One coffee, please!

On this order a waiter and a waitress in a Viennese coffee house will under guarantee 1. Raise at least one eyebrow and 2. ask what kind of coffee it should be, please…. Because in Vienna, we don’t just order a coffee, we order the exact way we want it prepared.

There is as a base the small and large black or brown coffee – pure mocha without or with milk in small or larger quantities. The most popular variant with milk is the melange, where coffee and milk are mixed in equal parts, often with milk foam on top. The Franziskaner is a very light melange with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles, the Kapuziner is a black coffee with a few drops of whipped cream, which gives the coffee the color of the capuchin robe. So a capuchin has little in common with a cappuccino (espresso with milk and milk foam), which you can of course order in Vienna even if it’s not a native Viennese.

I’ve always found the Einspänner, which my grandmother sometimes drank, particularly interesting: it’s served in a glass with a handle and consists of black coffee with a whipped cream top. Served with powdered sugar sprinkled on top of the whipped cream. The Einspänner is not stirred, but drunk through the top cap. Its name comes from the one-horse carriages. The coachmen held the glass in one hand and the reins in the other, the cream on top kept the coffee warm, which was drunk during the break between two rides. Through the glass passengers could see who was almost finished with the break and then choose a coachman.

The Inverted Neumann, of whom Friedrich Torberg writes in his “Treatise on the Viennese Coffee House,” has achieved literary honors. This coffee speciality is small black coffee served next to a cup, where the whipped cream is first added to the bottom and then “topped” with hot coffee. For the sake of honesty, you should know that not every coffee house has all these variants ready. If you find one: taste your way through!

Literature and coffee house

Many books have been written about the history of Viennese coffeehouse literature, which will not be rivaled here. If you want to get an idea of how art and coffee house and Viennese way of life are connected and, above all, used to be connected, you can get a good and enjoyable first impression here: Friedrich Torberg, Traktat über das Kaffeehaus (Tract on the Coffee House)

Breakfast in coffee house

Having the first meal of the day in a coffee house is one of the passions of many Viennese. Nowadays, there is a wide range of products on offer almost everywhere, from muesli with fresh fruit to salmon with horseradish. The classic Viennese coffee house breakfast, however, is made up of simpler elements: Eggs in a glass, buttered rolls and croissants, possibly supplemented by a little jam or honey. Accompanied by coffee or tea of your choice, for children gladly cocoa. If it may be a little more hearty, an egg dish (scrambled eggs) from two or three eggs is also conceivable. Plus the current daily newspapers and plenty of leisure for reading. This is how a perfect day in Vienna begins.

Soda lemon and Obi Spritz

Coffee isn’t always wanted, and especially on a warm day, you may want to quench your thirst with a cool drink. Of course, you can get the usual internationally popular soft drinks at the coffeehouse, and often very good homemade sodas. In any case, two thirst-quenching classics are soda lemon – soda water with a little fresh lemon juice – and Obi spritz – apple juice and soda water mixed in equal parts. The fact that we call apple juice Obi in Vienna comes from a brand name known since the beginning of the 20th century. Originally from Switzerland, “Obi” has remained a synonym for apple juice, especially in Austria.

Afternoon snack – not without cake

In the afternoon, the energy level of us Viennese often drops rapidly and requires refreshment in the form of a snack, by which we mean coffee and something sweet. A “Mehlspeis” with coffee can be cake or pie, a Danish pastry with sweetened cream cheese or a Nussbeugel, a Punschkrapferl or a Gugelhupf. The delicacies from the Viennese pastry kitchen (elsewhere one would say patisserie, but somehow that sounds too delicate) are almost countless.In the coffee house you will usually find a showcase in which the pastries are displayed. The best thing to do is to ask the waiters and waitresses what exactly you see there and ask them to recommend something to you. The classics Sacher cake, apple strudel and cheese strudel and cream cake can be found almost everywhere.They will recommend whipped cream with Sachertorte – that’s a good tip. My grandmother would never have served whipped cream, vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream with apple strudel, but in fact all three taste delicious. In any case, vanilla sauce with Buchteln (yeast rolls filled with plum jam) is classic.

Small lexicon of pastries:

Punschkrapferl (punch cake)

a cube of sponge cake and a mixture of jam, rum and chocolate under a pink sugar icing. Viennese say Krapferl, using the diminutive form perhaps in the hope that it will give this rich cake fewer calories.

Topfengolatsche (Danish pastry with sweetened cream cheese)

Puff pastry folded over a mixture of curd cheese (Topfen), sugar, vanilla and raisins.


Sponge cake or yeast cake baked in a mold with rounded grooves. Often also as a marble cake made of light and dark (chocolate) mass.


thin dough with various sweet fillings: Apple, curd (cream cheese), apricots, sour cherries. There are also spicy variants (filled with cabbage, potato, spinach ) which are typically eaten for lunch and not at tea time.


Beugel is another word for kipferl, which is a curved pastry) and related to the word bagel. In Vienna we call a Kipferl (croissant) a Beugel when it has got stuffing: Mohnbeugel (poppy seed) and Nussbeugel (walnuts) go very well with coffee.

Sacher cake (Vienna’s most famous chocolate cake)

a chocolate cake with apricot jam (apricot jam) and chocolate icing. The long dispute between the Hotel Sacher and the confectioner Demel about how many layers of jam a “real” Sacher cake would have is legendary and has since been settled. For several years now, the pies from both houses have two layers of jam. It’s best to try both and decide which is your favorite.

Buchteln (or, as they say in my family: Wuchteln; yeast rolls filled with plum jam)

a dessert made of yeast dough , filled with Powidl (plum jam), sometimes also with apricot jam, baked in a pan in the oven. Like so many Austrian pastries, Buchteln originally come from Bohemia.


Legend has it that at the beginning of the warmer season, an old Viennese cafétier would have told his apprentice Schani (originally Johann, but derived from the French “Jean” Johanns are often called “Schani” in Vienna) to carry tables and chairs outdoors with the following words: “Schani, carry the garden outside!” The term Schanigarten for the diverse outdoor areas of coffee houses, pubs, bars and restaurants has persisted in Vienna ever since. We all love them and as soon as the first spring sun rays appear, the Schanigärten are full. The fact that smoking has moved outdoors in accordance with current laws has made outdoor facilities popular even in winter.

The heaters set up for the comfort of guests – we call them Heizschwammerl, or heating mushrooms, in Vienna – aren’t exactly climate-friendly, which is why some coffeehouse owners increasingly keep cushions, blankets and even fluffy overcoats on hand. See how you can keep yourself warm in the Schanigarten during your visit to Vienna.

Waiter, the check please!

This used to be the concluding call of every coffee house visit, and it was thoroughly correct, since there were only male head waiters and only they were allowed to collect. Of course, the Viennese coffeehouse has also become a workplace for women and men. In the beginning, it was common to call for the “Miss!” to place an order. At that time people had the idea that especially unmarried ladies had to earn money and such ladies were called Fräulein (“Miss”).

That ended 40 years ago at the latest, and since then we have been struggling with how to address the waitress in the coffee house. Joking variations such as “Frau Oberin” are of course ruled out, as are ironic (“Gnädige Frau/My Lady”) and impolite (“Hallo!”) ones. In some trendy cafés, where mainly younger people are guests, addressing people by their first names has become established – if you know that “Lilly” and “Beate” are on duty today.But how do the Viennese do it in the traditional coffee house? To this day, no suitable form of address has been found, so that most guests either make do without a form of address: “Check, please!” accompanied by more or less speaking gestures.

In addition, in the absence of a suitable way to address a female employee in a coffee house, the phrase “Excuse me!” persists as an attention-seeking form for waitresses (and here and there also waiters), as if one had to ask for forgiveness for wanting to order something or settle the bill. Something contemporary has yet to be found….


Often guests from other countries are unsure about the tipping habits in Austria. The answer is quite simple: service is included and additional tipping is common. In the coffee house, inn and restaurant in the amount of about 10% of the invoice total. At EUR 9.80, rounding up to EUR 10 will be acknowledged by the waiter and waitress with thanks, but it is definitely considered petty. Here EUR 11.- or 12.- are the good measure. With a bill of around EUR 100, a tip of EUR 10 is appropriate.

Always provided the service was fine and you felt comfortable and welcome as a guest. Inattentive service, bad-tempered staff, and lack of attention do not deserve a tip, but especially gracious service should be remunerated quite generously. In the end, professional and attentive staff and benevolent and generous guests form that system of the Viennese coffeehouse where everyone feels at home and makes it this special place that it has become legendary for being: an extended living room.

Dr. in. Karin Eichhorn-Thanhoffer

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