Vienna’s Coffeehouse Culture

Vienna’s Coffeehouse Culture

Grand European Travel Director Frank Looze shares his knowledge of Viennese coffeehouses including some of his favorite cafes and recommendations for enjoying this unique part of Austria’s cultural heritage.

Coffee is an Arabian invention. The first cafes opened in the early 16th century in cities like Cairo and Aleppo. However, it was in Europe – especially Vienna – where the coffeehouse came into full bloom. In 1685 a Greek-Armenian merchant Johannes Theodat founded the first coffeehouse in Vienna. The Viennese added milk and sugar to soften the taste of the strong Turkish coffee. Viennese coffeehouses soon became places where you could freely exchange ideas and enjoy thoughtful conversations over a cup of coffee.

Caffeine sharpens the wit and revives the spirit. Maybe that’s why by the end of the 19th century a generation of scientists, writers and artists like Gustav Klimt and Joseph Roth frequented coffeehouses. Stefan Zweig wrote his famous memoirs at the elegant Hotel Sacher in Salzburg. Perhaps that’s why philosopher George Steiner noted that, “the coffeehouse is one of the main components of the European identity”.

Some of my favorite coffeehouses include Café Pruckel where musicians play piano music in the evening, the elegant Landtmann where Freud used to drink his coffee and café Demel where you can enjoy a delicious Apfelstrudl. There’s also the Hotel Sacher – home to one of the best pastries in the world, the Sacher Torte (cake).

Like Viennese coffee, the Sacher Torte has an interesting history all it’s own. It was created by Franz Sacher. In 1830 – at the age of 14 – he joined the kitchen brigade of the prince of Metternich, a famous diplomat of the time. One day, the kitchen’s chef fell ill. Franz replaced the Maestro and created his own dessert for the prince. He combined dark chocolate, vanilla, apricot jam with some whipped cream and voila the Sacher Torte was born!

If you visit a coffeehouse be sure to peruse the expansive menus – some feature over 30 coffee variations including Mokka (strong black coffee), Melange (regular coffee with warm milk and lots of foam), Brauner (black coffee with milk), Einspanner (black coffee with whipped cream and powder sugar), Fiaker (strong coffee with rum or brandy), Maria Theresa (a double Mokka with apple liquor, whipped cream and flakes of chocolate) or Ice Coffee (cold coffee with vanilla, whipped cream and chocolate flakes). Their is also the familiar espresso or cappuccino. Besides coffee and pastries, most Vienna coffeehouses offer small dishes, salads or sausages.

Once you’ve ordered your coffee, fully immerse yourself in Vienna’s coffeehouse culture by sitting back and maybe reading a newspaper or engaging a travel companion in a lively debate. By doing so you’ll quickly discover why Viennese Coffeehouse culture is listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. 

Interested in experiencing Vienna’s coffehouse culture? Learn more about the 11-Day Imperial Highlights Guided Vacation.

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