Coffee houses of Vienna

Coffee Houses of Vienna

There is no more refined way to a pass few hours on an Austrian jaunt than spending time in a Viennese café or kaffeehaus. At last count, the city of Vienna, which has been repeatedly listed at the top of the European pack for quality of life, boasted dozens of seriously high-end venues where one can relax over a brew as long as they like. The most popular beverage is the melange, something between a latte and a cappuccino, served in a squat cup on a silver tray with an obligatory glass of water on the side.

Expansive, solemn and typically tastefully decorated in authentic jugendstil pieces, these coffee houses – where it is considered perfectly normal for a patron to linger for hours and over a newspaper or book – are a far cry from cramped hole-in-the-wall coffee dispensaries and sidewalk cafés in other European cities.

Popular With Academics

Since the late 19th century the Viennese coffee house has been the traditional haunt of the literati. This is where they met to exchange ideas and to write. Writing composed in cafés is often referred to as coffee house literature; the authors as coffee house poets. The list of such luminaries includes Arthur Schitzler, author of Dream Novella, upon which the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut was based, artist Gustav Klimt and poet Peter Altenberg, who famously had his mail delivered to his favourite, Café Central.

Bouncing Back From ‘Coffee House Death’


The tradition of the Viennese coffee house is generally considered to have been started by Greek expatriate Johannes Theodat in 1685. In the 1950s a bleak period of ‘coffee house death’ or Kaffeehaussterben occurred. Perhaps due to the burgeoning popularity of television and modern espresso bars, many famous cafes were forced to close their doors. But recently, due to renewed interest in these classic Viennese spots and their history, a much-welcomed coffee house comeback occurred.

Best Coffee Houses in Vienna

Here are some of the best to experience a bit of true Viennese kaffeehaus atmosphere.

Café Central: Baroque and grandiose. Once frequented by author Johann von Goethe and revolutionaries Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin.

Café Landtmann: A more subdued milieu and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud’s favourite. The perfect place to ponder the maze of the human mind over a melange.

Kaffee Alt Wien: Considered one of the city’s most chic coffee houses. In 1976 the backdrop for a notable happening by Viennese artist Gottfried Helnwein, still attracts bizarre Bohemian characters to this day.

Café Pruckel: With piano music played in the background, popular literary events are held here regularly.

Café Braunerhof: Favourite of Thomas Bernhard, considered among the most important German authors of the post-war era, and offers the largest daily collection of newspapers in the city. Of Saturday it offers live music with a small orchestra playing waltzes.

10 Little Known Facts About Coffee

Coffee, a drink a good proportion of the world couldn’t do without, has had a long and colourful history. It has played a key role in civilisations from the Middle East to South America – as a stimulant, medicine and indicator of overall coolness – and has won a devoted following. Here are ten lesser-known facts about coffee:

10 Facts About Coffee

  • Caffeine, the ingredient in coffee that gives it that stimulating kick, was first discovered by German chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge in 1819, after an encounter with the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe, a keen amateur scientist in addition to his many other accomplishments, gave the young Runge a handful of Arabian mocha coffee beans and urged him to analyze them.
  • Coffee first enters the historical record with the Sufis of Yemen, who, according to the sixteenth-century chronicler ‘Abd Al-Qadir al-Jaziri, used a drink called “qahwa” as a stimulant to help them stay awake during their prayers.
  • The coffee house first arose in the Middle East. By the early 1500s, the use of coffee had spread beyond the pious Sufis of Yemen, and coffee had become a drink to be enjoyed in a social context, by all segments of society. Some coffee houses were luxurious and impressive. In Coffee and Coffeehouses, writer Ralph Hattox quotes the Portuguese adventurer Pedro Teixeira (d1640) who describes a coffee house in Baghdad: “This house is near the river, over which it has many windows and two galleries, making it a very pleasant resort.”
  • The world’s first café, a French adaptation of the Middle Eastern coffee house, was opened in Paris in 1689 by Francois Procope, a Florentine expatriate. It attracted a notable clientele over the years, including Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Balzac and Victor Hugo.
  • The Royal Society, the world’s oldest and most eminent scientific society, began in 1655 as the Oxford Coffee Club, an informal association of scientists and students. Its founding members included the astronomer Edmund Halley and physicist Isaac Newton. In 1662 they were granted a charter by King Charles II as the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge.
  • The two main commercial varieties of coffee are arabica and robusta. Indigenous to Africa, they can now be found across the world, between 25 degrees North and 25 degrees South of the Equator. While robusta is a hardier shrub, they both require specific environmental conditions in order to grow.
  • Coffee was originally regarded more as a medicine than as a drink. It was thought to cure a number of ailments, including drunkenness and asthma. Robert Burton, in the Anatomy of Melancholy (1632) listed coffee as an intoxicant, a euphoric, a social and physical stimulant, and a digestive aid.
  • As coffee spread around the world, its use initially centered on the coffee house. The social nature of these places, and their often lively political debates, meant they were frequently regarded with some alarm by the authorities, who periodically tried to ban them. The Mamluk governor Kha’ir Beg banned them in Mecca in 1511, although they soon re-opened. King Charles II’s attempt to ban coffee houses in 1676 was likewise short-lived.
  • Coffee made its way to the New World in 1723, when French naval officer Gabriel d’Erchigny de Clieu managed to acquire a purloined coffee plant from the jealously guarded royal gardens at court, and smuggled it into Martinique.
  • According to statistics from the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), the USA is the biggest importer of coffee.