The Austrian Kaffeehaus Culture

Austrian coffee tradition

The Austrian Kaffeehaus Culture

According to folklore, soldiers of the Polish-Habsburg army, while liberating Vienna from a Turkish invasion in 1683, found many sacks with beans that they believed contained camel feed and wanted to burn. Luckily, that was not to be and Polish king Jan III Sobieski granted the sacks to one of his officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. After some trial and error, he finally learned how to roast and prepare the coffee. The Austrian coffee tradition was born when he opened the country's first Kaffeehaus.

However, the first Kaffehaus was not in Vienna. The man who can be credited with starting the Vienesse Kaffeehaus tradition is a Greek named Johannes Theodat. He opened the first Kaffeehaus in Vienna in 1685. Even thought coffee had already appeared in Europe some years before, Austria and especially Vienna used this new drink more than any other place in the continent. Austrians not only adopted coffee as a drink but they also created an entire refined culture around the art of drinking it.

This culture revolved around serving a glass of water with each coffee, and also having newspapers, cards and even a pool table available. As early as in 1913, Vienna’s most famous Kaffeehaus, the Central Kaffeehaus was supplying its clients with over 250 newspapers and magazines.

The serving of coffee was also developed as an art at each Kaffehaus. Coffee was (and still is) served with a glass of water by a Herr Ober, a traditional waiter, who is always dressed in a black uniform and a white lace apron.

Nowadays, drinking coffee is an important social activity, and it is common for Austrians to invite friends, neighbors or dates over for coffee and cake. Coffee in Austria is as much of an institution as afternoon tea for the British.

Types of coffee served

The tradition of the Kaffeehaus still lives, mainly due to its adaptability to the ever-evolving social customs and preferences.

From the year 1900, new types of cafes appeared on the market : the cafe-pastry shop that offers pastries and sweets with coffee; the cafe-restaurant, which specialises in Austrian cuisine; the cafe-express for those who want a coffee without having to sit at a table and many more.

In a traditional Kaffeehaus, coffee is served in a variety of styles. This is especially true for Vienesse cafés. Coffees that you could find in a Kaffeehaus include:

  • Kleiner Schwarzer/Mocca : Similar to Espresso, but is extracted more slowly.
  • Grosser Schwarzer/Mocca : Large Espresso, otherwise known as Americano.
  • Kleiner/Grosser Brauner : The small or big “brown coffee” is a Kleiner Mocca, but served with a small pot of fresh milk. This is what the Herr Ober will bring you if you order a regular coffee.
  • Kapuziner : A lot of coffee, some milk and a drop of cream.
  • Melange : Equivalent to the French “café crème” or the Spanish “cafe con leche,” this is the regular coffee with milk. This is a favourite with Kaffeehaus clients.
  • Einspänner : Literally translated “hackney”, this is the drink that people traditionally had to warm up between horse races. It is black coffee served in a glass with whipped cream. Also what we usually call a “Viennese coffee”.
  • Kaisermelange : The imperial melange, which is black coffee with a whisked egg yolk. This firstly appeared during WWI while people were trying to find a substitute to milk, which was rationed.
  • Maria Theresa : Black coffee with orange liquor.
  • Eiskaffee : This is an iced coffee, which consists of black coffee with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

The future of the Kaffeehaus

To keep in touch with the times, Kaffeehaus owners are offering modern decorations, WI-FI Internet access and other amenities which make their establishments attractive to a younger crowd. Because of that, going to a Kaffeehaus is an inter-generational activity and is done by the young and old alike.

Judging from the continuous popularity of the Kaffeehaus culture in Austria, it looks likely that this 300-year-old tradition has a promising future. And it is no wonder, as each Kaffehaus does its best to adapt to new trends and evolving customs, staying relevant generation after generation.

Further reading

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