The Viennese coffeehouse
The Viennese coffeehouse © Serg73 - BigstockphotoAn itinerary highlight for visitors to Vienna and a home from home for quite a few locals: the Viennese coffeehouse. Viennese coffeehouse culture was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets in 2011.
There are around 2,400 coffeehouses in Vienna, ranging from elegant traditional cafés to simple bistros with standing room only, and from spacious café-restaurants to cozy café-patisseries. In the capital’s classic coffee houses, the wait staff are still dressed in black, and the décor is as like it was in the ‘good old days’: wooden floors, marble-topped tables, simple Thonet chairs and plush bench seating. Traditional Viennese coffeehouses usually also have a wide range of national and international newspapers for its guests to peruse. The complimentary little glass of water served alongside each cup of coffee is an absolute must, whatever the location.
In 2011 Vienna’s coffeehouse culture was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. According the official report, “the coffeehouses are a place where patrons consume time and space, but only the coffee appears on the bill.” This perfectly captures what a traditional Viennese coffeehouse has to offer – other than a delicious Melange coffee and a slice of fresh Gugelhupf. The city’s coffeehouses are the ideal place to take time out, and open to all echelons of society. Then as now, the capital’s coffeehouses fulfil an important social function. People go to them to philosophize, lounge about, meditate, read the paper, gossip, flirt, play billiards or chess, talk to friends and strangers about everything and anything. And, of course, enjoy coffee and the odd slice of cake.
While the coffeehouses might have changed over the years, the reasons for visiting them have very much stayed the same. As Stefan Zweig wrote in Die Welt von gestern, the café is still “a democratic club where a cup of coffee can be had cheaply and where for this small sum every guest can sit, discuss, write, play cards, receive mail and, above all, consume an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines for hours on end.” The café becomes a home from home, where you can be alone in company.
The first documentary evidence of a Viennese coffeehouse dates back to an establishment on what is now Rotenturmstrasse 14 in the old town. It was opened by an Armenian by the name of Johann Diodato in 1685. Today, this address is home to Café Daniel Moser. Different groups of people have their preferred coffeehouse: the ministerial functionaries go to Café Ministerium on Georg-Coch-Platz, the art students to Prückel on Stubenring and the politicians to Landtmann on Universitätsring.
Home from Home
Today the poet Peter Altenberg – or at least a papier-mâché version of him – still holds court in Café Central in Herrengasse in the first district. In the first third of the 20th century this was Altenberg’s postal address and where he had his Stammtisch (“regulars’ table”), the place where he would meet up with Adolf Loos, one of the most important Modernist architects, and his wife Lina, the actor and essayist Egon Friedell and the writer Alfred Polgar. Today the atmosphere at Café Central is distinctly upmarket and bourgeois. During the week it is popular with businesspeople, while at the weekends visitors to the city encircle the papier-mâché poet and listen to the piano music.
Café Hawelka is also located in the first district. Its popularity and artsy image dates back to the post-war period when the little coffeehouse kept its doors open until midnight. In the 1950s and 1960s the writers, artists and intellectuals that frequented Café Hawelka turned it into the home of the anti-bourgeois oppositional artist movement. Numerous literary figures regularly met there including the members of the Wiener Gruppe (Vienna Group) – H.C. Artmann, Konrad Bayer, Gerhard Rühm and Oswald Wiener. And although a fair amount has changed at Hawelka since those times, one thing has stayed the same: it still serves delicious Buchteln (a hybrid donut/brioche creation from Bohemia, typically filled with damson jam) fresh from the oven.
Another important meeting place of the big names of turn-of-the-century Vienna (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus, Georg Trakl, Elias Canetti, Hermann Broch, Robert Musil, Leo Perutz, Alban Berg, Franz Lehár, Oscar Strauss and Otto Wagner) was Café Museum, which first opened its doors in 1899 in a prime location by Naschmarkt and the Secession building. The pared down interiors, created by one of its later regulars Adolf Loos, provided an aesthetic counterpoint to the widespread historicist opulence found elsewhere in the city, earning it the nickname of Café Nihilism. In 1931 the interior of the café was remodeled by Josef Zotti, a student of Josef Hoffmann. After several closures and a number of redesigns, Café Museum reopened in 2010 with the Zotti design concept restored.
