Having moved to Vienna in late August, I now have had sufficient time to get to know a little bit more about this central European city and its culture. While I could write about any number of things, from the pride of the Austrians and their dreamy reflections of the Empire, to the sometimes less than savory “customer service” what I really wish to share is my growing love of Viennese Kaffee Kultur – culture whose origins began when the Ottomans were chased out of the region some 500 hundred years ago after an unsuccessful siege of Vienna leaving behind sacks of coffee.
Today, Vienna has countless kaffees scattered about the city in an equally wide range of styles and personalities. Much to my chagrin, there are even a few Starbucks to be found, but no need to talk about them – they are a boorish, cookie-cutter franchise.
The Kaffee Kultur is a blessed thing. There is a certain formality to a kaffee with waiters wearing a black suit and bowtie and an ambiance that usually consists of chandeliers that match the interior architecture, from classic to modern. Many kaffees have a reasonably good kitchen and serve full meals. There are those kaffees that serve the locals (which can then be subdivided to those frequented by business folks, those by artists, those by journalists, etc.) and those targeting the tourists (rich, middle-class, tour buses…). The coffee is always excellent and the pastries are usually delicious.
Kaffee or Konditorei?
One can find good coffee and pastries at a Kaffee or a Konditorei and often, in guidebooks, these are treated synonymously. But there are some pretty big differences between the two.
The kaffee is all about the coffee, the ambiance and service. I have always been served by a waiter in a kaffee and by a waitress in a konditorei. While a konditorei serves coffee on par with a kaffee, it is not their focus, the pastries are, of which there is typically a mind-boggling selection. A konditorei also tends to be smaller, interior architecture rather simple and utilitarian and while having a kitchen, the menu is pretty restricted.
Kaffees have the aforementioned waiters in full black tie attire. Unlike the utilitarian konditorei, kaffees have interesting interiors reflective of that particular kaffee’s ambiance, ranging from the grandiose to art deco to bohemian. A kaffee will have an extensive rack of daily newspapers – some from around the world – which are freely available to read while you enjoy that most famous of Viennese coffees, the Melange (half espresso, half hot, frothy milk).
Kaffees are also where the Viennese typically go to just hang out with one another over coffee and/or a light meal. There are books written about Viennese kaffees, calendars dedicated to kaffees and even decks of cards with pictures of various kaffees. I have come across nothing of that sort for konditoreis.
My Discoveries to Date
I have been to several of each type over the last several months but have increasingly settled on going to kaffees for my mid-afternoon break and many provide free Wifi. If I am out with the family or visiting friends, we’ll often end up at a konditorei as the pastries have a big WOW factor, especially for the kids. In my next belated post for the holiday break, I’ll give my summary review of some of the many kaffees I have visited so far. Stay Tuned.
[…] in late December I wrote a piece about kaffee kultur in general and promising a follow-up post on specific cafes in Vienna and my critique of them. […]