During my first visit in 2018, I noticed something wasn’t quite right with the coffee houses in Vienna. They seemed to be all serving the same cakes! Had I just stepped right into a cake scandal? The question obviously bothered me for quite some time. Until now, when I finally investigated what was going on in the Viennese coffee culture.
More than 8 million visitors flock to Vienna annually to experience its coffee culture. Viennese coffee culture is consistently ranked as the number one reason for a visit followed by the city’s imperial past, the Spanish Riding School and amusement park Prater.
Whilst it may not be the birthplace of coffee tradition in Europe as such, it holds a significant position and developed into a trademark of the city. The question is, how authentic are coffee houses in Vienna today? Has something so culturally significant been dumbed-down for the sake of mass tourism? And what will you get out of the experience?
Grab a drink, a slice of cake and then let’s talk!
In typical Carolin fashion, I share with you my results from my coffee house crawl in Vienna. We’ll look first at the historic context to get a better understanding of the coffee culture, then agree on the criteria that make a coffee house authentic and lastly share a few examples. After all, I’d like you to get the best out of a coffee house experience when you visit Vienna.
Historical Overview of Coffee Houses in Vienna
Understanding the history of coffee houses in Vienna reveals the quintessential elements of its coffee culture: the Three Cs.
Coffee, Cake and Conversations.
On Day 1, there was coffee:
- Vienna’s coffee history started in the 17th century. Rather late if you compare it to the rest of the world. Take Mecca in the Middle East for example, which ran coffee houses since the 12th century. Venice opened its first coffee house in 1647 and even England had them in 1650 & 1652.
- Vienna used to be occupied by the Turks, but by 1683 besieged the intruders and drove them out successfully. Luck has it, that masses of coffee bags were left behind. Three local spies then had the idea to introduce the drink to the Viennese: Dimetrius Domasy, a Serb, was the first one to sell coffee; Pole Georg Franz Kolschitzky obtained the first legal licence (and ran a coffee house) but it was Johannes Diodato, an Armenian, who founded the first coffee house in 1685.
- A rapid growth of coffee houses followed: 1714 (11), 1737 (37), 1770 (48), by 1819 (150). Emperor Leopold I was a huge supporter of the coffee houses and traded legally himself coffee, tea and chocolates.
- From 1720, newspapers found their way into the establishments and encouraged reading. This marks a defining point in the character of Viennese coffee culture.
- Up until 1770, the interior design was rather dark and dull. To spice things up, Johann Evangelist Milani opened the first lavishly furnished coffee house with mirrors and pool tables.
- Napoleon’s Continental Blockade of England in 1808 skyrocketed the price of coffee in Austria. The coffee houses had to reinvent themselves quickly to survive the crisis and developed into cafés and restaurants.
Then came the cake, introduced by the ladies:
- From 1856, ladies were only allowed to work as cashiers at the coffee houses in Vienna. One at a time.
- A mostly male domain up until 1870, a sweet change was in the making. With women founding family-run bakeries & patisseries, the scene became more food-centric & feminine.
- Soon, lady parlours, coffee parties and book clubs sprung up left, right and centre front. The ladies brought apple strudel, doughnuts and special cakes to the table. It made their book club discussion way more exciting!
And finally, a good conversation:
- During the Fin de Siècle era of 1900, coffee houses were established as “daytime” pubs and meeting points for intellectuals, writers, artists & politicians.
- Coffee houses were always backed by the monarchy and spread across the country. When the Habsburg Empire collapsed, the coffee house culture was still thriving and enjoyed a high reputation as a surviving achievement of the Habsburg days. By 1943, there were 1238 licensed coffee houses in Vienna.
- The Italian espresso machine hit Vienna in 1950 and extended the popular coffee menu. Espresso bars became more trendy and led to the mass closure of coffee houses.
- 1983 saw the revival of Viennese coffee culture and its unique character.
- In 2011, the Viennese coffee houses and their culture were declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
What Is Viennese Coffee Culture?
The UNESCO Commission defines the Viennese coffee house culture as followed:
The tradition of Viennese coffee house culture dates back to the end of the 17th century and is characterised by a very special atmosphere.
Typical for a Viennese coffee house are marble tables on which the coffee is served, Thonet chairs, booths, newspaper tables and details of the interior design and decoration in the Historicism architectural style.
The coffee house is a place where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee appears on the bill.
Café Imperial supports this definition, by stating “a coffee house in Vienna is a place to linger, meet and enjoy”.
From my research and understanding, I would also add that the coffee houses are a pub, or “living room”. Here, slow-living is celebrated over the grind. Society is actively providing a public domain and accepting a relaxed lifestyle.
The popularity further hails from the wide acceptance and connection of all Social classes, which is a strong value of Vienna as a city. Different characters are welcome, too e.g. extroverts can indulge in conviviality. Introverts can read quietly without getting judged or bothered.