There were once 27 traditional Viennese coffeehouses on the Ringstrasse Boulevard, but only precious few survived the wave of coffeehouse closures in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of them have been restored, taking them back to their former glory, such as Schwarzenberg on Kärntner Ring and Landtmann on Universitätsring. Others found themselves suddenly reborn as contemporary espresso bars.
In addition to a popular – and thriving – coffeehouse tradition, the philosophy and practices of Third Wave Coffee and the latest international coffee trends also have their place in the city: sustainability, natural purity, fair trade, direct trade, a wide variety of flavor profiles, own roasts and new and old preparation methods from cold brew to drip filter all play a role. Alternatives to traditional coffeehouses that are a far cry from the typical marble tables, Thonet chairs and waiters in black suits are booming in the city.
One such example is Kaffeefabrik on Favoritenstrasse in the fourth district. This small, quirkily decorated store sells roasts from its private roastery using beans sourced from all over the world, as well as coffee to go. Akrap Espressobar in Königsklostergasse also has its own roastery, only this time it’s in Milan. The finished product is available in countless different varieties including the caffeine packed Triple Shot. POC – People On Caffeine have set up shop in a highly unusual location: the wing of a church in the eighth district. Here, customers can enjoy coffee underneath the historic vaulted ceilings from a classic espresso machine or made simply using old fashioned drip filters.
In Servitengasse, an idyllic side street in the ninth district, Caffè a Casa offers products from its own roastery. Espressomobil follows a completely different business model – having reduced the coffeehouse format to a three-wheeled Italian moped. These mobile coffee vans park up at some of the city’s busiest squares in the mornings, switch on the machines and serve up premium coffee to take away until lunchtime.
Excellent coffee is also the order of the day at CaffèCouture in the grand Palais Ferstel. The beans are roasted by the barista in person at the company’s other branch in the ninth district. Praterstrasse in the second district is another place for fans of fine-brewed coffee, with Supersense and Kaffeebar Balthasar among the go-to destinations. Meanwhile, at Kaffemik in the seventh district each month brings different varieties from guest roasteries. With its echoes of a colonial grocery store, Wiener Rösthaus in the eighth district roasts its own beans on site.
Erwin Gegenbauer, known locally as the “Vinegar pope”, is famous for his excellent vinegars, but also roasts coffee on Naschmarkt where he offers three different blends. Aromatic freshly-roasted beans are also available from the Alt Wien roastery on Schleifmühlgasse. A number of major players on the capital’s coffee scene also roast their own beans, including Aida, Julius Meinl and Naber.
People love to drink coffee in Vienna, ideally with a slice of something sweet to go with it. So it comes as no surprise to learn that the city is home to a proliferation of bakeries and pastry shops with their own cafés. While it is true that guests may not spend quite as long sitting in them as they would in a traditional coffeehouse, they certainly tend to walk out having consumed more calories. Aida, the archetypal Viennese Café-Konditorei, is a chain of more than 30 café-patisseries located throughout the city. In a candy pink interior, the display cabinets are filled with cakes, pastries, croissants,
strudels and much more besides. The finest baked goods and pastries can also be found at Kurkonditorei Oberlaa, with Sacher and Demel’s legendary products another option. But it also goes without saying that Vienna’s “normal” coffeehouses also have a wide range of sweet treats.
One thing that sets Vienna apart is the sheer variety of traditional coffee specialties on offer in the city. And although not every coffeehouse upholds this proud tradition and offers all of them, the hard and fast rule still applies: never order just a “coffee”. These are just some of the options: a Schwarzer or Mokka is a strong black coffee without milk; a grosser Brauner or kleiner Brauner is a large or small black coffee with a shot of cream; a Verlängerter is a small black coffee “lengthened” with hot water and available with or without milk. A Melange is a shot of espresso “lengthened” slightly with hot water, topped up with hot milk and milk foam. Other slightly more exotic specialties include the Kapuziner (small black coffee with a few drops of cream), the Franziskaner (light Melange topped with whipped cream), the Einspänner (large Mokka in a glass with lots of whipped cream), the Fiaker (Mokka in a glass with a shot of rum) or the Türkischer (unfiltered Mokka). Numerous international varieties including Espresso, Cappuccino, Caffè Latte and Irish Coffee are now also commonly found on traditional Vienna coffeehouse menus.
