Coffee in Austria: More than a Beverage

The Melange is typical for Vienna's coffee culture - here served in Hietzing

Among the things Austria is famous for are the coffee houses or "Cafes" and the nationally typical atmosphere: Elderly ladies drinking their "Melange" with obese dogs on their laps, grumpy waiters in dinner jackets, the occasional Hungarian fiddler and the odd journalist sitting in a corner writing a letter whilst having a quick cup of "Verlängerter". Coffee is being served in Austria with passion ever since the second Turkish siege of Vienna in the 17th century.

The national beverage: Coffee

This ranks the coffee houses of Vienna among the oldest in the Western World - although similar claims can be heard of Cafes in Venice (the very first), Warsaw and - believe it or not, I don′t - a small English college town called Oxford. In any case: The Cafes of Austria are old, and they surely do have their own distinct culture.

The most traditional Cafes can be found in Vienna and Salzburg, evil Salzburgians such as me claim that the most Viennese cafes of Austria are the ones in Mozart′s city, which doubtless serves as a great icebreaker to make friends with Viennese.

The interiors of a traditional café consist of typically round tables and chairs from bended wood (historically from Bohemian production), hat stands of the same type, waiters in dinner jackets that look at you like you were a piece of sh…dirt, unless they grasp that you have some kind of title or degree, in which case they worship you like a deity, papers in convenient holders and smoke from cigarettes, cigars and more cigarettes.

Coffee is almost always served on a little, oval silver plate and with a glass of still water, sometimes accompanied by a small piece of chocolate. So far everything is clear. However, there is one mistake many unknowing foreigners easily make: To order coffee.

On the Art of Ordering Coffee in Austria

There is no coffee in Austria. That′s right: there are easily a dozen of coffee variations available in a decent café and ordering simply "coffee" might make the waiter slap you in disgust. If you want to shine in a café in Austria, you will have to get prepared to order something more specific. To help resolving the worst confusion, here a quick overview on the most common coffee specialities:

Kleiner Brauner and Großer Brauner: Means "little brown one" or "large brown one" and comes close to what people consider to be ordinary coffee: black with a bit of milk, yet typically not filtered, but steamed like espresso.

Melange: The king of coffee, a mix of frothed milk and steamed coffee similar to the Italian cappuccino, but consumed at any time of the day.

Milchkaffee or Café latte: A large coffee with frothed milk, has been around for a long time, but recently gained popularity probably due to its fancy Italian name that sounds much cooler than "Milchkaffee".

Einspänner: Strong, black coffee typically served in a high glass with a dash of whipped cream.

Fiaker: Named after horse-and-carriages, the Fiaker is a rather not-so-common drink of coffee with a shot of Austrian rum and whipped cream.

Mazagran: A cold Fiaker-variation, coffee, ice, a shot of rum - and possibly a bit of sugar. A wonderful boost of refreshing energy in the summer.

Konsul: An even less common creation than the Fiaker, a black coffee with a small spot of unshipped cream.

Verlängerter: A diluted and thus weaker, but larger version of the Großer Brauner, typically served with milk. Means "extended one".

Schwarzer or Mokka: Strong, black coffee, normally consumed with a lot of sugar, but served without.

Kurzer or Espresso: The same coffee, in recent years the Austrian term "Kurzer" (meaning "short one") has almost gone extinct and these days, the international "Espresso" is to be found on the menus much more commonly.

Türkischer: Meaning "Turkish one" and is just that - grated coffee boiled for a long time in water with sugar and served as a very hot, strong coffee with the grains still in the cup.

Eiskaffee: Cold coffee with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and whipped cream - served typically in the summer months, but ideal for the hot season. Only ice tea is more refreshing.

Cappuccino: What is sold in Austria under that name is NOT the Italian (thus not the international) version of a cappuccino, but a regional variation made from coffee and whipped cream rather than frothed milk.

The coffee consumption of Austria in cup per capita is among the highest in the World - higher than in Italy, which might surprise some of you. Even more surprising are those nations that beat us: Norwegians, for example, drink even more coffee than Austrians. So do the Finish, Danish and Germans.

Over-all, there seems to be North-South gradient running across Europe in terms of coffee aficionados. Coffee beans in Austria are typically roasted until they are very dark, almost black. This is called the "Italian" or "French roast" and the most common tan for coffee beans.

Further Reading

Guide to Cafes of Vienna

Austrian Drinks

An Introduction to Austria Wine

Austrian Lifestyle & Culture

back to "dining & cuisine"