Coffee Culture in Vienna

7 Feb

This post is my dedicated to my love for a good cup of coffee, which is a rare commodity (drink the everyday coffee in my office and you will agree), and to all coffee lovers (especially my friend Sridhar) reading this post.

When we were researching on things to do in Vienna, the thing that kept popping up on all websites, blogs and advice from friends was that – a visit to a typical Viennese coffee-house is a must. Naturally, we were quite curious as to what is it that warrants such attention and following. Well we were in for a pleasant surprise.

The Viennese coffee-house (German – Wiener Kaffeehaus, Viennese Weana Kafäähaus) is an institution that has played a vital role in shaping the Viennese culture and tradition. It can be equated to an English pub in England and Ireland, Pubs in Greece and Tapas in Spain.

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.” I couldn’t agree more with this.

Per wikipedia, 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 were left by the Turkish) that they initially thought were camel feed and wanted to burn. The Polish king  granted the sacks to one of his officers 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 this officer, Kulczycki in the window.

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.

However what does one do in these coffee houses today apart from drinking coffee? Well basically, Everything and Nothing. You can sit here for hours (you can just order 1 cup of coffee and linger for the full day; the waiter will not say anything or hover over your head) and then think, reflect on life or choices, read, meet with people, debate, play, gossip, observe other people in the cafe, watch the streets or the world go by. A lot of writers have also written some of their most famous works in these coffee houses and still meet to exchange notes etc. Many Cafes also play piano music and organise social events like literary readings, etc.

Kanu and I visited a couple of coffee shops during our stay and sat there for hours planning our trip further, clicking random pictures, eating sacher torte and apfetstrudel and generally looking all around. Our constant excuses to visit were – a break from all the walking, the excessive heat, tired feet etc etc and we just wouldn’t realise how time flew whenever were here. However our advice is that visit a cooffee house which the locals visit, and don’t fall into the typical tourist trap cafes.

A local also told me that the taste of Viennese coffee is different from the coffee anywhere else because of the taste of water in Vienna. The drinking water / tap water in Vienna flows from the mountain springs in the Styrian/Lower Austrian Alps and has a distinct taste. This is the taste which makes coffee in Vienna very different.

Additionally, there is no dearth of choices as there are about 30 typical options of coffee to choose from –

  1. Biedermeier– Large Mokka (see) served in a large cup with apricot liqueur and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
  2. Brauner– Black coffee served with a small jug of coffee-flavoured cream. Can be large (Grosser Brauner) or small (Kleiner Brauner).
  3. Cappuccino– Strong coffee with plenty of milk, topped with frothed milk and (usually) chocolate flakes.
  4. Doppelspänner – Twice as strong as Einspänner (see).
  5. Doppelter– Double espresso, made with 14 grams of coffee powder per cup instead of 7.
  6. Einspänner– Mokka (see) served in a glass instead of a cup, with a crown of whipped cream on top.
  7. Eiskaffee– Cold coffee served in a tall glass with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.
  8. Espresso – Black coffee from the Espresso-machine. Can be large or small.
  9. Fiaker– Large Mokka (see) or Verlängerter (see) with a shot of rum. This is served in a glass or large cup an may be topped with wipped cream.
  10. Filterkaffee– Filter coffee.
  11. Franziskaner– Light Melange (see) with whipped cream and chocolate flakes.
  12. Griechischer– Same as Türkischer (see).
  13. Kaisermelange– Large coffee without milk, mixed with egg yolk, honey and cognac or brandy. Not to everybody’s taste, but worth trying.
  14. Kapuziner– Regular or large black coffee with a shot of milk or cream. May be sprinkled with cocoa or cinnamon.
  15. Konsul – Black coffee with a little cream.
  16. Maria Theresia– Black coffee with orange liqueur, whipped cream and sugar. Named after the Austrian Empress (1740-1780).
  17. Mariloman– Mocha with Cognac.
  18. Mazagran– Black coffee with maraschino, spices and liquid sugar, served cold with ice-cubes in a special glass.
  19. Melange (or Wiener Melange) – Half coffee and half hot milk, topped with milk foam or whipped cream. Can be sweetened with sugar or milk.
  20. Mokka– Strong black coffee without milk. Can be large (Grosser Mokka) or small (Kleiner Mokka).
  21. Mokka g’spritzt– Mocha squirted with a little rum, brandy or cognac.
  22. Mokkasino– One third espresso, one-third cocoa and one-third milk.
  23. Mozart – Large mocha with cherry brandy and whipped cream. Named after… guess who?
  24. Obermeier– Mocha with cream added by pouring it on the back of a coffee spoon.
  25. Pharisäer– Large mocha with rum and whipped cream.
  26. Schale Gold– Espresso with cream, served in a large cup (or tea cup).
  27. Schwarzer– Plain strong black coffee. Can be large (Grosser Schwarzer) or small (Kleiner Schwarzer).
  28. Türkischer– Turkish-style, unfiltered mocha.
  29. Verkehrt(aka café au lait, caffè latte, latte macchiato) – Small mocha infused with hot milk and milk foam.
  30. Verlängerter – Blander variety of a Brauner (see), weakened with a little hot water and served with milk instead of cream.

Well, our personal favourite was the Cafe Melange. 🙂

Please do note that a “Café-Konditorei” is not a traditional coffee-house, but a pastry shop.

So, when you are in Vienna next, take some time out and visit one of these cafes for a couple of hours to get a true flavor of Vienna. 🙂

7 Responses to “Coffee Culture in Vienna”

  1. Michael February 7, 2012 at 15:44 #

    I like your coffee list. Would be really good if coffee shops worldwide would standardize the definitions of coffees. Nowadays you ask for a latte and get a different drink every time. But its a hopeless cause – we cant even standardize electricity sockets…


    • getsetandgo February 7, 2012 at 18:01 #

      I completely agree with you on this. I so wish everyday for one decent coffee shop in Mumbai but alas… I am still wishing.. 😦


  2. Gurjot February 7, 2012 at 19:15 #

    Very thought proving n insights write up on coffee i must say…..kudos.


    • getsetandgo February 7, 2012 at 23:42 #

      Thanks Gurjot and I can always write loads on coffee .. 🙂


  3. arun February 11, 2012 at 19:08 #

    Since you are in coffee, you must travel to latin america at the earliest. Brazil for sure.


    • getsetandgo February 11, 2012 at 20:10 #

      Thanks Arun… That’s definitely on my list 🙂



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