And Vienna has yet another coffee-related tradition all of its own: the Coffeehouse Owners’ ball (www.kaffeesiederball.at). The event is organized by the Viennese Coffeehouse Owners’ Club, an association that represents traditional and innovative coffeehouses alike. Highly popular among the city’s residents, this elegant ball takes place during the carnival season at the Hofburg, attracting around 6,000 guests each year.
Viennese coffeehouses – selected highlightsAida
The highest-profile of the 30-plus locations operated by the chain (est. 1925) in Vienna. Great views from the first floor
Stephansplatz/Singerstrasse 1, 1010 Vienna, www.aida.at
Art Nouveau café, occasional live music events
Bellariastrasse 6, 1010 Vienna, www.cafebellaria.at
Thomas Bernhard’s favorite café and as stylish as ever. Large selection of newspapers
Stallburggasse 2, 1010 Vienna
Breathing new life into old coffeehouse traditions. In-house patisserie
Corner of Herrengasse and Strauchgasse, 1010 Vienna, www.cafecentral.wien
Café Daniel Moser
Trendy bar on the site of Vienna’s first ever coffeehouse
Rotenturmstrasse 14, 1010 Vienna, www.danielmoser.at
Textbook example of a good, old coffeehouse
Wollzeile 10, 1010 Vienna, www.diglas.at
Café de l‘Europe
Prime location, café with restaurant on the first floor
Graben 31, 1010 Vienna, www.cafe-europe.at
Café Dommayer – Kurkonditorei Oberlaa
The epitome of Hietzing elegance, delicacies from the in-house patisserie
Dommayergasse 1/Auhofstrasse 2, 1130 Vienna, www.oberlaa-wien.at
Café Drechsler Wienzeile
Relaunched legendary cult café by the Naschmarkt
Linke Wienzeile 22, 1060 Vienna, www.drechsler-wien.at
One of the oldest cafés in the city, lovingly polished to a shine
Josefstädterstrasse 2, 1080 Vienna, www.cafe-eiles.at
Steeped in tradition and one of the oldest coffeehoses in Vienna, free of airs and graces
Himmelpfortgasse 6, 1010 Vienna, www.cafefrauenhuber.at
Fine Viennese Art Nouveau café with contemporary cuisine and specialty coffees, billiard tables
Argentinierstrasse 49, 1040 Vienna, www.cafegoldegg.at
Artists’ haunt, congenially shabby. Buchteln fresh from the oven!
Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Vienna, www.hawelka.at
Large café in an imperial setting
Hofburg, Innerer Burghof, 1010 Vienna, www.cafe-hofburg.at
Spacious meeting place, practical and original
Josefstädter Strasse 66, 1080 Vienna, www.cafehummel.at
A coffeehouse for the Viennese, lived in 1960s vibe
Brandstätte 9, 1010 Wien, www.cafekorb.at
Next door to the Burgtheater, where politicians and artists rub shoulders
Universitätsring 4, 1010 Vienna, www.landtmann.at
Traditional Viennese coffeehouse at Karlsplatz
Operngasse 7/Karlsplatz, 1010 Vienna, www.cafemuseum.at
Classic coffee from Viennese coffee roaster Naber.
Wipplingerstrasse 25, 1010 Vienna, www.nbr.wien
Ringstrasse coffeehouse with a 1950s interior designed by Oswald Haerdtl
Stubenring 24, 1010 Vienna, www.prueckel.at
Café-Restaurant Residenz Schönbrunn
In Schönbrunn Palace. Apple Strudel Show at the Court Bakery
Schönbrunn Palace, 1130 Vienna, www.cafe-residenz.at
Classic coffeehouse on the bustling Mariahilfer Strasse
Mariahilfer Strasse 73, 1060 Vienna, www.caferitter.at
Café Sacher Wien
Elegance par excellence opposite the State Opera house, original Sachertorte!
