Friday, January 30, 2009

Coffee in Vienna

Edwardian Promenade explores the cafés of Vienna:

According to legend, coffee was introduced to Viennese society after the Ottomans were finally expelled from its gates in the late 17th century. Leaving behind sacks of coffee, a victorious soldier, Georg Franz Kolschitzky was rewarded with them. He discovered coffee by accident, when, during his experimenting with the beans, he accidentally mixed milk with the bitter, black brew. In reality, the cafe culture originated with the Armenian Johannes Diodato, who was awarded for his spying with the monopoly on selling coffee for the period of 20 years. In 1700, four other Armenians named Isaak de Luca, Joseph Devich, Andre Be�n and Philip Rudolf Perg, obtained a license to sell coffee when Diodato was accused of spying for both the Hapsburgs and the Serbians. Cafes were opened in rapid succession. In the year 1714 Vienna had 11 licensed “coffee-houses”, who found a rival in the “waterbrewers” (distillers) who sold coffee without license. In 1747 Empress Maria Theresa effectively ended the quarrel by uniting the two.

By the middle of the 18th Century the basics of the café-tradition had been established. People would meet to read newspapers, play cards, have a game of billiards or just meet friends to chat. By the early 1900s, close to 500 cafes flourished in Vienna. There were so many, it was said every fifth doorway in Vienna admitted one either to an antique shop or a cafe.

CafeLike the English with their five o’clock tea, the social hour of Vienna was 4 o’clock, when the cafes would teem with so many people none but a habitué could obtain a seat. The cafes typically held two kinds of clients: “stammgäste,” or habitué’s, and the “laufende” or transients. The stammgäste, who generally spent from 3 to 4 hours every day at his cafe, were commonly called “wirthausbruder” (cafe brothers), and had tables reserved for them—woe betide any man who ventures to take possession of this sacred property! The coffee house played an important part in all the business ventures organized in Vienna. No business was performed without coffee. When visited by a fellow businessman who had some scheme to propose, they would adjourn to the nearest cafe, order coffee for two, pass a flew pleasant remarks on the weather and compliment each other on one another’s prosperous appearance. When the cups were emptied then the gentlemen took out his dainty cigarette case, offered a cigarette, and they were considered ready to handle business.

Coffee is part of American culture, too. And it's healthy! Share


May said...

Elena, have you ever seen Aurel Kolnai's essay on the Austrian coffee-house? Alas, I don't know where it can be easily found. But it's very interesting. I think it is there that he talks about the "civilizing radiation" of Habsburg culture throughout Central Europe.

Do you know about Kolnai? He was an Austro-Hungarian political philosopher, born in 1900. He eventually developed a conservative political philosophy, which saw institutions like hereditary monarchy and aristocracy as safeguards of liberty. He wrote many intriguing essays, "Privilege and Liberty," "The Utopian Mind," and others.

He was a Jewish convert to Catholicism, and opposed both Nazism and Communism. He had to flee the Nazis and eventually came to N. America.

elena maria vidal said...

No, I did not know about him but he sounds fascinating. Thank you for this information, Hummingbird.

Lucy said...

Delicious post, Elena. Thanks for all the info. It's one of my favourite things about Vienna- such deliciously smooth coffee. Thanks!

elena maria vidal said...

You are welcome. The coffee was definitely one of the many things I loved about Vienna.