Lastly, who wouldn’t enjoy sitting in a gorgeous café with a stucco ceiling, marbled bistro tables and a nice piece of cake? It’s the pure celebration of life moments and in a way, coffee houses are a breeding ground for creativity. People connect and big ideas develop from ordinary things such as a nice cup of coffee.
Culture & Coffee Houses in Vienna Today
The Viennese coffee culture is the biggest in Europe, celebrating the tradition across conventional and modern businesses alike.
Today there are over 130 conventional coffee houses in central Vienna. The oldest coffee house in Vienna is Café Frauenhuber; Café Schwarzenberg specifically is the oldest on Ringstraße. Café Sperl claims to have the best-preserved tearoom. The most popular used to be Café Westend, which unfortunately didn’t survive the pandemic.
The style of the traditional coffee houses ranges from dark & moody via classy & chic to opulent & grand. Some are so popular that guests have to queue, whereas others are visited mostly by locals and require no waiting time. All traditional coffee houses are pricey and have the quintessential slow-living charm in common.
Did You Know?
Austrians drink approximately 137 litres of coffee per year and rank second after Finland in Europe’s coffee consumption. That equals 9kg of raw coffee per head.
The Austrian Coffee Association introduced the Day of the Coffee in 2011. It is celebrated annually on the 1st October. A coffee festival taking place the following weekend completes the celebrations.
Modern cafés are a bit different. Their style is mostly bright, small and minimalistic. The owners place importance on speciality coffee, sustainability and eco-friendly sourcing. Most have their own coffee roastery either on-site or outsourced in the Greater Vienna area.
The costs per coffee are much more moderate in comparison to the traditional coffee houses. Most will provide free WiFi and encourage a work environment, but guests have to be aware that modern cafés are businesses and require a financial ROI. Therefore, guests may order more frequently over their stays or only visit for a short period.
Across the other 22 Districts, the city counts 815 main businesses with 145 branches active in the coffee industry. There are 500 espresso bars, 750 coffee shops and 200 confectioneries. So lots of coffee, cake and choice!
Commercialisation of Viennese Coffee Houses
During my coffee house crawl, I noticed that most establishments are proud of their heritage and provide a small historical blurb on their menu. This is a nice touch. Often, it includes a statement of interest in preserving the slow-living charm of the traditional coffee houses for generations to come.
Unfortunately, this can’t go completely without commercialisation and the focus on tourists as the main clientele. This trend in the Viennese coffee house culture results in a loss of quality and reduces the authenticity of the experience.
You may not notice it during a short stay, but the coffee houses in Vienna are heavily commercialised and dominated by two local businesses: Julius Meinl (coffee) and Querfeldt/Landtmann (cakes).
My Issue With The Coffee
Remember the legendary Three Cs? Coffee, Cake & Conversations.
Coffee is the first and, as you know by now, I love coffee.
Viennese coffee culture prides itself on a variety of different coffees. The Melange is the most popular one which comes very close to a cappuccino. Followed by “Einspänner” (double espresso) or “Großer Brauner” (espresso). All these products are often supplied by Julius Meinl.
I personally don’t like Julius Meinl. The Melanges I had with their watery consistency and aggressive acidity all gave me a stomach ache. The foam on top collapsed easily and was very much a style-over-substance feature. All at the grand cost of 5€ onwards. This is not how I like my coffee though. So I started to question what the heck was going on and WHY was I regularly charged exorbitantly for low-quality coffee.
Who is this guy anyway?
Julius Meinl was a Viennese merchant who had been trading with coffee since 1862. He revolutionised the roasting process by developing a new technique. His method eliminated carbon so the beans didn’t touch it during the roasting. This way they kept their natural flavour and developed a pure aroma.
This new method made Meinl the biggest coffee roaster and exporter in Central Europe during the Fin de Siècle era, a trade zone home to nearly 50 million people. He set up his HQ in District 16 in 1912, where it still is today.
Guess what? There’s even a WHOLE store on Graben.
These days, Julius Meinl, alongside Italian brands Illy & Lavazza, dominates the coffee house scene. I spoke to a few local coffee roasters to hear their take. This sparked a great discussion about the commercialised character and the standardised coffee quality served across the Viennese coffee houses. From my chats with local roasters, I gathered the following:
- Julius Meinl is a local Viennese brand that enjoys a monopoly in the city. Visitors may not notice it as such, nor do they know the brand. They also don’t know what a Viennese coffee (e.g. Einspänner, Melange, Großer Brauner) should taste like. On their short & fleeting visits, tourists often come in touch with Julius Meinl products. They then trust its taste as the basis assuming that this is “how coffee is meant to taste”. There’s little questioning.
- Both roasters mentioned that it is also a question of supply and demand. The “average Viennese person” doesn’t care about speciality or barista-style coffee. The clientele is happy with less and others who wish for higher quality will therefore visit an espresso bar or modern café instead. Two different clientele: the coffee connoisseurs who debate all day long about coffee and those who are happy with what they get.
