Vienna is a city obsessed with coffee. While other European cities were pioneers in coffee brewing techniques, Vienna has turned coffee drinking into an institution. For the locals, coffeehouses are known as “public living rooms”, and offer them cozy and familiar venues to whittle away their afternoons with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. It’s a daily ritual so integral to shaping the city’s history that UNESCO recognized Vienna’s coffeehouse culture as an “intangible cultural heritage” in 2011.
As for travellers hoping to join in on the tradition and make sense of an esoteric German coffee menu, here’s what you need to know:
Some Things to Consider
It’s not a Starbucks: A coffeehouse is slightly more upscale and has waiters in formal uniforms serving you menu items from a tray. You are expected to take a seat first before ordering rather than placing your orders at the counter. coffeehouses are not for people in a rush or hoping to grab a coffee to go.
There are chains like Starbucks but not exactly: Aida and Oberlaa are both popular Viennese coffeehouse chains categorized as konditorei, espresso bars that offer cakes and pastries.
The menu has a lot of coffees: A typical coffeehouse will give you a menu with a wide range of coffee options, ranging from espresso drinks to coffee with alcohol and liqueur. Familiarize yourself with the coffee names first before ordering. Also, the drinks are more enjoyable with food such as cakes, strudels, and even a side of schnitzels.
Be ready for long lines: Many coffeehouses are considered establishments and local institutions with devout regulars. If you arrive during midday or in the afternoon, there are usually long queues waiting to get in. But once you’re inside, you are welcomed to stay as long as you like, even long after you’ve finished your coffee and food.
It might sound like a mouthful to pronounce a single shot of espresso, but in German, a Kleiner Schwarzer simply means “small black”. Some establishments use the word Mokka instead of Schwarzer. For a double shot, order a Grosser instead of a Kleiner.
Also a single shot of espresso, but served with a side of milk or cream. Brauner means “brown” and for many Viennese, it’s the first word that comes out of their mouths at three o’clock in the afternoon.
A Viennese classic, the mélange is a shot of espresso splashed with hot water and topped with a heaping layer of frothy, steamed milk. It’s often served with a dusting of cocoa powder and resembles cappuccino, with the exception of having more froth and less milk.
Favoured by horse carriage drivers that used to roam the streets of Vienna, an Einspänner is a glass of espresso topped with dollops of whipped cream. The cream is said to work as an insulator that keeps the coffee warm and prevents it from spilling during bumpy rides, so the drivers can enjoy the drink throughout the day.
The Viennese version of the “espresso con panna”, Franziskaner is similar to a mélange but with whipped cream added to the top of the foamed milk. No one knows exactly why the coffee was named after the German word for “Franciscan monk”, but the locals drink it religiously nonetheless.
A marriage of coffee and a milkshake in a tall glass, an Eiskaffee is what Vienna drinks on a hot summer day. The recipe calls for equal parts of coffee, milk, and vanilla ice cream buried under a tower of whipped cream.
Named after the last Habsburg Empress, Maria Theresia is a rich, black coffee drink infused with orange liqueur and covered in fresh cream. The citrus notes further enhance the warm fragrance of espresso, making the drink highly aromatic.
If you are ever torn between picking the strongest liquor or the strongest coffee at a coffeehouse, look no further than Kosakenkaffee. Take one glass of strong black coffee and mix in vodka, red wine, and liquid sugar, and you got yourself an early start to happy hour.
The Biedermeier Era in Central Europe brought about a more sensible middle class as both arts and literature flourished across the region. This drink, however, is another excuse for the Viennese to slip some apricot liqueur into their afternoon coffee and hide it under a small mountain of whipped cream.
Feeling jittery after one too many cups of Schwarzer? Well, thank god for decaf. At any coffeehouse, order a Kaffee Koffeinfrei for a decaffeinated coffee to stop the shakes.
Address: Herrengasse 14, Corner Herrengasse / Stauchgasse, Vienna 1010, Austria
Since opening in 1876, Café Central has been a popular gathering place for intellectuals, scholars, and luminaries, with Sigmund Freud, Theodore Herzl, and Leon Trotsky among its most well-known regulars. Today, the coffeehouse, with its 19th-century décor, vaulted ceilings, and marble pillars, remains a hotspot for both locals and travellers to enjoy classic Viennese coffee with a wide selection of traditional pastries.
Café Sacher Wien
Address: Philharmonikerstrasse 4, Vienna 1010, Austria
The historic Hotel Sacher is famous for introducing the Sachertorte to Vienna in 1832. This decadent chocolate cake with apricot jam filling is still made according to the original recipe at the hotel’s coffeehouse. Here, within its vintage red salon accented by elegant damask, you can order authentic Austrian desserts, plated meals, coffee drinks, and people watch from behind its street-facing windows.
Considered the oldest café in the city, Café Frauenhuber draws in the locals with a quiet, turn-of-the-century charm, good old fashion style mélange, and homemade apfelstrudels. The intimate atmosphere of the café extends from its terrace to its Biedermeier style interior, furnished with red velvet lined seats and Persian rugs. Although it appears relatively unassuming today, the coffeehouse once hosted concert performances from both Beethoven and Mozart, making it a portal into the city’s illustrious musical past.
Although not quite as high profile as Café Central, Hawelka also enjoys the patronage of many renowned Austrian writers and artists. Its original owners, Leopold and Josephine Hawelka, first opened the café in 1939, and kept the dining room relatively the same since after World War II. Many Viennese spend their afternoons here among the vintage posters hung above the worn, wood-panelled walls with a side of mélange and buchteln (sweet rolls with jam fillings). Some still remember fondly the time when the Hawelkas used to welcome them in at the door.
Address: Franziskanerplatz 3, Vienna 1010, Austria
Decidedly understated and with a storefront that harkens back to 1970s Vienna, Kleines Café is a low-key coffeehouse smack dab in the city’s most picturesque square. Its smokey and compact dining room can only accommodate a little more than a dozen guests, which leaves sitting outside an attractive option. For the locals, this coffeehouse from a bygone era offers them an afternoon getaway from the madding tourist crowd that flocks the nearby St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Here, among the cobbled stones and sculpture fountain of Franziskanerplatz is a tranquil refuge for sipping cups of strong espresso with a side of sourdough sandwich.
Schwarzer, Einspänner, and Biedermeier, it’s all Austrian to me! Want to try an authentic cup of Viennese coffee at the city’s many timeless coffeehouses? Call, live chat, and visit our Expert Travellers today for a crafted vacation!