Why were coffee houses invented

Viennese coffee house culture

The discovery of slowness

What strikes the often hectic tourists first when entering the typical Viennese coffee houses is the calm. The discovery of slowness could have originated there. When serving and eating, the issue of speed seems to be ignored.

It is customary there for regular guests to linger for an unusually long time with a single cup of coffee and study the daily press extensively without being constantly pushed to the next order by an enterprising waiter. The glass of fresh tap water that is served free of charge with the coffee is also a matter of course in Viennese coffee houses.

As far as the furnishings are concerned, the individual coffee houses are very different from one another. The palette ranges from plush and dusty to a modern, almost sober ambience. The emotions of the waiters also range from outdated and antiquated to modern and cool, although they want to be addressed as "Herr Ober" in a coffee house.

The Arabs invented it

The Arab world can claim to be the first to cultivate coffee plants and systematically process their beans into an aromatic drink. There is historical evidence that coffee has been drunk there since at least the middle of the 15th century.

Some sources say that coffee beans were consumed hundreds of years before, but unroasted and as a medicine. According to legend, the idea of ​​processing coffee can be traced back to a herdsman who noticed the restless behavior of his herd animals. They had nibbled the invigorating beans from a bush.

Roasted, ground and brewed with hot water, coffee initially caught on in the Arab hemisphere. Coffee bars emerged and became popular meeting places. Especially from the much-visited pilgrimage site of Mecca, travelers brought the news of the invigorating drink to Europe.

The Augsburg physician Leonhard Rauwolf, who traveled to the Middle East in 1573, got to know how to drink coffee in the Syrian city of Aleppo and describes the unusual drink and its special preparation in a travel report published in 1582.

Turkish mocha in front of Vienna

Curious about the exotic drink, some traders first ordered very carefully and in small quantities sacks of coffee beans. The first coffee houses were opened in the port cities of London, Hamburg, Marseille, Amsterdam and Venice from 1645 onwards.

Coffee later became popular in the hinterland. In 1672, the Parisians also had their first specialty bar serving coffee. However, the Viennese had to wait for their coffee until 1683.

Once again it is a legend that tells of the introduction of coffee culture in the royal seat of the Habsburgs: The Turks targeted the Austrian capital during their expansionist struggles and besieged the city. But the Turkish army was defeated at the gates of the Habsburg metropolis and had to flee.

The Turkish legacy also contained sacks of coffee beans that were given to a man who had fought valiantly on the Austrian side, Franz Georg Kolschitzky.

As if that weren't enough, Kolschitzky also received permission to serve coffee, and the first Viennese coffee house was able to open its doors. So much for the legend. Other sources say that it was an Armenian named Deodato who opened the first coffee house in Vienna in 1685.

It's all in the mix

Whether the Viennese coffee house pioneer was called Deodato or Kolschitzky, coffee began an undreamt-of triumphant advance through the Austrian metropolis. In the years that followed, many coffee houses were built. In 1819 the number had risen to 150, by 1900 it was 600.

The secret of the Viennese success was the addition of sugar and milk. And since the coffee house owners did not use ready-made coffee grounds, but roasted them themselves and produced their own blends of varieties, they proudly called themselves coffee makers. This is what the Viennese coffee house owners still call themselves today.

In the early days of the coffee house there were already different types of preparation, but at that time there was no mention of the imaginative names of our time, such as Melange, Fiaker or Verlängerter. The exclusively male coffeehouse visitors were able to order their coffee using a color palette and have it individually prepared.

The color spectrum ranged from the darkest black to milky white. The Viennese women were only granted access to the coffee house world from 1856 onwards. And the proverbial Viennese coffee house culture did not begin until the end of the 19th century and lasted into the first third of the 20th century.

Coffee house nostalgia is back in trend

It was the many painters, writers and theater people who, as illustrious audiences, populated the coffee houses in Vienna and enriched them with their presence. Writers like Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig or Friedrich Torberg had their favorite regular cafés, where they met, where they sat, pondered and worked.

Modern painters such as Gustav Klimt or Egon Schiele held court in their coffee houses and found inspiration for new works. Establishments such as Café Griensteidl became a playground for a young guard of bohemians around 1890, who were preparing to revolutionize the world of art and culture.

At that time there were no fewer than 30 coffee houses on the fashionable Vienna Ringstrasse alone. Small orchestras played there and coffee house music became a popular musical genre.

The Great Depression of 1929, the Hitler dictatorship, the Second World War and changes in leisure time behavior in the post-war period brought about the decline of the famous Viennese coffee house culture and brought the economic end of many formerly famous restaurants.

But for a few years now people seem to have returned to the good old tradition. Coffee house nostalgia is booming and you can relax in Hawelka, Central, Sperl, Griensteidl or Schwarzenberg with mocha, small brown, extended, melange or Einspänner.

Author: Alfried Schmitz