- Running own roasteries and bakeries is costly. Many coffee houses decided to outsource. Then came Julius Meinl along. The brand outbought many businesses before and after the pandemic, which secured their survival. Now, stuck with Julius Meinl coffee machines, they have no alternative but to serve the products. Plus the overpriced coffee brings in profit. Unfortunately, we’re no longer in a cosy home setting; even the coffee house needs to make money to sustain itself.
Is it really about the coffee for the coffee houses? As we know from their history, their existence may have started with coffee. The focus, however, lies on the conviviality and slow-living charm. Let’s not forget their pub-like character.
How often have you gone to a pub and ordered a commercialised brand over a local product? So this is something you’d have to consider for yourself. Is coffee and its quality a decisive criterion for you and will it make or break your experience?
My Issue With The Cake
During my first visit in 2018, I noticed a variety of cafés used the same menu and served the exact same cake. They all came from Landtmann confectionery. Back then I already started questioning the coffee house scene and thought I’d uncovered a cake scandal.
Yes, indeed. The commercialisation has not stopped and also affected the second essential “C”, the cake.
There are a variety of cake suppliers in town, such as bakeries and confectioneries. The biggest names here are Oberlaa, Aida and Landtmann. Other chain bakeries are Der Mann and Anker, but they are not involved in the coffee house business.
Same as with my coffee, if I come to Vienna, I expect a certain level of quality. I came all the way to indulge in the real deal and not some standardised mass-produced cake. Whilst the look of the Landtmann patisserie is neat and uniform, I do not like its artificial flavours, sweetness and dry sponges. The cakes are nothing special.
Research reveals that the Querfeldt family is behind this and similar to the Julius Meinl case, guarantees the supply of cake to some of the best-known coffee houses in Vienna. Since 2006, the family-owned business runs a portfolio including et alia Café Residenz, Café Mozart, Café Museum and Café Landtmann.
So in a way, there goes the idea of upholding the tradition of sitting and enjoying the coffee houses without the flair of capitalism. And then you get the menu and – now that you are familiar with the local brands – see that capitalism indeed has its fingers in the coffee and cake.
The chain food doesn’t come cheap either. The low-quality coffee has a heavy price tag with Julius Meinl coffee ranging in the 5-8€ bracket and Landtmann cakes costing easily 6€ per slice.
But Carolin, why do you care so much? It’s just coffee and cake.
Well, no, not really. I would feel cheated for my resources and in my belief, I would experience authentic Viennese coffee culture. After all, I visit Vienna to consume “the real” authentic deal and not a standardised version of it. It would be like a visit to Starbucks or McDonalds or travelling all the way only to shop at H&M (which I can do at home) instead of an Austrian clothing brand.
This ultimately leads me to my next thought. Are the coffee houses in Vienna a “tourist trap”?
Tourist Trap – an attempt at defining the term:
– Low-quality experience sold overpriced (to deceive non-locals)
– Aimed directly at non-locals that are expected to be unaware of the lesser quality
– Scams and replicas to deceive non-locals
– Taking advantage of the good-natured for commercial gain
– Exploiting the attraction’s reputation to sell overpriced stuff to tourists. Also applies to bars and restaurants which became famous due to quality, then were bought out by corps and commercialised losing their quality and authenticity
– Deceptively seemed appealing, but was a waste of resources
– Manufactured experience created solely for the entertainment of tourists with no cultural or historic connection to the destination
– Any attraction/restaurant/shop where unsuspecting tourists are being taken advantage of
financially. Tricked into overpaying for something because they don’t know any better.
I don’t agree with Landtmann or Julius Meinl products and do not support these businesses moving forward. For my research and to provide you with the best 360° feedback, I have however included some of these cafés. Unfortunately, there aren’t many traditional coffee houses left with their own roastery and bakery supply. So you need to cut somewhere. After all, you need to make your own decision about which criteria is most important to you when visiting and enjoying the coffee house culture in Vienna.
Please join the discussion and let me know what you think in the comments below!
It was important to me to crawl as many coffee houses as possible to get the best impression of this UNESCO cultural heritage experience. All establishments are within walking distance of District 1 and its neighbouring Districts (4,6,7,9,10) unless otherwise stated.
My criteria are based on my research considering the historical development and definition by UNESCO cultural heritage.
Further, I consulted a variety of sources, such as blogs, food publications, information provided by the Vienna City information, as well as local recommendations and Google reviews.
Please note: the following coffee houses aren’t necessarily recommendations as such. They are more examples to provide you with the best overview of what you can expect when exploring the Viennese coffee culture. I hope the chosen examples can help you determine your own preferences.
Traditional Coffee Houses in Vienna
The term “traditional Viennese coffee houses” refers to the established institutions that created the basis in the past 200 years and made the coffee culture a UNESCO cultural heritage.
From my research, I noticed the following:
- Interior: dark, simplistic
- Fine line between well-maintained, old-skool and outdated so don’t let broken tableware fool you of its “authentic” value
- All levels of quality, from down-to-earth to high-end
- Coffee & Cake: coffee is always served with a glass of water
- Overpriced Julius Meinl coffee and mass-produced cakes (see previous section)
- Price for a coffee ranges between 5-8€
- Quality of freshness can vary tremendously
- Quality of presentation, as well as patisserie vs home-made look
- Service: can be dismissive but that’s apparently part of the experience
- Potential of queuing during peak times especially at high-end coffee houses
- Popular ones, such as Hotel Sacher, have a time limit of 1h
The Interior Design of Viennese Coffee Houses
The dark and simplistic interior design of the Viennese coffee houses is intentional and a reflection of 19th century society. Firstly, they are meant to look like “pubs”. Secondly, the Fin de Siècle era saw the popularity of a “men cave” or “Herrenzimmer” (chamber for the man, gentleman’s room).
The walls were dark, simplistic and functional. The furnishing was soft and comfortable, perfect for long sittings and discussions. These rooms were designed for a masculine clientele and represented a male domain. Therefore these rooms also followed a hierarchical function and made a profound statement: women strictly keep out!
Good Cafés in Vienna
These were my personal favourite coffee houses in Vienna which I’ve revisited a couple of times. They ticked off most of my criteria and motivated me to come back over and over again. All coffee houses are within walkable distance unless otherwise stated.
Café Hawelka, District 1
Leopold & Josefine Hawelka are household names in the Viennese coffee culture. Due to their love for coffee roasting and the city, the power couple ran several cafés successfully from 1936 onward. After the war, they returned to Vienna and through hard work and dedication founded the Café Hawelka. They’ve built a brand, which is now well-known and respected. Café Hawelka became one of the focal points of the Fin de Siècle era. The family-run business is now in its third generation.
Why You Should Come Here: of all the coffee houses visited, Hawelka was the only coffee house in Vienna with its own roastery and home-made cakes. The café further scored with its unpretentious charm and love for tradition. Home-made cakes instead of mass produced patisserie. Its interior is charming and oh so very 19th century-like. Dark, moody, a bit reserved and mysterious, yet welcoming with a homey feel.
The coffee is top quality. Its dark delightful character has the right level of bitterness to it. Combined with a frothy top this is an indulgent drink to enjoy for a long time. The plum-filled cake with its homemade look may not be as elegant, yet it is light, spongy and the warm filling is so, so comforting. The down-to-earth character is defined by modest pricing, a manageable menu, attentive service and its discrete location just off the busy Graben High Street.
If you prefer a modern setting, you can sit in their coffee roastery next door. Much smaller but quieter, the roastery sells coffee and refined confectionery.
Price Point: Cappuccino 4.80€ | Cake 4.60€
Café Tirolerhof, District 1
Located within an 1885 house built by Eduard Friedmann. The ground floor was always reserved for serving food and first used as a dairy run by Lothar Ritter von Neuhaus. He also owned several agricultural businesses in the Tiroler settlement near Perchtoldsdorf, which provided the name “Tirolerhof” for the Viennese shop. The brothers Kunz, owners of Austria’s second biggest coffee roastery, bought the space in 1918 and transformed it into the café that it is today.
Why You Should Come Here: Tirolerhof is chic and makes a great first impression with its light and airy feel. Unlike other authentic coffee houses, Tirolerhof defines the traditional elements with a lighter touch. The booths are covered in mustard-yellow, the windows are high and let a lot of light in. The tables are clean and the waiters are welcoming.
Yet, the café remains down-to-earth. Partially because it’s not overrun by tourists and it has an excellent price-to-quality balance. The service is friendly and discrete. The menu lists some rare Austrian delicacies and desserts, such as the yeast dumpling filled with plum jam. This is the ultimate throwback to your childhood if you grew up in the DACH countries. For anyone else, this could be an interesting and very sweet food choice. No regrets!
Price Point: Cappuccino Julius Meinl 4.90€ | Dumpling 7.50€
Good To Know: there’s no WiFi here, but you’re invited to check out the latest newspapers or let your imagination take off. Did you notice the windows look slightly Moorish with their horseshoe-like frames?
Café Central, District 1
Café Central is a must and there’s a reason why it is continuously voted as a top address in Vienna. Not least because of its integration within Vienna’s prestigious Ferstel Palais. The iconic bank & exchange building in Venetian-Florentine trecento ambience designed by Heinrich von Ferstel was built between 1856-60. The café moved in 16 years later and became a “local” for Freud and Trotsky.
Why You Should Come Here: if it’s not boutique, it ain’t chic. Central is for you if you love a grand style and appreciate opulent glamour. The luxurious setting of Central and its high-end patisserie cakes will impress you. Unfortunately, the interior and fine cakes are a tourist magnet, so be prepared to share this exquisite space with tonnes of other visitors from all around the world. It’s often busy, so best to make a reservation in advance.
The service used to be attentive and friendly, but can be dismissive & avoidant towards solo female travellers. They get very funny with you when you don’t give them a tip, but to be honest, tipping is not mandatory and left at your discretion.
The cakes are from their own bakery across the street but, actually, you will come here for their apple strudel. To date, Café Central’s apple strudel has been the freshest and most appealing in presentation. It’s served with custard that comes extra in a little jug. Details like that make a huge difference to the presentation. It’s extra but it looks way more appealing, especially in a grand setting like this.
Price Point: Cappuccino Julius Meinl 6€ | apple strudel with custard 8€
Café Schwarzenberg, District 1
In 1861, Vienna built one of the most prestigious streets in Europe: the Ringstraße. This grand street lined more than 30 iconic cafés; meeting points for economists and politicians rather than writers and artists. Café Schwarzenberg is one of the very few survivors of that time.
It carries its name since 1902 but has been known under a variety of names before then. In 1978, it was closed and nearly sold to become a car dealership. However, due to its cultural heritage & significance to the city, it was saved and extensively renovated. Today it has been declared an authentic coffee house and an example of the well-preserved interior design of the post-war era.
Why You Should Come Here: You want an authentic coffee house minus the touristy crowds? This is your place. Unfuzzy, laid-back yet stunning interior of its glorious past. You’re not here for the Julius Meinl coffee, but for the cake and excellent piano music.
Cakes include e.g. Sissi cake or Viennese punch. The Klimt cake is a light creation with several layers of soft sponge, marzipan and almond. The male waiters are gentlemen of the old-skool, very elegant, hospitable and courteous. WiFi is no issue and no one rushes you to leave any time soon. You can spend hours here reading or simply watching life go by outside from one of the grand windows. Individual artwork displayed in the secluded booths adds a refined and tasteful touch.
Price Point: Cappuccino Julius Meinl 5.60€ | Klimt Cake 5.90€
Average Cafés in Vienna
Most coffee houses in Vienna are heavily commercialised and as such, purely hold a touristic function these days. There’s not much variety, nor quality difference in the cake or coffee. Some even have to come up with a USP to attract visitors. The following coffee houses have, therefore, been chosen as they offered something different and worth visiting, but weren’t fully satisfactory in other areas.
Café Imperial, District 1
Located opposite Café Schwarzenberg and one of the remaining high-end cafés from Ringstraßes’ glorious era. It’s a 5-star hotel with a tearoom and a speciality cake, the Imperial cake, which is their USP. The cake was designed for Emperor Franz Joseph I in celebration of opening the hotel in 1873.
Why You Should Come Here: Imperial is a 5-star hotel and offers excellent service. The tearoom is slightly outdated with its late 90’s charm, but the terrace is lovely during the summer months. The café is not overrun by tourists, so there’s no queuing involved. The Imperial cake isn’t too bad either.
The Imperial cake is more like a fancy praline. It comes with several thin layers of hazelnut, chocolate, sponge and marzipan. Similar to an Opera cake, less heavy but potentially a bit dry. Prices are exorbitantly high. Ask in advance if their coffee is Julius Meinl coffee and avoid overpaying for low quality.
The service is attentive and welcoming. My water was served in a stylish glass which I appreciated greatly.
Price Point: Coffee from 6€ | Imperial Cake 10€
Good To Know: the Imperial cake is also sold at the Julius Meinl shop at Graben.
Café Sacher, District 1
1832 was the birth year of the most famous cake in the world. Sacher Cake – an invention by Franz Sacher who worked as a kitchen assistant and replaced Head Patisserie Chef on short notice. He created a chocolate sponge cake with several layers of apricot jam covered in chocolate fondant. Served with a rosette of cream.
This signature cake has made Sacher famous all over the world making its name synonymous with refined quality, an exquisite experience and pure luxury. Today, the Sacher brand is a leading luxury hotel and runs another branch in Salzburg. The cake is rated as a “cultural and culinary crown jewel” in the Viennese coffee house culture. Something you should definitely not miss!
Why You Should Come Here: the experience is indeed, very sought after and high-end. I would advise you to book in advance to avoid the long queues. Your visit is limited to one hour.
The tearoom is a homage to Austria’s rich imperial past. Red plush booths sit within a light room. High ceilings, stucco and grand chandeliers complete the picture. Piano music sounds softly from the speakers. In the middle, there’s you alongside a slice of Sacher cake and their own roasted coffee. This is the most opulent and aesthetically-pleasing coffee house experience in Vienna.
The most expensive slice of cake in my life was good, but it didn’t wow me. The sponge is light, yet the several paper-thin layers make it a bit dry for me. The fondant has a subtle note of chocolate flavour to it, yet dominates with its sweet signature fondant taste. The coffee was exceptional and on par with the quality at Hawelka. My drink tasted delightfully dark of coffee minus the acidity married with a creamy and frothy foam.
The service was friendly and discreet, however, they weren’t too attentive to my booking request to not sit by the entrance door when other tables were available. Overall it was ok. This is a “when in Vienna” treat moment, and I wouldn’t always want it.
Price Point: Cappuccino 6.90€ | Sacher Cake 8.90€
Café Museum, District 1
Café Museum was designed by renowned architect Adolf Loos and opened in 1899. Back then, its rather minimalistic design caused an initial scandal, later a revolution in the coffee house scene. As such, it attracted mostly writers and artists; survived two world wars, countless CEOs and restructures, as well as reinvented itself in 1931 by architect Josef Zotti. Joined the Querfeldt portfolio in 2010 and returned to its former glory. There are still literature events and meetings happening in their special “literary escape room” at the back of the café.
Why You Should Come Here: Museum is not overrun by tourists and key elements of Zottis’ original design are still intact. In comparison to other coffee houses, it is minimalistic with its hanging metal spheres applying a futuristic touch. This is a neat and well-kept café. The “hidden” literary corner is a delightful and peaceful area, too.
I was served by a very attentive waiter who got engaged with my research and happily answered all of my questions. He made me feel welcome without coming across as pushy. I was even “gifted” a set of their brand-new menus.
The cake (Landtmann) and coffee (Julius Meinl) are chain quality and therefore, for my standards, not justification for the high prices. The cappuccino, strawberry cake and orange juice cost 6€ each. OUCH! This was frustrating, as the orange juice didn’t taste fresh and had a watery consistency rather than freshly pressed juice.
The overall atmosphere is good and sitting outside on their cushioned red booths makes for an excellent viewing spot right in the middle of Vienna’s action.
Price Point: Cappuccino Julius Meinl 6€ | Granola 8€ | Orange Juice 6€ | Landtmann cake 6€
Poor Cafés in Vienna
To provide 360° feedback and transparency on coffee houses in Vienna, I have decided to include the cafés that didn’t live up to their high reputation. A place may have a well-known name, but it doesn’t make it automatically a “quality” place. I feel it is important to not just show the best cafés in Vienna, but also to spare you from any disappointment and instead enjoy the real & authentic experience somewhere else.
Café Sperl, District 6
The tearoom from 1880 is apparently Vienna’s “best preserved” tearoom. It was first introduced by Gross & Jelinek, who ran it under the name of “Café Ronacher”. Later it was bought by coffee connoisseur Sperl and renamed to “Café Sperl”.
Why You Should Avoid It: this Viennese coffee house may be a bit of a walk from the centre, but it certainly doesn’t stop tourists from coming here. The place is overrun and very, very touristy.
The tearoom with its dark panelled walls, high ceiling and showstopper mirror is indeed pleasing to look at. The piano music on weekends is a nice touch, too. However, it can’t make up for the terrible service, derelict state of the seats and overpriced food.
The upholstery is in places very dirty and scuffed. This is a fine line between an “old-skool” look and simple laziness to repair broken furniture. The service is inattentive and very poor. I had asked to have my table cleaned. This didn’t happen, so I went to fetch the disinfectant and had to clean my table myself. I should have left but I had already placed an order.
My apple strudel served with custard arrived stone cold. The strudel itself wasn’t fresh and had a soggy bottom, so it must have been at least three days old. The custard was carelessly dropped on the plate and looked highly unattractive. The messy look could have easily been prevented by serving the custard in a small jug. This would have kept it hot, as I requested it. It came, however, stone cold, too. Let’s not talk about the poor excuse of a coffee that is Julius Meinl.
The absolute audacity came with my bill when I got charged extra for the “hot” custard. This wasn’t mentioned to me at any point. The lack of service, attention and the slightly run-down appearance of the tearoom, make Café Sperl a tourist trap.
There’s also no air con in the summer.
Price Point: Cappuccino Julius Meinl 4.30€ | Apple Strudel 4.10€ | Custard 1.60€
Other Coffee Houses To Consider
- Café Goldegg (4)
- Café Savoy (6)
- Café Diglas (1)
- Café Frauenhuber (1)
- Café Demel (1)
- Café Jelinek (6)
- Sluka / Drei Hussaren (1)
- Gerstner K. & K. Hofzuckerbäcker (1)
FAQs about Viennese Coffee Houses
I understand this is quite a lengthy post and you may have some quick questions about the coffee houses in Vienna. You can, of course, always come back to any section of my post and read in more detail what you’d need for your trip. If you have questions or need help, please get in touch and I’m happy to assist.
Why Is a Glass of Water Served in Viennese Coffee Houses?
In the 18th century, it was uncultured to lick your spoon after stirring the coffee. Therefore, a glass of water was served with the drink to hold and clean the spoon.
These days water is a quality indicator for any place that sells coffee. Not only is caffeine a stimulant, but it also dehydrates the body. A glass of water reduces the diuretic effect of caffeine and won’t cause any negative side effects later on.
Besides, it is an excellent palate cleanser and Viennese tap water is regarded as one of the best drinking waters in the world.
Are Viennese Coffee Houses Solo Travel Friendly?
All Viennese coffee houses and modern roasteries have been extremely accommodating and friendly towards me as a solo female traveller. Not once have I had a comment or look. In fact, some waiters have been kind enough to engage me in conversation and checked in if I was ok on my own.
Which of the Many Coffee Houses in Vienna Should I Chose?
Most coffee houses in Vienna are commercialised so it’s not really a question what to eat and drink, because you can get the same offering in any other coffee house. I would therefore use the criterion of interior as a decisive factor. Alternatively, here is my Twitter Quiz to find out which coffee house would be most suitable for you. Your personal coffee house recommendation is compiled in this Tweet.
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Till next time,
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Angela1 September 2022 at 2:19 pm
I had no idea that the Austrians had such an old and deep-rooted coffee culture, nor did I imagine that they were such coffee fans that they were the second largest consumers in Europe. All the photos are literally drool-worthy! When I plan my trip to Vienna I really have to try and follow the tips. Thanks for sharing
JoJo Hall1 September 2022 at 2:26 pm
Love this very thorough and in depth post on the coffee culture of Vienna, and how it seems to have changed throughout the years. It’s quite interesting to read and learn about, as I’ve never been to Vienna before and didn’t know there’s been this shift from traditional coffee houses to more commercialized coffee houses, coffee, and cakes. I mean, I love my coffee as well (mocha for the win!) and I’d be very upset as well if the coffee quality changed, and not for the better.
Barry1 September 2022 at 3:43 pm
The history lesson at the beginning is such a charming way to introduce this, I never realised the fascinating history and events behind it all and how it developed in Austria. I really enjoyed getting a perspective on how it had grown up., I saw Café Central that past famous people have visited and tried to get into Café Sacher but there was a queue which I didn’t have time for..
I had no idea that the Finns and Austrians are the biggest and second biggest coffee drinkers in Europe.
This guide is so useful, as I had no idea of the coffee ad cake scandal/monopoly. I love coffee and my posts often talk of my daily coffee and cake stop so I was engrossed in your findings.
I feel I want to go back to Vienna just try out and experience the coffee scene after taking onboard your findings to get the true experience. Café Schwarzenberg from your pic looks so beautiful and is definitely my style of café. Great read, thanks.
David1 September 2022 at 11:34 pm
What a thorough article Carolin! Having spent a lot of time in Vienna, I generally agree with a lot of your points. Honestly, Cafe Central is the only one of the “touristy” cafes that I’ve taken visitors to, as others can be disappointingly average as you’ve said. I much prefer Frauenhuber, Diglas (Schottenstift), and Gerstner. And I guess the reason Sperl is so popular with tourists is that it’s a short walk from Naschmarkt.
Emma2 September 2022 at 3:38 pm
Coffee I could take or leave, but cake is a must. Loved reading about the coffee house culture in this city I really want to visit as well as what to look out for. It is disappointing when a seemingly unique place has the same exact offerings as many other places so the research you’ve done into finding the best places to visit is amazing
Renee3 September 2022 at 11:31 am
I’m loving this obsession – finding the perfect kaffee haus! Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I do love my desserts. I grew up with the tradition of kaffee und kuchen zeit and that afternoon indulgence has never left me. So when I travel to Germany or Austria- it’s my favourite things to do! I love all of your selections and would want to try each one.
Pam4 September 2022 at 1:57 am
I had no idea Vienna has such a rich history of coffee! While I’m not a coffee drinker, my husband is – I just tag along for the pastries! 🙂 I love that you’ve rated them as it’s often hard to tell when you’re just strolling the streets.
Kelly4 September 2022 at 2:46 am
I LOVED this post and it must have been so much fun doing the coffee crawl! I love my coffee but I don’t consider myself a coffee snob (I’ll drink it all) but there’s nothing better than finding a coffee shop (Canadian term) the has its own roster. I also love the warm comfortable living room like places.
Rob + Ann @TravelLatte4 September 2022 at 2:46 pm
I feel like this is the story of how America adopted a global phenomenon (cafes and coffee houses), industrialized it (Starbucks, anyone?) to wild success and profitability, and then exported it to the rest of the world, but to the detriment of the original inspiration. 😟 Still, local shops with their own coffees and cakes have managed to survive and thrive amidst the chain operators in the US. I’m sure they’ll be able to in Vienna, as well. At least, we hope so!
Luke6 September 2022 at 3:52 pm
Thanks for transporting me to Vienna, Carolin. I can almost smell the coffee! Also, thank you for sharing such a detailed post that will help coffee & cake connoisseurs when visiting Austria.
It’s a shame about the commercialisation, which appears to be the future.
MItch20 September 2022 at 2:32 pm
Absolutely adored this post. You have researched so extensively and I’ve learned so much about the coffee history and culture as well as the UNESCO cultural heritage definition. It was interesting to learn about what constitutes an authentic experience and how commercialisation has become prevalent in many coffee houses. If we are ever in Vienna (and we would love to visit) we will use this guide to find our coffee experience. Café Hawelka, with its roastery and home-made cakes, looked amazing and we loved the literary room at the Café Museum. And we would have to try the Sacher cake, despite the expense!
Travel for a while21 September 2022 at 5:03 am
Amazing post and very well documented! I visited Vienna this spring and I had very high expectations reading about the Viennese coffee culture. I completely agree with you about the overall quality and overpricing of the famous coffee houses. However, I did find a small cafe in Mariahilfer and looking back now, it ticked all your boxes. There were no tourists in that area, only the typical elderly Austrian, sipping on their coffee. I was looking through my photos, but I can’t find its name anywhere.
Carina | bucketlist2life21 September 2022 at 5:50 am
I must say that I feel a bit cheated. At least I did visit cafe Hawelka for some home made cake amongst all the commercialised cakes….
Elena at TravelByExample21 September 2022 at 11:53 pm
Enjoyed reading your post and learning about coffee houses culture in Vienna. Bookmarking your post for when we next time in Vienna! 🙂
Stefan Hacker22 September 2022 at 12:45 pm
You put a lot of research into your post and really made an effort with your analysis, wow. I spent a fair bit of time in Vienna over the years.
Totally agree with you that many of the big coffeehouses are definitely not worth the money.
Unless it’s gone downhill a lot during the past few years, I’d imagine I’d still spend most of my time off in those beautiful, historic establishments and enjoy their coffee and food (I don’t eat cake). Thanks for sharing your research.
Peggy22 September 2022 at 1:47 pm
Great article Carolin!! I love the history and thoroughness of the intro, I had no idea of the importance of the coffee culture. I was wondering if Meil was similar to Starbucks (as far as the presence in the market), so I was glad to see your reference.
I can’t wait to put your list to use when I visit Vienn!
Paul (Paul Passing Through)23 September 2022 at 3:17 am
I’m by no means a coffee drinker, but I liken your issues with mass production and corporatization with English pubs in London (and presumably all of England…and pretty much any other country that has some kind of culture like that) where most are made to look traditional while being owned by one of a few big companies.
It’s unfortunate, but at the same time necessary to keep up financially in an evolving world. I think you can still get a great experience as a tourist with both the more corporate entities and the authentic things. Just know what you’re getting with both. And of course, everyone will be different with this. I prefer authentic, but if the ambience is right, I don’t mind if it is a bit hyped up for tourists.
Anyways! Great post and I enjoyed your descriptions of everything. I found the history of everything to be particularly interesting.
Martha24 September 2022 at 3:24 pm
You’re making me want to go back to Vienna with this post, Carolin! And now I have some good tips for where to get coffee and cake when I go. Also, you’re very good at photographing food & drink to make them look appetising – I must take notes…
Olly3 October 2022 at 8:52 pm
This is an awesome resource! You make a great point about the lack of authenticity in some of these establishments – if we travel only to find the same coffee as we get back home then what’s the point of travelling?! Ok, there are other reasons, but as you suggest, it’s symptomatic of globalisation dulling diversity. Anyway, you helped me identify the perfect Viennese coffee house for me…I just need to learn to like coffee!
Tiffany Pence12 October 2022 at 12:21 am
You poured a lot of research into this post! Well done and well written. It’s interesting that Viennese Coffee House Culture is listined in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage when there seems to be so many that are commercialised and offer the same thing. The ones you chose as the “best” are very beautiful. I don’t drink coffee, but I just might have to try it to get the full experience next time I’m in Vienna!
Eleanna | Flying Fork Tales14 October 2022 at 9:19 am
Thank you Carolin for this well-researched post! I’m planning a trip to Vienna next month, so your post has been most helpful. With so many options in Vienna, deciding where to go for an authentic coffee culture experience can be hard. Perfect timing too! 😉 Can’t wait to go and taste all those yummy cakes!
whoischrisk15 October 2022 at 6:53 pm
This was one of the most interesting and fascinating blog posts I have read for quite some time. Being a Viennese, coffee and cake lover myself, I took a very particular interest in this topic. And I must say that amount of research you have done, as well as the amount of information you have put together is absolutely amazing! I learned so much, and it feels really good. It feels really good to know more about my culture, about things that I enjoy doing. Thanks for this amazing post Carolin!
Ryan Biddulph19 February 2023 at 10:32 am
Carolin what an inspired post. Fabulous job. Cool fact about serving a glass of water. Old skool, it prevented the savage licking of spoons LOL but current day applications make for convenient hydrating. The coffee culture seems alive and well there which impresses me because it seems commercialized, Western-style, fast-food type coffee spots pop up all over the world these days. Convenience makes things easier in ways but often destroys rich, historical, less convenient but more mindful, fascinating and interesting culture.