When thinking about great coffee, Vienna might not be the first destination you’d think of. But in fact, Vienna has a vast – and historic – relationship with the world’s favourite hot beverage. Nobody does coffee and cafes like Vienna and the city’s coffeehouses.
That’s right – they don’t call them cafes here, but instead coffeehouses. You find them all over town: old looking cafes, where the waiters in suits, or tuxedos will always make you feel underdressed, where velvet bench seats, round marble tables and large old mirrors on the wall will make you feel like you’re starring in an old classic on the big screen.
And then there are the cakes and pastries – which are often not found on the menu, but rather in a display case positioned like a centerpiece of the coffeehouse, like something very valuable to admire. Luckily, you can also order and devour these pretty pastries.
A little history on the Coffeehouse
The Viennese coffeehouses have been around for centuries. Writers, politicians, and even a very famous, cigar-smoking psychiatrist (yes, we’re talking Freud) all had their coffeehouse favourite haunts. They’d spend their time there hanging out with other intellectuals and artists, or sinking behind a newspaper – habits that continue to be the main reason people linger for hours in these charming local institutions.
The best coffeehouses to experience
When exploring the best of Vienna’s coffeehouses, you can’t go past the most famous, Café Central. Sporting a look that resembles a palace more than a café, there are so many reasons why tourists flock to it, and locals still frequent it. History has it that Freud himself used to hang out with his intellectual bunch, here. While at Café Central, do indulge in one (or more – we won’t judge) of their pastries on display. These simply divine, sweet delights are produced in the café’s own in-house patisserie.
Looking less regal, yet instead somewhat dark and run down by the passing of the decades, is the highly authentic, Café Hawelka. This is your creaky-wooden-chairs-and-dimly lit variety of coffeehouse, which proves popular with writers, and creatives of all types. This historic café (be sure to read up about its history featured in the menu) is most famous for their waiters who have – to diplomatically put it– some blunt ways with their customers. You see, being a Viennese waiter is highly respected, which has the balance of power between waiter and the guest favoring the waiter. Well, according to the waiters, that is. So what we’re saying is – don’t expect waiters to pamper you in these institutions. if anything, they are the true connoisseurs to be respected in a coffeehouse.
Another well-loved coffeehouse in the old city center is Kaffee Alt Wien, a retro looking, laid-back coffeehouse, where you will soon feel the urge to roll a cigarette and trade your coffee for a beer. See, the Viennese coffeehouses are not just about the coffee, but rather about the atmosphere and what they stand for – sitting back in a calm place and enjoying the good life.
Locals will not only visit a coffeehouse for coffee and cake, but they’ll just as naturally go to their favourite spot for Schnitzel and beer. The short and simple menus of these places can cater to one’s culinary wishes, from the early hours of the day until late into the night.
If you’re looking for the coffeehouse experience off the tourist track, you might want to venture outside of the city center to visit Café Jelinek. Named after a famous Austrian playwright, this café is as charming as Humphrey Bogart’s crooning voice.
A few pointer’s on fully enjoying the Viennese coffeehouse experience…
Whichever coffeehouse you end up visiting, make sure to trade in the Cappuccino for a Melange (a Viennese adaptation of the Italian classic), or try one of the unique coffee creations invented in Austria eg. the “Einspänner” which is basically a black Mocca coffee with whipped cream on top (the cream is supposed to keep the coffee hot for longer and is the traditional beverage of the horse and carriage drivers in town).
Coffeehouses are made for lingering in for hours on end, so be sure to take your time and take it all in upon your visit. It’s perfectly normal to stay in a coffeehouse for a whole afternoon, order a coffee and read half a novel. No one will hassle you to leave, or to order more. Don’t read this as the waiter’s ignoring you, but rather that they are letting you be.
Time has literally stood still at these cafes, meaning very few offer card acceptance and a solid WIFI connection. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as we said – Vienna’s coffeehouses are all about enjoying the good life, away from the stress and struggles of the outside world.