The most dramatic spread into Christian countries came in 1683, by accident, when a Turkish army had besieged Vienna. In their hurried withdrawal, the Turks left behind hundreds of sacks of green beans, which the locals assumed was fodder for Turkish camels. A Turkish-speaking Pole Georg Kolschitzky had done valuable work during the siege, carrying messages through the Turkish lines. He asked for only 2 rewards: all the sacks of green coffee beans left by the Turks, and a house where he would be able to establish the first Viennese coffee-house: Blue Bottle.
The Viennese did not like the Turkish taste, so Kolschitzky strained off the sediment & added milk & honey to neutralise the bitterness. The new drink soon became extremely popular and business thrived.
Cafe Griensteidl, 1896
painting by Reinhold Völkel.
The drinking of Viennese-style coffee soon spread over central Europe: Marseilles and Paris, soon after Vienna, 1683; Nuremberg and Regensburg, 1686; Hamburg, 1687; Stuttgart, 1712; Berlin, 1721. By 1714 Vienna had already 11 licensed coffee houses. In England during the C18th, many of the coffee-houses declined and were later developed into exclusive men's clubs, offering better facilities. Meanwhile coffee houses in Paris and Vienna continued to flourish, as cafe society culture remained popular there.
During the Vienna Congress of 1814-15, the Neuner’s coffee house emerged as Vienna’s leading literary café. In 1824 Ignaz Neuner promoted his café to the Silver Coffee House, a deluxe café. All the utensils and room accessories were made of silver. After the Silver Coffee House’s heyday, Café Griensteidl welcomed Viennese literary luminaries with comfortable decoration and daily newspapers. And Café Zentral was elegant from the outside and gorgeous inside.
Passion for Newspapers, 1837,
Being an expresso fanatic myself, I can only be grateful that in intellectual Viennese circles, coffee-drinking was regarded as an aid for clearer thinking and better discussion. Each coffeehouse catered for its subgroup of regular customers and developed individual styles of coffee preparation. It became a home away from home for its patrons. There was a coloured engraving, The Passion for Newspapers 1837, which showed a coffeehouse of the original, spacious, high-ceilinged kind. Coffee was drunk, and pipes were smoked. Letters were read and written, and newspapers from all over were available.
Another thing important for me personally was that the development of coffee-houses in Austria went along with the growth of early periodical newspapers eg Wiener Zeitung. These newspapers appeared twice a week, so a person could either have a subscription OR read it in a coffee-house. When reading newspapers was not allowed, on Sundays, coffee houses were closed.
But it took 180 years for Julius Meinl to develop a process which could supply roasted coffee of a consistently high quality. In 1862 he opened a retail shop in Vienna, the first with the great idea of supplying coffee already roasted. The business rapidly expanded into an elegant chain that stretched throughout the Habsburg Empire.
The heyday of the coffee house was the late C19th. Many artists, scientists, and politicians of the period were constant coffee house patrons, the famous ones to be seen, the impoverished ones (I am guessing) to stay warm in winter. In other cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire, coffee houses in the Viennese style popped up.
The Sachertorte was created by young pastry chef Franz Sacher (1816-1907) in 1832 for Prince Metternich, the Austrian State Chancellor. The Sachertorte and other recipes made him famous, and in time he ran several cafes and restaurants. Anna Sacher, later Franz’s daughter in law, became manager of the gorgeous Sacher hotel.
Patissier Christoph Demel acquired a pastry business in 1857 and it moved to its present position in 1888. The Demel, like the Hotel Sacher itself, is claimed to be the only other place where you can buy the Sachertorte and listen to music. And the beautiful people stayed in grand hotels like the Bristol, the Imperial and Hotel Sacher.
The 1873 World Fair was built in Vienna's Prater Park, located along the Danube. Emperor Joseph II had already declared the Prater to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the start of the Wurstelprater. This was perfect. The park was c4,000 acres, including lawns, gardens, lakes, streams and forests.
The Ringstrasse was built in the place of the medieval walls that used to surround the centre of Vienna, now the 1st District. Emperor Franz Josef I announced the demolition of the city’s original walls, in order to build an imperial boulevard as an expression of the glorious Habsburg Em-pire. The work was completed in 1890. The new Ringstrasse was a place for café society to parade and sup. Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade blog says in The Viennese Cafe that by the early 1900s, c500 cafes flourished in Vienna. Café Imperial was one of the most famous Ringstrasse cafés.
Both the Vienna Opera House and the Burgtheater had already been completed before Ringstrasse was started. Now the parks were filled with musicians’ statues: Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss, and concerts offered music by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Mahler, Brahms & Johann Strauss. Vienna took its culture very seriously; people went to the opera or concert, then wended their way to Sacher.
The Fearless Read blog noted in Cafe Society that Fin-de-siecle Vienna, sliding ever deeper into political instability, was an ideal place to escape from the exigencies of daily life through art and coffee. The Tate Exhibition showed how small groups gathered for literary and artistic discussion at their favourite coffee places. In their portraits, Kokoschka, Schiele and Richard Gerstl focussed on pushing beyond the public face of the era to expose raw psychological truths.
In the end, café society and the good life certainly crashed in WW1’s battle fields and the breakdown of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
People say that whereas Paris cafes concentrated on coffee, alcohol and a bohemian life style, Viennese cafes focussed on coffee, cakes, stringed quartets and an elegant lifestyle. That seems right. But how much of Old Vienna still exists: Café Landtmann, Café Sperl, Café Hawelka and The Braunerhof are all in business. The locals and tourists love them and Merisi's Vienna For Beginners has the photos to prove it in At Demel's in the Year of Darwin.
Thanks to Under The Net blog in Vienna Café Festival, I heard about the exhibition, conference and collection of essays entitled The Vienna Café 1900, Oct 2008. This joint project of the Royal College of Art and Birkbeck College London was an event I would love to have attended.