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Coffeehouse culture in Austria

Cafés are an everyday part of city living and in Vienna in particular they are at the heart of city life. Around 1900, a visit to a Viennese café was a spectacular experience, newspapers were displayed on custom-made stands, waiters wore tailcoats and ceilings were decorated with elaborate chandeliers.

Today’s coffeehouse culture is booming as more and more people are looking for a place to rejuvenate. Looking at how cafés were an essential part of Viennese life raises interesting questions about how we live and socialize in the modern city today.

In Vienna there were cafés for everyone: artists, intellectuals, the respectable bourgeoisie and the not-so-respectable. People gathered in cafés to chat, eat, read, work, play, gamble and discuss. The café provided a place where the rigid social hierarchies of the day could be relaxed a little. The fluid character of this social space stimulated the minds whose intellectual and creative achievements made such a dramatic contribution to the development of European modernity at this time.

More than 300 years later the Kaffeehaus is still an institution. The Viennese have developed a whole culture around coffee drinking and elevated it to an all encompassing attitude of life.

You feel at home in a Kaffeehaus as you step inside: the setting is spacious yet intimate, there is plush seating around marble tables, the scrape of traditional Thonet wooden chairs on parquet floors and mirrors reflecting the mood.

Beautiful sunset in Vienna © Österreich Werbung / Filmspektakel.at Beautiful sunset in Vienna © Österreich Werbung / Filmspektakel.at

Things to do in Vienna

A cup of coffee is your entrance ticket

Take your seat in an era far removed from daily modern bustle. Your entrance ticket is a cup of coffee, just as it has been for generations. Once you have ordered, be it a Kleiner Schwarzer, Kapuziner, Einspänner or Melange – and these are just some of the specialities – sit back and relax.

Life happens here and everyone plays their part. The Viennese Kaffeehaus is an extended living room. It is ideal for people who need company to be alone. It is both a stage and a private space. Around 1900 a group of authors went down in history as coffee house literati: they not only socialized in the Kaffeehaus but used it as their workplace. Peter Altenberg even wrote the address of his local Kaffeehaus on his businnes card and had his mail delivered there. Before writers claimed the Kaffeehaus as their own, composers had also discovered its charms for themselves: Johann Strauß, father and son, introduced new works here; even Mozart and Beethoven performed in a Kaffeehaus.

Indulgence on the menu

A particular joy of the Viennese Kaffeehaus lies in its service: the opening times alone, from early morning until midnight, are impressive. And of course the wait staff, male waiters are addressed as “Herr Ober“ and reward a prompt order with some banter and Viennese charm. Not to be forgotten the comfortable seating and of course the light snacks, sweet or savory, which make a prolonged stay in a Kaffeehaus very pleasant and satisfying.

Cakes and pastries are of course a special attraction of every Kaffeehaus. They are almost always home-made, often to carefully guarded house recipes. Take the Sacher Torte for example, who was the star of a legal battle raging on for 25 years. The „Sperl-Schnitte“ at Café Sperl is just one such delicacy, or the cake of the house at Café Alt-Wien. Café Korb, admired for its original 1950s fittings, serves the best Apfelstrudel in the city. On the other hand Café Hawelka which boasts Jugendstil decor almost overlooked in a room full patina-darkened wood – serves the coveted Buchteln mit Powidl a specialty bun with plum jam, hot from the oven. We also suggest to order another of Austria's favorite sweets: a Gugelhupf, which was one of Emperor Franz Josef's favorite desserts.

  • Viennese Coffeehouse © Wien Tourismus / Peter  Rigaud Viennese Coffeehouse © Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud
  • One of Vienna's most famous coffeehouses - the Cafe Sacher © Hotel Sacher Wien One of Vienna's most famous coffeehouses - the Cafe Sacher © Hotel Sacher Wien
  • Cafe Central in Vienna © Wien Tourismus / Christian Stemper Cafe Central in Vienna © Wien Tourismus / Christian Stemper
  • The perfect break while exploring Vienna © Österreich Werbung / Ilgner The perfect break while exploring Vienna © Österreich Werbung / Ilgner

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