Viennese Coffee House Culture
Shaken, not stirred might be your motto, but on your trip to Austria be sure to visit a traditional Viennese coffee house. Austrian coffee houses, or Kaffeehaus, are famous for their elegance and hospitality as well as the wide range of cakes and pastries on offer. The Kaffeehaus is one of the few institutions which remains consistently popular among all age groups.
At the Kaffeehaus, you will see the young and the old, the quietly busy, and the leisure seekers all coming to enjoy their daily caffeine kick, read newspapers, chat or even work. For some, it’s like a home away from home. For others, it’s all about seeing and being seen. And everyone eventually ends up in the local Kaffeehaus to get some real coffee. UNESCO even added Viennese Coffee House Culture to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list, describing them as “places where time and space are consumed and yet only the coffee is found on the bill.”
Das Leben ist zu kurz für schlechten Kaffee! (Life is too short for bad coffee!)
At the Kaffeehaus
The first things you’ll notice in most Kaffeehaus are the cakes and pastries (Torten und Süßspeisensortiment) on display as you enter. Next, you’ll notice the many different types of Viennese coffees (Wiener Kaffee) on the menu. Long before Starbucks, coffee house visitors in Austria had many variations of coffees, mix-ins, and toppings to choose from.
Understand though, if you call it Kaffee [‘kafe:] with the stress on the first syllable, you’ll be speaking like a German. In Austrian German, with its famous Burgtheaterdeutsch (a High Standard German spoken in Vienna) and the various Austrian dialects, it’s always Kaffee [ka’fe:, stress on the second syllable].
But, don’t worry if your Burgtheaterdeutsch is not up to scratch. Austria is used to welcoming tourists from all over the world. The waitstaff will be happy to help.
Call them to the table with Herr Ober or Fräulein to order. And when you have only a lackerl (a small amount) left in your cup, say “Zahlen, bitte!” (Check, please!) to settle the bill. You’ll find that trinkgeld (a tip) left on the tray won’t go unnoticed.
The Best Viennese Coffee Houses and Konditorei
On your visit to Vienna, you might want to take a look at some of the more famous Kaffeehaus, such as the Demel, Landtmann, Central or Sperl. All of these are situated in the first district, within easy walking distance of the city center.
In the famous Demel café, with its distinctly imperial charm, be sure to try the Annatort, and their delicious drinking chocolates. If you see the word Torte, it always means cake. Traditional cakes to look for at the Konditorei (bakery café) are Malakofftorte (a Russian court-inspired cake with whipped cream and ladyfingers), Sachertorte (a chocolate gateau with apricot jam filling), Dobostorte (a sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel), Esterhazytorte (a sponge cake flavored with cognac and layers of almond meringue) and the Schwarzwälderkirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake.)
My personal favorite is the Biedermeiertorte (layers of light and dark sponge cake with hazelnut cream, maraschino cherries, and jam), which you can only find at the Aida cafés. Aida’s are those hard-to-miss light pink and brown shops dotted throughout the city. Aida’s also bakes a multi-ringed tree cake called a Baumkuchen, which the Viennese often give as gifts.
If you want to take a cake home, I recommend buying a Sachertorte from the Hotel Sacher or an Orangen-Mandeltorte from Gerstner. These sturdy cakes, originally intended to withstand long journeys, come in wooden boxes with paper wrapping (eingepackt).
Striezel (braided yeast bread) also travels well. Try the Briochestriezel, made with sour cream, it is especially delicious at breakfast or teatime with butter and jam.
The best Konditoreien in Vienna, are Heiner, Gerstner, Aida, and Oberlaaer.
Sweet Austrian Pastries
At most of the coffee houses, you can find a large selection of Plundergebäck (pastries), filled with all kinds of sweet delights. Virtually a staple of the Austrian diet all across the country is the so-called Topfengolatsche [pronounced top–fen–go–lat–sche], which comes with a sweet cheese filling.
You’ll also find croissants served in most cafés, a sign of the French influence on Austrian cuisine.
Not to be missed is the Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel), that mainstay of the Austrian cuisine, which can be eaten hot or cold. Also try the Millirahmstrudel (milk-cream strudel), filled with cheese and raisins and served hot with vanilla sauce.
Krapfen (doughnuts without the hole), are a traditional Fasching (mardi gras carnival season) food and come with jam or vanilla fillings. In most cafés and bakeries you’ll also see Kipferln (crescent-shaped walnut cookies covered in powdered sugar.) As well as Beugel (Nussbeugel, Mohnbeugel) crescent-shaped sweet rolls with various fillings, such as walnuts, poppy seeds, and apricot jam.
Types of Viennese Coffees – Wiener Kaffee
Here is a selection of traditional Viennese Coffees typically available at a Kaffeehaus. Try a few and tell us your favorites!
Brauner = black coffee with milk (usually available two sizes)
Einspänner = black coffee in a glass, with cream and icing sugar
Erzherzog Johann = a strong black coffee with cognac and coffee liqueur, and with added whipped cream and cinnamon
Fiaker = black coffee with cherry brandy and a cherry
Franziskaner = a small, diluted strong coffee with hot milk, whipped cream and sprinkled with chocolate
Intermezzo = a small strong coffee with hot chocolate and crème de cacao, garnished with a whipped cream topping and a chocolate bonbon or coffee bean
Kaffee Sobiesky = a large strong black coffee with vodka and honey on the side
Kaisermelange = large strong black coffee with an egg yolk, honey and cognac (or brandy)
Kapuziner = small strong black coffee with a few drops of cream
Konsul = large strong black coffee with a shot of cream
Kosakenkaffee = a small strong black coffee in an Einspänner glass, mixed with red wine, vodka and molten sugar
Kurzer = a strong black coffee made with a small amount of water
Maria Theresia = a small strong coffee, with orange liqueur and brandy in equal parts, two tablespoons of cane sugar, and a whipped cream topping with multicolored sprinkles
Mazagran = cold coffee with maraschino, spices, molten sugar and an ice cube
Meisterkaffee = a large cup of coffee served with brandy
Melange (“Wiener Melange”) = half a cup of strong coffee (Mokka) topped with steamed milk foam
Obermaier = black, slightly sweetened coffee with cold cream (poured over the spoon)
Pharisäer = hot strong black poured over sugar and rum and topped with whipped cream
Salon-Einspänner = an Einspänner flavored with vodka
Überstürzter Neumann = whipped cream in a cup over which a large strong black coffee is poured
Verkehrter = a small strong black coffee in a tea glass which is topped up with hot milk
Verlängerter = a small Mokka in a large cup topped up with hot water