The Viennese Coffeehouse, now here’s an institution!

So, how did the exotic coffee-bean find its way into Vienna and of course, numerous legends exist, with the most plausible concerning Georg Franz Kolschitzky, who served as a scout between the two opposing camps during the unsuccessful Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.  It seems he was quite fluent in Turkish and familiar with Turkish customs and sfter the end of the siege, Kolschitzky supposedly asked for (and received) large bags of green beans as a reward for his services and  in one version, these beans were at first taken to be camel-fodder by the Viennese, however, when roasted and brewed with hot water, they produced a strong aroma and a delightful taste, with Kolschitzky eventually opening one of the first coffeehouses in Vienna.

What actually is a coffeehouse, well, some of the very old Viennese coffeehouses are beautiful with crystal chandeliers, plush sofas, and marble-topped tables, but most of them are quite unprepossessing, with their hallmarks large rooms, small tables, uncomfortable chairs, non-descript décor and creaky floors.......a bit shabby, but quite gemütlich , which the on line dictionaries tell me means amiable, kindly, cosy and fact, a bit like home, but of course, unlike at home, the level of interaction with those around you remains at your discretion, with Vienna essayist and coffeehouse habitué Alfred Polgar saying, "A coffeehouse is a place for people who want to be alone but need company to do it with." 

So what did Karin want me to do or not to do!!   She said, I should not wander into a coffeehouse and order "a cup of coffee," gulp it down, pay and leave, because that would demonstrate that I have no idea about the art of coffee housing.

You would not be taken seriously if you ordered just pasta in Rome, just beer in Munich or wine in Paris, so too, in Vienna, if you simply say a cup of coffee, the "Ober" or headwaiter, as every waiter is called in Austria, though he will not bat an eyelash, but will know you for an outsider.

So what do you order?  Try this for a list!!

*** Kleiner Schwarzer – small espresso

*** Grosser Schwarzer – double espresso

*** Espresso – basically the same as Kleiner Schwarzer

*** Kleiner Brauner – Kleiner Schwarzer with milk

*** Grosser Brauner – Grosser Schwarzer with milk

*** Melange – a less strong Grosser Brauner with a little steamed milk

*** Mocca – klein oder gross – synonymous with Schwarzer

*** Kapuziner - black coffee with milk added until its color is that of a Capuchin monk's robes

*** Franziskaner – black coffee with still more milk, to achieve the lighter color of a Franciscan monk's robes

*** Nussbraun – coffee that resembles the color of nuts Nussgold – lighter still, like a "golden nut"

*** Gold – coffee the color of gold, i.e. quite light

*** Milchkaffee – half coffee, half milk

*** Verlängerter – an espresso that is "lengthened" by a shot of hot water

*** Einspänner – originally, the name meant a one-horse carriage and in coffeehouse parlance, it means a Grosser Mocca with whipped cream on top, sprinkled with cocoa and served in a tall glass

*** Fiaker – named after Vienna's horse-drawn carriages and their raucous drivers. Strong, black coffee laced with hot kirsch, topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry

*** Türkischer – Turkish coffee, sweet and black, served in copper cups

*** Eiskaffee – cold black coffee with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream

*** Capuccino – in some Viennese coffeehouses, black coffee topped with whipped cream and in other coffeehouses and Italian restaurants you get it the original Italian way, topped with steamed foamy milk

*** Kaffee Maria Theresia – Mocca with orange liqueur and whipped cream

Wow what a list!!

Your coffee will arrive on a small silver platter accompanied by a small glass of water with a spoon balanced precariously over it, with the glass of water symbolising the establishment's desire to let you know that you are welcome to stay indefinitely.

You sip your coffee, you nurse it along, you cherish it and even long after you have finished it, you may sit and do whatever you are doing for as long as you wish.

In effect, almost everything one might do as well or even better at home, you can read all of the day's newspapers and they are provided free of charge, of course, along with a vast collection of current periodicals and at many of the larger coffeehouses in the centre of the city, you are provided with a selection of foreign-language newspapers as a matter of course.

Students do their studying, tutors their tutoring, writers their writing in coffeehouses, you can play chess, cards or billiards if you are so inclined, with many coffeehouses providing you with a chessboard, cards or a billiard table and it is a place to meet people, with friends meeting just to chat or gossip, or to conduct stormy political or philosophical discussions, business partners negotiate deals involving great sums of money over a Melange and whatever lobbying is done in Vienna, it is likely to happen in a coffeehouse – for there are several good ones near City Hall and Parliament. Lovers also meet in coffeehouses – a date where you can sit for hours on end on a single cup of coffee is surely easy on the pocket!

