Actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.
~ Stefan Zweig
Known for their mixture of refinement and relaxation, and embodiment of gemütlichkeit*, patrons are expected to linger over a paper or the days events and no matter how long the line is to get in (Café Central I’m looking at you) the pace never feels rushed for anyone involved.
Although historians posit coffee has its roots in Vienna long before this, legend holds that in 1683, when Kara Mustapha’s forces were expelled from Vienna and the second Turkish siege was lifted by this specimen of a man (photo right), several sacks of unusual beans were found by Polish-Hapsburg soldiers. The soldiers, thinking they were camel feed, wanted to burn them. One of the officers, a Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, convinced king Jan III Sobieski to intervene and grant him the beans, which he took and introduced into Viennese culture.
The first Viennese coffee house was opened by an Armenian businessman named Johannes Diodato in 1685, with four more opened by Greek owners 15 years later. They evolved to become places of shared conversation and freely-available periodicals from around the world, places where, in the words of the poet Stefan Zweig, ‘Anyone who cared to or had the time could find out about virtually anything of consequence taking place anywhere in the world.’ In the early days, before terms like frappucino and pumpkin-spice latte were invented, patrons selected their beverages according to colour-coded cards.
Famous cafes we enjoyed
Café Central – One of our favourites, with its splendid design. A well-known haunt to many famous locals and foreigners, including Trotsky and Lenin.
The poet Peter Altenberg loved this café so he had his mail addressed here. You can enjoy live piano music in the evenings.
Find Café Central on Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien
Find Hotel Sacher on Philharmoniker Straße 4, 1010 Wien
Find Café Landtmann on Universitätsring 4, 1010 Wien
Café Demel – Maintaining a long-running feud with Hotel Sacher as the origin of the sachertorte, Demel is where Eduard did his apprenticeship. You watch the immensely skilled pastry chefs weave their magic while enjoying your coffee (Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien).
As of October 2011 the "Viennese Coffee House Culture" is listed as "Intangible Cultural Heritage" in the Austrian inventory of the "National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage", a part of UNESCO. This inventory describes the Viennese Coffee House as a place "where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill."
*Gemütlichkeit is one of those wonderfully German words that represents a complex idea with no direct translation, but encompasses festivity, relaxation, and a sense of belonging.
for further reading:
Norton, Robert E. Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle.