Vienna Coffee: Cafe Culture & the Specialty Dichotomy

This is a guest post by Sarah G. Grant, of the University of California, Riverside. If you are interested in writing guest articles for the Table, feel free to contact me.

vienna coffee

Vienna coffee houses are certainly one of the most oft-cited coffee-centric destinations in the world, especially in relation to historical durée and intellectual engagement. In fact, Vienna is recognized for jumpstarting modern coffeehouses across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a coffee researcher I have long familiarized myself with the history and mythologies surrounding coffee, cafés, and coffeehouses. Accordingly Vienna fits squarely onto my coffee destination map.

In late September I visited Austria for a conference in Leibnitz, Styria—the southernmost portion of the country. Flying in and out of Vienna with a mere 36 hours bookending arrival and departure I set out to research where to get the best coffee and perhaps a taste of the local specialty coffee scene. A majority of the Vienna “cafe culture” and coffee pieces available online will point to the traditional coffeehouse fixtures of the city; Vienna is, after all, still one of the coffeehouse capitals of the world.

Georg Branny of CaffeeCouture points out, “specialty coffee culture” in the city is still young but developing in curious ways. There is a grand divide between traditional “coffeehouse culture” and “café or coffee culture” as he puts it.

Viennese Coffeehouse Culture is a certified UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site in Austria (recognized in 2011) as coffeehouse culture dates back to the late seventeenth century. Many of the traditional Viennese coffee houses appear in Vienna guidebooks or online travel resources—Demel, Café Central, and Café Hawelka for example—and make up the fabric of traditional Viennese coffeehouse culture. They are undoubtedly interesting and historically rich spaces worth visiting…but not for the coffee.

If you are a traveler who prioritizes the kinds of coffee featured by this site, do not fret—you have options in Vienna. There are a couple online pieces stemming from the 2012 Specialty Coffee Association of Europe convention but these three Vienna newcomers deserve as much attention as they can get.

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CaffeCouture (Garnisongasse 18) and
CaffeCouture District 1 (Freyung 2, Ferstel Passage)

caffeecouture3CaffeeCouture and the recently opened CaffeeCouture District 1 are Georg Branny’s (Austrian barista, latte art, and cup tasting champion) beautiful, minimalist, La Marzocca Strada laden spaces with the best espresso and milk based espresso drinks I experienced in Austria. There are also plenty of single origin options available, and they are roasted in-house.

The District 1 location in the Ferstel Passage is a striking example of the traditional/specialty coffeehouse dichotomy and a perfect place to enjoy an espresso with juicy berries on the front, clean acidity, and a dark chocolate finish as you watch the foot traffic pass by in the mid-19th century shopping arcade.

If Georg’s beautiful latte art, delicious espresso, and historical passage is not incentive enough to try the new location, it is also the perfect spot to begin a meandering culinary path to some of the best chocolate, cheese, and prosciutto in Europe (to the immediate right and left of the café).

People on Caffeine (POC — Schlosselgasse 21)

people on caffeineNot far from CaffeeCouture, this space reminded me of a coffee speakeasy—an unadorned storefront with a suspiciously interesting brew station just off the entrance. The café is narrow but cozy with a few communal tables on the main floor and a smaller private nook with a street level window.

People on Caffeine is a multi-roaster specialty cafe featuring a wide variety of European single origin pour over options and customary espresso and milk based drinks. This space seems to foster the vibrant and growing specialty coffee consumer base in Vienna with a large student clientele.

kaffeefabrik (Favoritenstrasse 4-6)

kaffefabrikKaffeefabrik was a great place to end my brief Viennese specialty coffee tour. It is a small space with high top tables and a simple menu of clean espresso drinks, a small selection of pour overs, and local apple juice.

Owner Tobias Radinger has an engaging perspective on the current coffee scene in Vienna—the city has a long way to go in developing specialty coffee culture, but Tobias seems optimistic about the road ahead.

Customer loyalty is key to a city deeply entrenched in European style espresso conventions but small cafes like Kaffeefabrik are emphatically challenging this.

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The hallmark of an emergent specialty coffee scene is communication and fostering knowledge exchange about the craft of coffee but also accessibility. Vienna is a world can you pay 3.5 Euro for a “Wiener mélange” (essentially an industrial grade cappuccino) but much less for a single origin cappuccino or pour-over from an expert specialty coffee enthusiast.

As a 36-hour traveler in Vienna, these three options were more than enough to sustain a coffee fix, try a few new espressos, and gather an impression on the state of specialty coffee culture in Vienna (and possibilities for the future). I especially welcome the incredibly gracious café owners for their advice, directions, and coffee knowledge—both historical and related to Vienna and the wider European specialty coffee scene.

About the Author

Cafe Tung 2010Sarah G. Grant is a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Riverside, who focuses her research on the industrial coffee industry in Vietnam and transnational links between Southeast Asia and the coffee consuming world.

As an avid consumer and advocate of direct trade specialty coffee, she seeks to bridge the knowledge gap between the seemingly distinct industrial and specialty coffee worlds through scholarly inquiry, teaching, and public lectures.