If coffee is unseparable from cafés (or coffee houses), it is especially true in Vienna.
Maybe it’s my feeling because I am still in Vienna for a couple of days, and the subject ‘s been brewing for some time.
I shall first briefly recap how coffee came to Vienna.
The first noted effects of coffee beans (boiled and brewed) in Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula in 1100 AD. Yemen back then was the sole producer of coffee (Arabica type), where beans would be shipped from the port of Mocha (hence the name moccha coffee, then just “mocha”, “moccha” or “moka”).
The Ottomans brought coffee and built coffee houses to Turkey and its capital (then Constantinople) in the 15th century. There were places to meet, play boardgames, listen to music, discuss news and politics, and drink the delicious (and black as China ink) hot beverage, sometimes flavored with spices. The entire Arabic world fell under the spell of coffee and the male Arabic world under the delights of coffehouses. So much so that the city of Mecca briefly saw the interdiction of coffee and coffehouses, before the coffee ritual became ingrained in daily life, thus defeating the concerns of several Imams about coffee allowing for subversive ideas to be shaped by alert minds. In Turkey, although not allowed in coffeehouses, a woman could divorce their husband if he could not provide her daily dose of coffee.
In the Austrian-Hungarian capital though, the first café opened in the wake of the Battle of Vienna in 1683 against the Ottoman Empire, the turning point of a 300 years or so struggle between the Ottoman and the Holy Roman Empires. The Ottoman Empire had sought to conquer and expand its influence in regions of Europe that were traversed by major trade routes (Black Sea, Danube and Mediterranean). The Ottomans had already been tickling the ego of the Holy Roman Emperor, after they had put the Balkans, parts of Crimea and Wallachia under their rule, they were coveting Hungary territories in 1526, which led to the Siege of Vienna in 1529. As the key city interlocking eastern and western, northern and southern Europe, Vienna had been an object of desire for all the Sultans since the founding of the Ottoman Statehood in 1299… Fast forward post-battle of 1683. So, the Ottomans and their allies, defeated by the coalition of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, packed weapons and tents to return home, leaving behind them a stock of sacks containing strange black roasted beans. A man, who had been prisoner of the Ottomans, knew exactely what they were, how to use them and obtained permission to keep the beans. Following his heroic deeds in action, he was also granted the licence to open the first coffeehouse in Vienna, triggering the passionate affair with coffee that the Viennese still enjoy today.
This clever man, Georg Franz Kolschitzky, got the idea to serve his coffee alongside little pastries in the shape of a croissant, the crescent visible on the Ottoman flag, as a reminder of the battle and how the Ottomans were crushed.
I’m bridging a gap here in assuming that this little delicacy must have ressembled the ubiquitous Vanille Kipferl that is still baked today during Advent time in Alsace (East of France), Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia (and available year-round in stores, offered by cookies company Bahlsen).
Nowadays, the coffee menu at most cafés, hotel tearooms, restaurants and “konditoreien” or pastry shops offers a wide range of coffee variation, not really in regards to the origin of the beans, but rather on how the coffee is prepared, with or without milky, and/or whipped cream. You can usually choose from a good dozen or more coffees! Some famous tearooms offer their own variety, named sometimes after a member of the owner family or illustrious person (Einspänner, Melange, Fiaker, Biedermeier, Franziskaner, kleiner order grosser Brauner, Mokka, Verlängerter, Kaffee verkehrt or latte macchiato, Mozart Café, Hefferlkafee, Anton kaffee, Helene Kaffee, Sisi, Franzi… etc…).
Now, about croissants. The little “coissant” or Kipferl, arrived in France around 1835-40, when a Viennese officer and his associate opened a Viennese Bakery in Paris. The success was immediate. French pastry chefs and bakers were soon inspired, developping their own version of the Kipferl, with more butter and yeast to give a fluffy, light texture to the dough. As a result, the croissant doubled in size and volume, and got a brioche-y taste. Over time, those bakers injected a copious dose of sophistication to the humble coissant, perfecting it to the chef d’oeuvre of extra-thin buttery golden layers that is now, to be found in the best patisseries worldwide (forget the sad industrial or dry flaky underproved and underdevelopped thing some hotels or pseudo-bakeries attempt to pass as croissant and wait until you encounter a proper light, fluffy, buttery, delightful one).
Moreover, delighted by the instant success of the croissant feuilletage (layering process leading to puff pastry), French bakers used the same layered pastry dough to create the “pain au chocolat”, “mirliton”, “pain aux raisins”, “sacristain”, “palmier”, “chausson aux pommes”, alongside brioche-dough pastries such as “danish”, “pain au lait” (milkbread), and other “baguette viennoise” (with chocolate chips), thus giving birth to what is now known in France and in pastry schools as “viennoiseries” ( Vienne-oiseries : things in the taste or style of Vienna, literally).
Personally, I tried and tasted many cake/coffee combos and IMHO, nothing beats a coffee and a croissant. That opinion may very well taking its roots in my student time, when upon arrival at the uni, I would occasionally pair a freshly baked croissant with a milk coffee.
In Vienna, of course, one can find the most tempting cakes, strudels, and slices of elaborated gateaux (Cardinal schnitte, Klimt schintte, Esterhazy ot Dobos torte, apple or poppy seed or cheesecake/curd or apricot strudel, raspeberry or mango mousse cakes, napoleons, walnut and coffee big gateau…) and each one can find a mate in the coffee menu.
It’s also as difficult to choose from, as much as diificult as what to choose between all types of coffee you can enjoy in Vienna. I think I’ve tried them all… Or almost (not a big fan of liquor in my hot beverage, though).
As for me, I’m a stickler for a Franziskaner, a milky coffee topped with whipped cream served in a glass alongside a croissant. And of course in a coffehouse, sipping a coffee, I write… That’s exactly what I am doing now, coffeeing and writing.
Enjoy your brew!