Philharmonikerstrasse 4, 1010 Vienna, www.sacher.com
Grand, Baroque and popular among the LGBT community
Linke Wienzeile 36, 1060 Vienna, www.savoy.at
Lovingly renovated classic coffeehouse
Staudgasse 1, 1180 Vienna, www.cafeschopenhauer.at
Vienna’s first Ringstrasse café
Kärntner Ring 17, 1010 Vienna, www.cafe-schwarzenberg.at
Large coffeehouse opposite the Westbahnhof station, a Viennese classic
Mariahilfer Strasse 128, 1070 Vienna, www.cafe-westend.at
Large and striking offshoot of the traditional café-pastry shop
Kärntner Strasse 13-15, 1010 Vienna, www.sluka.at
Popular and award-winning – coffeehouse romanticism at its finest
Gumpendorfer Strasse 11, 1060 Vienna, www.cafesperl.at
A city oasis and 1920s-style classic
Führichgasse 8, 1010 Vienna, www.cafetirolerhof.at
A meeting point for audiences and artists at the Volksoper
Währinger Strasse 68, 1090 Vienna, www.cafeweimar.at
Demel K. & K. Hofzuckerbäcker
Artistic shop windows and cakes displays, Empress Elisabeth was a big fan of Demel’s pastries and confectionery
Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Vienna, www.demel.at
Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker
Café-restaurant, bar and shop, finest goods on three floor – served with views of the Vienna State Opera
Kärntner Strasse 51, 1010 Vienna, www.gerstner-konditorei.at
Alternative Viennese coffee scene – selected highlights
Small coffee bar with interesting coffee blends
Königsklostergasse 7, 1060 Vienna, www.akrapcoffee.com
Alt Wien Kaffee Rösterei
Freshly roasted pure beans of the highest quality
Schleifmühlgasse 23, 1040 Vienna, www.altwien.at
A bastion of espresso culture
Praterstrasse 38, 1020 Vienna, www balthasar.at
Caffè a Casa
In-house coffee roastery
Hoher Markt 8-9, Wipplingerstrasse 32, 1010 Vienna + Servitengasse 4a, 1090 Vienna, www.caffeacasa.com
Brew bar and roasting lab
Garnisongasse 18, 1090 Vienna, www.caffecouture.com
Beautiful location in the opulent Ferstel-Passage arcade
Freyung 2, Palais Ferstel Passage, 1010 Vienna, www.caffecouture.com
Show roastery in the café
Spitalgasse 17, 1090 Vienna, www.coffeepirates.at
The converted Piaggio mini transporters are always on the scene with coffee wherever anything is happening in Vienna
Quirky mini-café: prepared in a small coffee kitchen, this third-wave coffee is dispensed through an open window
Fleischmarkt 9 (Griechengasse passageway), 1010 Vienna, sasha.coffee/fenster-cafe
Gota Coffee Experts
Own roasters, workshops and barista courses
Mariahilfer Strasse 192, 1150 Vienna, www.gota.coffee
Specialties from micro roasteries, direct trade coffee
Westbahnstrasse 13, 1070 Vienna, Währingerstrasse 2-4, 1090 Vienna, www.jonasreindl.at
Tiny coffeebar run by the micro roastery with shop
Favoritenstrasse 4-6, 1040 Vienna, www.kaffeefabrik.at
Coffee shop with a cool interior, at Schottentor subway station
Schottentor-Passage 8, 1010 Vienna, www.kaffeekueche.at
Espresso and filter coffee from top European roasteries
Zollergasse 5, 1070 Vienna, www.kaffemik.at
Good coffee in a mini shop
Josefstädter Strasse 35, 1080 Vienna, www.kaffeemodul.at
Hawelka Coffee Roastery
Taste and buy the famous Café Hawelka’s own roasted blends
Dorotheergasse 7, 1010 Vienna, www.hawelka.at
POC – People On Caffeine
All the latest coffee trends in the wing of a church
Schlösselgasse 21, 1080 Vienna, www.facebook.com/poccafe
1950s-style standing bar, specialties from private roasteries in Austria and Italy
Wiedner Hauptstrasse 40, 1040 Vienna, www.schoenbergers.at
Unger und Klein im Hochhaus
Fully glazed mini espresso bar on the ground floor of Vienna’s first high rise (built 1932)
Herrengasse 6-8, 1010 Vienna, www.imhochhaus.at
Wiener Kaffee Rösterei Gegenbauer
Own roasts at Naschmarkt stand
Naschmarkt Stand 111-114, 1040 Vienna, www.gegenbauer.at
Roastery for luxury coffees, rarities and single origin with coffeehouse at the Prater
Prater 80/2, 1020 Vienna, Tigergasse 33, 1080 Vienna, www.wienerroesthaus.at