cup of coffee, whilst reading a book, working or simply watching the people around me. Thereon, being alone was not awkward even while finishing a piece of chocolate cake all by myself.
Over the years, I started meeting people or spending time by myself regularly at coffee shops even if it meant expensive coffees. I began to study, work and even destress myself at coffee shops. And I can tell you, I am not the only one.
Walk into any coffee shop and you’re likely to find over 1/3rd tables covered with individuals sitting with their laptop using the café as their workspace.
That’s one of my favorite elements of current times! You can switch your office as per the coffee shop of your choice and that could be anywhere in the city.
And then, one day I visited the Austrian capital Vienna only to discover the ancient ‘Kaffeehaus Kultur’.
What is Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur?
Tracing back the roots of Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur, the coffee culture in Vienna has been more than an act of leisure. It can be best defined as a movement that went deep into the roots of shaping some of the finest minds in history and refined the social fabric in the Viennese society.
Typically, Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur can be identified with regale settings, the interiors reek of Vienna’s imperialism known historically. A classic setting for thinkers, leaders and impactful men to discuss ideas that would impact generations to come merely over a cup of coffee and nothing else. Just to marvel at the thought that Vienna’s coffee shops were where the cultural fabric of the Viennese society was shaped up.
Vienna was not the first place to have a coffee shop, but the evolution of the coffee culture over the years made it exemplary over the years.
“Viennese Kaffeehauskultur” is listed as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ in the Austrian inventory of the “National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage”, a part of UNESCO. Wiener Kaffeehaus is beautifully described in this inventory as a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”
Today, these coffee houses are still functional in its original form in Vienna, but they also reflect the transformation that the culture has shaped through over the years.
Typically, at a Viennese Kaffeehaus, you’re most likely to a red-velvet cushioned sofa seating, with imperial decors including grand chandeliers, live piano music, and well-dressed waiters wearing waist-coats.
You’re also likely to find newspapers and a menu with the range of food and coffee. As the Viennese Kaffeehaus Kultur, coffee is served in a silver tray with a glass of tap water as a palette cleanser, a cup of coffee, some sugar and sometimes a small chocolate to accompany.
You can dig into your newspaper or simply have a conversation with your friends, this coffee culture is known to be the least intruding after the coffee has been served.
How did Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur affect generations?
Talking of the impact of Vienna’s Coffee House Culture, Stefan Zweig, celebrated Austrian writer described it as an institution of a special kind, “actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.” As per Zweig, it was this very culture that contributed to creating a cosmopolitan Vienna with a regular exchange of international information across the tables.
Famous historical personalities such as Hitler, Sigmund Freud, Mozart, Beethoven, Klimt, etc. were regular visitors at the Viennese Kaffeehauses.
It’s ingenious to guess the world-altering discussions that may have filled the room on such occasions.
Artists, writers, historians, thinkers weren’t particularly loyalists of any single café. You can find the traces of their visits across various kaffeehauses across the Austrian capital.
Coffee in Viennese Kaffeehauses
It would be a great injustice to talk about the coffee house culture without referring to the coffee and its ways.
While coffee is not grown in any part of Austria, the Viennese do know their way around creating some of the finest cups of coffee. Unlike the Italians, Viennese are not about their express coffee bars with coffee on-the-go in paper cups. Even their coffee is presented like the royalty!
Here are some of the top coffees on the menu in typical Viennese cafes:
1. Wiener Melange: (Viennese Blend) is similar to Cappuccino- One espresso shot/black coffee served in a large coffee cup topped with steamed milk and milk foam/ milk cream
2. Short Moka: Expresso served with milk and chocolate
3. Sacher Kaffee: The specialty coffee in the home of the original Sacher Torte is best enjoyed together
4. Salon Einspänner: Two shots of espresso and lots of whipped cream makes up for the Salon Einspänner
5. Pharisäer: It’s a classic German coffee consisting of the black coffee and rum
6. Mozart Kaffee: Named after the great musician, Wolfgang Mozart this coffee contains a tall mocha served with Mozart Liquor (also used in Mozart chocolates in Salzburg) and whipped cream.
7. Maria Theresia: Named after the beloved Austrian queen, Maria Theresia, this coffee consists of a tall/double mocha served with apricot/orange liquor and whipped cream.
Cakes in Viennese Kaffeehauses
Also, deserving of a special mention of their own are Viennese pastries that can be enjoyed with these coffees.
1. The Original Sacher Torte
The Sacher Torte is a chocolate cake, an extremely popular Viennese delicacy. It has been served to the royal guests for years and has been named after its creator Franz Sacher.
2. Viennese Apple Strudel
The classic Viennese apple strudel which comes with a crisp, flaky oblong strudel jacket filled with apple and cinnamon mash filling.
3. Cream Slice (Eggless)
One of the popular, eggless pastries in Vienna to go with a cup of coffee consisting of Vanilla cream on flaky pastry, enhanced with red currant jam.
Visit Café Museum or Café Demel for some fine cakes and pastry options in Vienna.
Top 5 Cafés to Experience Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur
1. Café Central
Café Central is one of the oldest coffee houses in Vienna, established in 1874. The décor of this café speaks much of its character and popularity amongst some of the finest Austrian minds- writers, painters, psychologists, politicians would be spotted here back in the day. Thinking of the coffee and conversations, it surely makes me wonder what times those must have been!
2. Frauenhuber Café
This is the café where Mozart and Beethoven performed live in their early days. Understandably why it remains a favorite amongst many! The Frauenhuber Café was included as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011.
3. Hotel Sacher
This is where the recipe to the original Sacher Torte lies, a popular pastry in Vienna. While you can find the Sacher Torte across many cafes in the city, even the country, it is said that the secret recipe to the original Sacher Torte has been preserved by Hotel Sacher.
4. Café Museum
In its current form, the Café Museum is quite a favorite in the literary circles of Vienna which explains the many meetings even today at this café and the presence of the many books. However, back in the day, Café Museum was a highly frequented spot by some of the finest painters in Vienna.
5. Café Sperl
Café Sperl has a special old school charm to it with a vibrant outlook, an old school interior, and the liberty to be loud, laugh and enjoy conversations. For those of you who have watched Before Sunrise, Café Sperl is what you will identify with.
Why you must visit Vienna to experience the Kaffeehauskultur?
In 2018 when the world has switched from old-school hand-written letters to instant messages, it is the Viennese Kaffeehauskultur where the time stands still and the old-world charm is all set to sweep you off your feet.
You could be sitting at a kaffeehaus, smoking pipes and discussing the intricacies like a villain or you could forget the world in that cup of coffee with a book in hand. Even better, you can bite on some delicious pastries and watch people and the small things that make them beam with joy.
Vienna’s Kaffeehauskultur is not an activity on your to-do list, it’s an experience that will transport you back in time, helping you disconnect with the pettier worries and reconnect with yourself.
Of course, there is a great range of coffees to keep you company!
If you were to experience just one thing in Vienna, this should be it!
Photos: Parampara Patil Hashmi