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Coffeehouses in Vienna

Viennese coffeehouses LEFT: Typical Austrian coffee service.

Coffeehouses are more commonplace than McDonald's in the English-speaking world these days, but they were a part of Viennese culture long before Seattle ever heard of Starbucks. What's more, the Kaffeehäuser of Vienna have more in common with Parisian literary cafés or English pubs than they do with modern espresso bars that serve latté in paper cups. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig described the Viennese café as "an institution of a special kind...a sort of democratic club for discussion, writing, and playing cards."

Don't let Zweig's description keep you from patronizing Vienna's coffeehouses if you prefer solitary sipping to activities befitting an extrovert. Another writer, Alfred Polgar, had this to say about Vienna's legendary Café Central, a Baroque coffeehouse in the grand tradition whose whose patrons have included Goethe, Beethoven, Mahler, and Trotsky:

"Its inhabitants are, for the most part, people who are misanthropes, and whose aversion to other people is as acute as their need for people: who want to be alone, but must have company to do so. The habitué of the Central is a person who derives no sense of belonging from his family, profession, or party; the Café Central comes to his rescue, inviting him to join and escape. Its customers know, love, and underestimate one another. Even those who profess not to know each other regard this non-relationship as a kind of relationship; mutual dislike serves as a unifying force at the Central, a sort of camaraderie. Everyone knows about everybody. The Café Central is a village in the center of the metropolis, steaming with gossip, curiosity, and slander."

Vienna coffeehouses, Hotel Imperial Café

ABOVE: Imperial Café in the Hotel Imperial, Vienna.

What to order

Coffee is the main stock in trade of the coffeehouse, as you might expect, but the beverage choices are different from what you might expect at home. Cleanse your mind of familar Italian names like "espresso" and "cappucino" and memorize these choices instead:

Schwarzer. Strong black coffee. A kleiner Schwarzer is the equivalent of an espresso; a grosser Schwarzer is a double shot. Also called a Mokka.

Brauner. Coffee with a dash of milk or cream.

Goldener. Coffee with milk; similar to "regular coffee" in New York.

Mélange. Equal amounts of milk and coffee with froth.

Kaffee Crème. Coffee with a miniature pitcher of milk on the side.

Kapuziner. Cappucino. (Same name, different language.)

Kurz. A single shot of espresso.

Mokka. See "Schwarzer" above.

Verlängter. Coffee with hot water added; a good choice for visitors who like their coffee weak. 

Einspänner. Coffee in a glass with a hefty dollop of Schlagobers or Schlag (whipped cream).

Fiaker. Espresso in a glass with sugar and Kirschwasser (a dry cherry brandy), topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Pharisäer. Espresso in a glass with sugar, whipped cream, cocoa, and a shot of rum.

Many coffeehouses serve other variations on the coffee theme, such as Eiskaffee (coffee, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream) and alcoholic combinations. Also, you can usually count on a tasty assortment of pastries, especially in the afternoon.

  • Tip: Viennese coffeehouses fall under two general headings: traditional coffeehouses (where your coffee may be served on a silver tray with a glass of water) and modern cafés that cater to a less hidebound crowd. Some cafés call themselves Konditoreien, or pastry shops, which simply means that they offer a wide assortment of baked goods.

Web links


Following the Viennese Coffeehouse Tradition
Reg Butler wrote this article for Tea and Coffee Trade Journal.

On Coffee from Vienna
International NetRestaurant pooh-poohs the legendary tale of how the Viennese discovered coffee. The page has a link to a Viennese café.

The History of the Coffeehouse (Kaffeehaus) in Vienna
Read a brief history and a menu of Viennese coffee specialities from Vienna CC.