Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Café Culture?

Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting in a café.

Perhaps on the Champs d’Elysees, watching the Parisians and tourists stroll by as you sip a pricey mineral water or orange presse (fresh squeezed orange juice). Maybe at Café Florian in Piazza St. Marco in Venice, with music wafting in the background, pigeons overhead (wear a hat) and Prosecco in hand.

If you hop into the Wayback Machine (for those of you old enough to remember The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show) and seek out the oldest of the cafes, the ancestors of them all, you will find yourself transported to 17thCentury Austria, sitting indoors in Vienna, where the concept was born.

During the Ottoman wars, the city had been occupied by the Turks. On being liberated by the Polish-Hapsburg Army, Vienna was quickly emptied of the invaders who left things behind, as people on the run tend to do. Among the remainders were bags upon bags of coffee, and the accoutrements it took to brew it.

Vienna Coffee House

What had been an exotic luxury became available to the masses in the newly invented coffee houses, outlets created specifically to prepare and serve this beverage which was new to most people.  Some traditions which live on today were established in those early years: myriad varieties of coffee preparations to choose among, and the freedom to sit for hours on end, reading, talking, just staring into space.

Cafe Schwartzenberg Vienna

Starbucks lovers take note: Some things never change.

On a recent trip to Vienna, I visited several coffee houses, mostly for a quick coffee or aperitif, but on one occasion for lunch at the venerable Café Landtmann, a fixture on the Ringstrasse since 1873, now a serious restaurant in addition to being a coffee house. From my notes: “venison ragout with allegedly local cranberries, potato croquettes, porcinis and other fresh wild mushrooms.” It was delicious and satisfying, so I passed on the gorgeous pastry display.

The most interesting part of this was the coffee menu, too elaborate to paraphrase here:

The Viennese coffee house continues to evolve.  I remember my first visit to this beautiful city, many years ago, before tastes and health concerns changed the laws about indoor smoking.  Even in some of the finest and most historical examples, coffee house walls were a little dank, and smoke permeated the air. When I visited in late 2011, I did not encounter any problem whatsoever with smoke in any coffee house or restaurant, although this could be a result of my seeking out non-smoking areas (which did not exist in the past) and ignoring smokers’ siberias. Bottom line: it is no longer a problem.

Franziskaner: Coffee with steamed milk and whipped cream

I need to go back, and research a blog on “mit schlag”, German for  “with whipped cream,” and not ignore the Sacher Torte next time.

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2 thoughts on “Café Culture?

  1. Elaine Corn on said:

    Ah, someday I will be able to travel like you. Loved this post, which inspired scrolling to read several more on Myanmar, oysters and tea. Lots of information in a small space.

  2. As much as I loved your story about the coffee houses in Vienna as native Austrian I have to point out that the Ottoman’s never occupied or conquered Vienna. The city was besieged, desperate, short of food and ammunition, and the Emperor away in safety because I knew what was coming. A Turkish speaking Serb named Kowalzki volunteered to sneak out of the city to find out whether the promised relief army existed. Kowalzki put on a Turkish uniform (how did he find one that fitted him?) Yes, the Polish/German army was already on the Kahlenberg. Kowalzki sneaked back into the city (in the Turkish uniform and nobody shot him?)and soon thereafter the Ottomans left without much of a struggle; it was getting cold and the army was tired. Kowalzki received as reward the coffee beans the Turks left behind and started a coffee house. About the same time (give and take a few years), the Pope gave permission for Christians to drink coffee, because it was considered the beverage of the infidel.
    The rest of your story is wonderful. As apprentice, we still had to learn how to make Turkish coffee.
    Stay well, Arno

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