If you are intent on spending all day at a coffeehouse on your one cup of coffee, that's fine: however, all coffeehouses also serve light fare such as Würstel (Frankfurters) or sandwiches, with many offering full-fledged and often delicious meals and this being Vienna, delicious pastries are invariably offered at coffeehouses, however, here, as opposed to the ubiquitous Konditoreien (pastry shops), where coffee is also served, the pastry serves to complement the coffee and not vice versa!

The Café Hawelka in narrow Dorotheergasse has been a hangout for artists and intellectuals (and their disciples) ever since the Austrian writer Hans Weigel chose it as his second living-room after the Second World War.  Over the years, such famous painters as Friedensreich Hundertwasser and many others paid their bills with paintings which still hang on the walls of the café. Due to its cramped quarters, the Hawelka is always crowded – which seems to add to the atmosphere and in keeping with its Bohemian flair, its clientele is probably the most colourful in all of Vienna.

Café Prückel, across from Stadtpark on the Ring Boulevard, [pictured] is reminiscent of the fifties, nevertheless, it is one of the most authentic coffeehouses in Vienna and in its back room, one is likely to find some pensioners playing cards and chess, while the guests in the front range from civil servants from nearby ministries to students. There is no pretence whatsoever, either of bygone splendor or current trends. One simply feels comfortable in the café's well-worn velvet seats and its slightly, but not quite, dilapidated atmosphere.

Café Landtmann, on splendid Ring Boulevard, [pictured] is probably the single best meeting place in Vienna, next door to Vienna's renowned Burgtheater, across the street from the University and City Hall with Parliament not far off, the location of Café Landtmann is easy to reach from both inside and outside the city centre. The lavishly decorated Landtmann seems to combine the old and the new to perfection. There is nothing seedy in its oldness – rather it reflects the splendor of bygone days as well as some of the affluence of today. Here one may receive one's "coffeehouse knighthood" by being not only known by the headwaiter but also addressed by one's name. And it is the best way to observe a cross-section of Viennese society, be it in its spacious and elegant interior or outside on the large terrace, which is covered by a canopy when rain threatens.   

Some of the coffeehouses that, at the turn of the last century, were what now would be called "in" places, have disappeared forever and in the years following World War II, there was great anxiety in Vienna, as one famous coffeehouse after another closed its doors due to the exigencies of modern life.

This period of "dying coffeehouses" is over though and another renaissance of the Viennese coffeehouse is in full swing, with some of the old coffeehouses, such as the Café Griensteidl, which used to be a haven for some of the most famous Austrian writers, artists and philosophers or the Café Central [pictured] where one of Vienna's foremost coffeehouse literati, Peter Altenberg took most of his meals, had his mail delivered, wrote, socialized, in fact, resided, have been resurrected and now welcome a different clientele, in keeping with the fact that another turn of the century has arrived.

Some pessimists are of the opinion that coffeehouses are not what they used to be and that may well be true, but it may safely be assumed that these words were first spoken right after the first coffeehouse opened in 1683m with some wit along the way clarifying that statement by saying: "Coffeehouses never were what they used to be."

In that spirit, today is as much the "golden age" of the coffeehouse as it was in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

I suspect that Viennese Coffee Houses will be around for many years but even then, they might not ever be "what they used to be"!

I can't wait – I am off for my favourite Viennese coffee!
Credits to TravelMole and the Austrian National Tourism Office.

How to order your coffee in Vienna
Sit elegantly perched in a cosy window seat of a Viennese coffee house and be at ease with the sophisticated coffee culture, trying some coffees you won't get anywhere else
The majority of the 4.000 coffee houses in Austria can be found in Vienna, as it is the place where coffee was originally introduced by the Turks. (In 1983 the institution “coffee house” celebrated its 300th anniversary.)

Compared with coffee houses in other European cities you will experience this cultivation of an institution especially in Vienna.

Some vocabulary to make sure you order the right coffee here are some of the classics:

Grosser/Kleiner Schwarzer ...double/single black coffee
Grosser/Kleiner Brauner...double/single white coffee (with milk)
Verlängerter Schwarzer ...lighter coffee without milk
Verlängerter Brauner ...lighter coffee with milk
Einspänner “Schwarzer”, served in a glass with whipped cream
Melange milk froth on top, sprinkled with chocolate powder

And last but not least to call the waiter the right adress is "Herr Ober!" (Waiter!) or "Fraeulein! (Waitress!) and he or she will serve with typical Viennese charm.

As stated there are many coffee houses in Vienna this writers favourite is Cafe Hawelka, a place of legend!