When I was in college in Bangkok, I had a favorite café that I frequented because it had this one coffee that I absolutely loved: Viennese coffee. A decadent cup of coffee with a huge dallop of whipped cream on top was not only divine but also inspired me to one day travel to Vienna, Austria.
For coffee lovers, a trip to Vienna is a must as it’s been crowned the Coffee Capital of the World. Indeed, when I was in Vienna for the first time, I was happy to see cafés and coffeehouses at every corner. I was particularly impressed with two traditional Viennese coffeehouses, Café Central and Café Spearl, and would go back over and over just to hang out. These two coffeehouses are famous for a reason.
Café Central has been home to some of Vienna’s greatest writers and philosophers since 1876. Café Spearl is even older and has an illustrious past. It’s been around since 1880, boasting regulars such as the Archdukes Josef Ferdinand and Karl Ferdinand and artists who founded the modern art movement in Austria.
What I love about these two places
Besides the taste of the coffee I enjoy, what I particularly love about these coffeehouses is the way they look and feel. They have an air of joie de vivre mixed with intellectual curiosity and nostalgia. Big rooms, wooden panels, big chandeliers, velvet seating are some of the hallmarks of traditional Viennese coffeehouses and are copied in many cities in Europe.
They also provide newspapers and billiard tables for guests to enjoy. I later learned that billiard tables at coffeehouses in the past served as a source of additional income for the coffeehouse owners as people rarely played for pleasure.
To order the “Viennese coffee” that I love is more complicated. I can get either Einspänner (a shot of espresso with whipped cream), or Kapuziner (double shots of espresso with whipped cream, or Franziskaner (a shot of espresso with milk and whipped cream). I like the last one the best.
Even though Vienna is not the birthplace of coffeehouses – the first ones were found in Mecca as early as the 12th century – the Viennese took their coffee seriously and have shown the world how to enjoy it. As writer and coffeehouse resident Hans Weigel put it, coffee has become “part of the people’s soul.”