5 years, 8 months ago
We’re about to say something that’s going to burst a few frothy cappuccino bubbles, ‘The only real Coffeehouses are Viennese’. We know there’s a legend doing the rounds about bags of camel dung and Turkish invaders and entrepreneurial 17th century Austrians, but it’s not the history of its coffee that makes the Viennese Coffeehouse authentic, it’s the culture of coffee and conversation and philosophising – yes, in a Viennese Coffeehouse sitting around doing nothing is considered a worthwhile activity.
So Starbucks take a seat and learn at the knee of the masterful Viennese. You can keep your power bloggers and pundits and Capitol Hill speech writers and anyone else with a notebook and a half-caf-skinny-mocha-choca-frapuccino-kitchen-sink-in-a-styrofoam-cup-with-lid-and-cuff-wholemeal-lo-fat-zero-carb-no-cholestrol-zero-taste-muffin. In Vienna, coffee comes marvellous as standard however it’s served, the cake has songs written about it (nobody’s humming anything about a ‘Fat Free Brownie’) and everyone’s relaxed and at home (most Viennese have favourite Coffeehouses which are just like their second homes really).
‘House Waiters’ are known for their ‘schmäh’: sense of humour and chat. Sitting alone is perfectly acceptable (you don’t even have to accessorise with electronics or a book). Nobody minds if you linger long over your coffee (you could be thinking great thoughts). And don’t be surprised at the glasses of water that appear on your table; in Viennese Coffeehouse tradition you’re a ‘guest’ and the water says you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.
Now you know the basics of what makes Vienna’s Coffeehouses the best in the world, here are a few specifics. Word of warning though: no matter how finely tuned you think you’ve got your local coffee order the Vienna experience is guaranteed to ruin it forever.
Café Central, Herengasse 14
Possibly one of the most famous and illustrious of all the great Viennese Coffeehouses (and that’s going some), Café Central was also the place where Sigmund Freud liked to while away a few hours – no doubt pondering his own and others’ neuroses. With its magnificent and vast ‘column and cloister’ Moorish interior, Art Deco design details and aura of hushed traditionalism Café Central should either be the first Coffeehouse you visit and judge all others by comparison or the last on your list for a perfectly grand finale.
Try ‘Weiner Melange’. In an effort to describe its ethereal delights people call it a cross between a Grand Crème and a Cappuccino – it’s not. It’s milder, creamier and infinitely more delicious.
Café Demel, Kohlmarkt 14
Café Demel is blonde parquet floors, creamy walls, deep cushioned window seats and the type of understated elegance that makes you just want to move in and live here permanently with your staff and quite probably a coach and four. Unsurprisingly this Coffeehouse is where the ladies of the Austrian Aristocracy drank a cup of hot chocolate on the first cold day of every year. A ritual that might have had something to do with Café Demel being part of K&K Hofzuckerbäcker, possibly one of the most celebrated chocolatiers in the world – just a thought.
Leave time to stand in the middle of the chocolatier, close your eyes and just breathe – forget Freud this is real Viennese therapy.
Café Hawelka, Dorotheergasse 6
If a café could be a love story it would be Café Hawelka. Run by the Hawelka family since it opened in 1939, the very elderly Leopold Hawelka was unabashed when he said, ‘without my wife there would be no Hawelka’. Even though Leopold passed in 2011, this iconic figure has been immortalised in the furnishings, decorum and tall tales inside this, the little coffeehouse that could. Café Hawelka is the polar opposite of the Demel and the Central: earthy, bohemian, lively and open unusually late (till 2am every day except Tuesday). Café Hawelka is where to see Vienna’s literati and creative types.
Go later in the evening for Hawelka’s famous Buchteln (deliciously yeasty sweet buns) – good with coffee, great with beer.
Café Prückel, Stubenring 24
Café Prückel is a mere child by Viennese Coffeehouse standards but its immaculate 1950’s interior is as charming as the Rococo or Art Nouveau drama of its more traditional elders. Join the very mixed crowd for the café’s regular book readings, exhibitions and live piano sessions as well as all the usual Coffeehouse deliciousness.
Café Prückel is directly opposite the Museum of Fine Arts (MAK) on Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse.
Café Sacher, Philharmonikerstrasse 4
Only one of the most famous of all the famous Coffeehouses and definitely one of the most glamorous, Café Sacher is part of the Sacher Hotel and home, of course, to the Sacher Torte. Widely considered to be the first chocolate cake, Sacher Torte is much copied the world over but never, ever comes close to the sinfully good confection created on home ground.
You have to taste the torte but it goes best with a summer afternoon on the Café Sacher’s delightful open air terrace.
Café Schwarzenberg, Kärtner Ring 17
The first café to open on Ringstrasse Boulevard, Café Schwarzenberg is opulent, whispery rich and incomparably chic. Whatever you do don’t worry about how you look, the Viennese in haute café mode are effortlessly elegant and there’s no point in competing. But should you feel like slipping into something slightly smart Café Schwarzenberg hosts regular concerts to go with your coffee and cake.
Try the famous and dangerously decadent Café Schwarzenberg Trüffeltorte – ask for two forks and share.
Grand, decadent, artistic, elegant, understated or chocolaty, choose your Viennese Coffeehouse with care. Pay attention to the details. And don’t forget to turn your laptop off – in Vienna if you’re not deep in conversation or deep in thought you’re just not Coffeehouse material.