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Vienna: The History and Tradition of a Kaffeehaus

Posted: 09/19/07
Vienna, AustriaConsidered the ideal spot to read the newspaper, meet with friends, or simply enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, the Wiener Kaffeehaus has a long and rather famous history.

It begins during the Ottoman Invasion in 1683, when the Turks besieged Vienna. During a decisive battle the Turks were defeated, and upon their retreat, abandoned almost everything – camels, oxen, tents, grain and rice, and several hundred bags of green coffee beans near the city walls.

As a reward for his heroic efforts during that battle, Franz George Kolschitzky was given the bags of beans, thought to be Turkish camel food by the commander. Since Kolschitzky was familiar with coffee from his travels, he roasted the beans and opened the first coffee shop in Vienna, known as The Blue Bottle.Café in Vienna

Now fast-forward more than 50 years, to when the popularity of coffee had increased ten-fold. By then Vienna had become a cultural haven, home to some of the best music, theater and opera the world had to offer - home to Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven. Traditional coffeehouses would sometimes double as concert cafés. It was said by many that the coffeehouse experience was sometimes equal to a night at the opera, as many composers’ early melodies were first played there.

And these events, according to Viennese folklore, are where the Kaffeehaus began.

Kaffeehaus Now

Over the years, the coffeehouse experience hasn’t changed a great deal, according to locals, who abhor the thought of franchised coffee shops invading the Imperial City. You see, the Viennese pride themselves on tradition - especially when it comes to coffee.Sound like a local, ask for a...

Most Viennese pop in for a quick espresso in the morning, meet up at lunchtime to talk with friends or read the newspaper, take a break in the afternoon and relax later in the evening with friends – all at the coffeehouse.

Overall, it’s said that the Viennese take in entirely too much caffeine. Maybe that’s where the tradition of water being served with the coffee came about.

“I was surprised they served water with my coffee,” said Dr. Jane LeClair, who traveled to Vienna this summer for a conference at the United Nations. “But I can see why.”

Drinking water with coffee is helpful for digestion, it was explained when she asked about the tradition. It also clears the palate for the next sip of coffee.

“The other thing I was surprised at is how often and how long people are at the cafés,” she said. “I guess in America we’re in and we’re out. It’s not like we sit down and really take time to enjoy coffee.”

And why wouldn’t you want to enjoy your coffee since most traditional coffeehouses in Vienna are furnished with lavish chandeliers, plush velvet chairs, marble tables, columns and floor to ceiling windows? Most coffeehouses in Vienna also subscribe to dozens of national and regional papers – so there’s always plenty of reading.

St. Stephen’s CathedralWith more than a thousand espresso bars and coffeehouses within the Ringstraße, or the city limits of Vienna, coffee remains just as popular as ever. The demand for favorites like Mokka, Melange and Schwarzer has never wavered, nor has the traditions of the Viennese.

Vienna, Austria

Language: German and English
Currency: Euro
Schönbrunn Palace: One of the most important palaces and monuments in Austria. Schönbrunn is also one of the largest tourist attractions in Vienna, drawing more than 1.5 million tourists a year.