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Coffee & Cake – The Viennese Coffee House Culture

What does literature have to do with coffee? A whole lot actually, at least when it comes to Vienna. Considered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage, the Viennese Coffee House Culture is not just popular but even considered to be an essential part of Vienna’s traditions. And the Viennese agree completely, thinking of it as a natural core value that they act upon daily. Naturally, the Viennese Coffee House Culture as such an integral aspect of Viennese tradition also comes with a long history.

The recipe to Vienna’s coffee houses

But what does coffee house culture even mean? For the Viennese it is an everyday lifestyle of comfort and tradition and one of their favorite ways to spend their free time. The idea is to go to a coffee house and enjoy some spare time there, either reading a book or the newspaper or meeting up with a friend and talking for hours while sipping on a hot cup of coffee and indulging in a delicious slice of cake. Because of the frequency and length of these coffee house visits the Viennese coffee houses are also known as “the second living room” where people spend a good chunk of their time. And that is exactly, where literature meets coffee.

The coffee houses date back to the Battle of Vienna in 1683 during the Great Turkish War when the Ottomans sieged Vienna for the second time (the first time being in 1529) and brought the Turkish beverage with them. The first coffee houses were founded shortly after and by the time of 1900, the number had blown up to over 600 coffee houses in the city. This led to the so-called “coffee house literature” at the turn of the 20th century when many famous Viennese authors such as Arthur Schnitzler or Stefan Zweig met up in the cafés regularly to write and discuss their works. And even artists like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele as well as the world-famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud were frequent guests of many of the coffee houses.

The ingredients for an afternoon at the café

There are a few main aspects to be considered when spending time at a café in the traditional Viennese style:

The coffee house: The obvious first ingredient is the coffee house itself. There are many coffee houses in all different styles all around the city, from the historical coffee houses with their long tradition in their various shapes and sizes to modern takes such as the typical “hipster cafés”. Especially the traditional ones vary from shabby-looking to highly polished ones.

The coffee: The menu of a Viennese coffee house is truly unusual. Full of names for coffee-based beverages most people have never heard of, they tend to confuse tourists as much as the Viennese themselves. Decide between types of coffees such as the classic “Wiener Melange” (coffee with milk and milk foam on top), the simple “Kleiner Schwarzer” (“little black one” – a small black coffee without sugar or milk) or the unusual “Einspänner” (“one-horse carriage” – small black coffee with cold whipped cream on top) which has its name from the coachmen who preferred this type of coffee because they could drink it with one hand and the coffee stayed hot for longer due to the whipped cream.

The cake: At least as important as the coffee is the cake. It is like an entity, where there is coffee, there is cake too. And Vienna has a lot of great cakes, for sure. The most famous ones being the heartwarming Apple strudel and the chocolatey “Sachertorte”, but there are plenty more such as the funnily shaped “Gugelhupf” and the pink “Punschkrapfen”. It is definitely a necessity to try one of these cakes as they will most likely be one of the most delicious cakes you have ever had.

The cherry on top of your trip

When visiting Vienna, experiencing the coffee house culture is an absolute must. Besides the magnificent look of the traditional cafés, it is a key aspect to understand Vienna’s culture and get a glimpse at the impressive atmosphere of the historical city.

There are a few options to include this tradition into your trip. Enjoy some coffee and cake at a traditional café in the inner city in between or after your sightseeing tour. Or visit the Apple Strudel Show at Café Residenz in Schönbrunn which is a perfect addition for your visit of the Schönbrunn Palace, another absolute must on the Vienna bucket list! The fun show explains to you how to make the perfect apple strudel whilst indulging into a piece yourself – along with some coffee of course.

You can also have your lunch or dinner at Café Landtmann or Café Central. Both cafés are historical ones with a charming and elegant atmosphere and excellent Viennese cuisine to get your “Wiener Schnitzel” or “Tafelspitz”. Café Central is even considered to be one of the most beautiful cafés in the world with its incredible ceiling and architecture. But Café Landtmann does definitely not fall short on the ambience either with its original seating and historical “Salon” rooms.

No matter which option you prefer, just make sure that you do not miss out on the coffee! Which leaves us with one important question: How do you drink yours?