Coffee I love coffee, coffee and more coffee. Add some decadent desserts, history and old world elegance and I’m in my element. Vienna did not disappoint as I went in search of those storied coffeehouses that dot almost every street corner in this beautiful elegant city.

Walking through the door of one of Vienna’s historic coffeehouses I knew I was following in the footsteps of notable writers, artists and philosophers who have been part of Vienna coffee society for more than 100 years. In a coffeehouse, or “living room” the price of a cup of coffee was my entrance ticket into a bygone era of classic Viennese culture and society.

I was free to linger for hours if I wanted over scrumptious treats or a light meal, and of course one of more than a dozen varieties of coffee. A rack of local and foreign newspapers was close by for my reading pleasure, and my waiter was not in any hurry for me to leave. In fact I was not disturbed until I ask for the bill

Today, as it has been since the Turks left behind bags of coffee beans after the second siege of Vienna in the 17th century, the Kaffeehaus is as much a staple of Viennese life as opera and the waltz.

The city’s first coffeehouse opened in 1685, a men’s only establishment which over time evolved into opulent and elegant cafes with plush red velvet seats, traditional bentwood cane chairs, small marble top tables, wooden floors, ornate mirrors and grand chandeliers.

Now frequented by men, women and families they are a far cry from the first dark and musty coffeehouses. Today’s coffee lovers can choose from a traditional cup of black coffee called Schwarzer, a Faiker which comes with a shot of Austrian rum and whipped cream or the classic Melange, espresso with steamed milk topped off with milk froth.

Much more than a place to have coffee, for over 100 years coffeehouses have attracted artists, writers and philosophers. They spent hours reading newspapers, working, writing and even receiving personal mail and taking phone calls, making a coffeehouse truly their home away from home. A number of these historic cafes are still popular today; Café Central, Demel and Café Mozart among them.

Cafe Central 2-1Café Central opened in 1876 and is perhaps the most impressive of the historic coffee houses.  Inside I felt like I’d been transported back in time to an authentic 19th century café: perfectly attired waiters in dinner jackets, gleaming woodwork, polished brass, shimmering chandeliers and  music from a grand piano.

Platters of luscious desserts filled the counters, and there were tables and booths filled with couples deep in conversation along with the single guests engrossed in a book or newspaper.

Occupying the ground floor of what was once the Bank and Stock Exchange building, polished stone columns and arches support a high ornate vaulted ceiling.

My eyes feasted on pastry counters brimming with piled high flaky strudel, chocolate cakes and fruit filled tortes surrounded by a grand piano where I listened to classical favorites from Mozart and Strauss along with some contemporary Broadway show tunes.Demel pastry counter

Tuxedoed waiters with a formal businesslike manor served my order of Eiskaffee, chilled coffee with vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream and chocolate flakes on a traditional silver tray with a small glass of water and a piece of chocolate.

Other patrons gathered around small marbled tables or booths were looking at what the waiter had brought me like children eyeing a candy counter

The café, once a regular gathering place for famous people of the day like Trotsky, Lenin and Freud today hosts a whimsical statue of one of its former patrons, writer Peter Altenberg.

Situated right inside the front door he is ready to greet today’s generation of coffee lovers, or perhaps up and coming writers, artists or great philosophers.

An elegant atmosphere, Café Central is a “must see” café to visit and indulge in one of Vienna’s many coffee and pastry choices while enjoying an exemplary coffee house experience.

demel sign-1Demel may best known as a famous pastry shop, actually a Cafe-Kondiorei (patisserie with a café) and once confectioner to Vienna’s Hapsburg royalty. The shop provided sweets like candied violets to Empress Elizabeth and gifts to friends from Emperor Franz Josef.

Just looking at the elaborate and ever changing edible storefront display, I can confirm it still upholds its 200 year old reputation for decadent chocolates and all type of artistically created confectionery delights.

Demel’s window display lured me inside where I was immediately captivated by the large old fashioned display case filled with pastries and cakes from the famed Sacher Torte to decorated fondant candies called Punschkrapfen.

pastry counter demel But just as much for the sugar creations, I appreciated Demel for its beauty; tall elegant windows, intricate detailed ceilings, crown moldings, hardwood floors with tile inlay, and enormous Versailles style mirrors adorning the walls.

Plenty of people were enjoying a hot chocolate at the highly polished wood bar served by one of the white aproned waitresses who address customers in the traditional third person. Others waited for a table in one of salon style rooms for a light meal of sausages or schnitzel topped off by coffee and dessert.

Something not to be missed was a stop at the glass enclosed kitchen to watch Demel’s pastry chefs at work. Much more than chefs, they are master artists creating sweets that look just too beautiful to eat.

Not wanting to leave without taking a bit of Demel with me, I stopped in their beautifully adorned gift shop. From elegantly packaged chocolates, tins of violet candies to pastel colored sugar frosted cookies, there was plenty for me to choose from to fill up their signature lavender gift bags; perfect gifts for friends and family back home.

Caafe Mozart 2When I’d had my fill of coffee and chocolate, (if that’s even possible), Mozart Café in central Vienna just around the corner from the Imperial Palace and State Opera, offered a lovely outdoor café area (Schanigarten) great for people watching while I enjoyed one of their cold fruit drinks.

Of course they serve traditional Viennese coffees and sweets, but I couldn’t leave without trying a cool and refreshing Lime-Ginger soda and their  signature apfelstrudel swimming in vanilla sauce.apple srtudel crop Equally tempting was the Melon-Mint soda which brought me back another day for that and a second helping of apfelstrudel.

Established in 1794 and renamed in honor of the famous composer in 1929, its more recent fame is being the café where Graham Green penned his script “The Third Man”, and is featured in a scene in the movie.

Vienna is a feast for the senses from its architecture, its music, its scenery and certainly its food. With more than 900 coffee houses to choose from, there really is one on just about every street corner and no reason not to live as the locals do. Enjoy one of these historic cafés or discover your own and make it home.

 

If You Go

Café Central

1010, Herrengassse 14

Mon to Sat 7:30 am to 10 pm

Sunday 10 am to 10 pm

Tel.: +43 1 53 337 63 24

 

Demel

1010, Kohlmarkt 14

Daily 9 am to 7 pm

Tel.: +43 1 53 517 17 0

 

Mozart Café

1010, Albertinaplatz 2

Daily 8 am to midnight

Tel.: +43 1 24 100 200

 

Photos by Rebecca Johnson