Starbucks had a clever idea in 1971 when they popularized the American coffeehouse. Oddly enough, the Viennese perfected the concept nearly 300 years earlier.
The roots of the kaffeehaus can be traced to the 17th century, when Vienna was liberated from a siege from the Ottoman Turks by a Polish-Habsburg army. After the battle, the victors captured a large supply of abandoned coffee beans outside the city gates... and the tradition of the Viennese coffeehouse was established.
In Vienna, coffeehouses “have a soul.” So rich is their legacy that they became a part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage sites in 2011.
Three traditions are an integral aspect of a typical Viennese coffeehouse: There’s a huge selection of newspapers, water is served with the coffee, and you stay as long as you like.
And intangible qualities give individual coffee cafes a life of their own. Some are better suited for mornings; others are equipped for pre- or post-theater socializing. To have a total coffeehouse experience, it’s helpful to know the difference.
Here’s a basic introduction into the world of Viennese coffee:
Café Central is said to be the grandest of all coffeehouses in Vienna It has been frequented by Freud, Trosky and other notables since opening in 1876 in the former Vienna Stock Exchange. The best time to visit is midday. Details: www.palaisevents.at/en.
Café Demel, near the Hofburg Palace, is part of Vienna’s famous chocolatier, K&K Hofzuckerbäcker. The café dates to 1786, and features some of the best confections in town. Great for a midday break. Details: www.demel.at/en.
Café Hawelka, which opened in 1936, is as traditional as a coffeehouse can be in Vienna. Visit when it opens or at 10 p.m. when the famous Austrian sweet buns known as “buchteln: are served hot from the oven. Details: www.hawelka.at/cafe/de.
Café Sacher is part of the world-famous Hotel Sacher, which created the chocolate dessert known as “Sacher torte.” It’s open 8 a.m. to midnight, and any time of day or night is a good time to visit. Details: www.sacher.com/en-cafe-vienna.htm.
And, if you shy away from tradition, there’s always Starbucks. There are nine of them in Vienna.
Bob Taylor of Charlotte leads group tours and organized the Magellan Club.
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