The true meaning of coffeehouse in Vienna

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Growing up in the Southwest of Germany, I understood at an early age the true meaning of the village pub. There was a brewery with a brew pub in pretty much every town of more than 1,000 people. The meaning of the brew pub was multifold. Mainly, it was where the village elders gathered after church; where we’d go after a funeral; and where we’d go during summer for refreshments. (I did try my first beer at the tender age of three but, seriously, I didn’t swallow it, I promise!)

There were lots of brew pubs where I grew up but barely any coffeehouses. The closest thing to Kaffeehaus was the Konditorei in the big town. They were known for their cream cakes but not for their coffee. Some of the best known Cafes in Berlin, Cafe Kranzler, and Vienna, Cafe Sacher, are known for their cream cakes. The famed prototype of a Viennese Kaffeehaus isn’t known either for their coffee or for their cakes. It’s for that reason I always wondered what made the Kaffeehaus so famous.

Just after my recent espresso crawl in Berlin, Germany, I continued on for a short visit of some very good friends in Vienna. They sent me off on a small crawl of Wiener Kaffeehäuser. Here’s what I learned about Viennese coffeehouses:

  • they have a great selection of national and international newspapers;
  • their service is fabled for a basic grumpiness; if your waiter or waitress is friendly they’re having a bad day;
  • the Vienna specific coffee concoctions like Einspänner or Verlängerter are just names for basic coffee with more or less water or more or less whipped cream.
  • you go to a Viennese coffeehouse pretty much for the same reasons the elders in my village visited the village pub;
  • sometimes you run into a very famous people, like poets, writers, artists, famous actors;
  • the interior design of Viennese coffeehouses follows strict design principles and by and large the goal of the design is to allow customers to see and be seen.

I was wondering what might happen (if it might happen, ever?!) if the traditional Viennese coffeehouses started serving excellent coffee. Would they go out of business? Would it confuse the poets?

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