Coffeehouse Culture in Vienna
Austria is a small country located in Central Europe. This small country is most popular for its mountainous scenery due to the Alps rolling through the country. Austria is home to green valleys and beautiful lakes (The World Fact Book.)
Vienna, the largest city in Austria, is well-known for its history and traditions. The culture and people of Vienna have always been known as being coffee connoisseurs. The Viennese people inhabit coffeehouses for hours at a time. The social aspect of coffeehouses in Vienna is very interesting. The Viennese coffeehouse became a place where the intellectual, artistic, scientific, political and economic elite people of the Hapsburg empire met (Café Hofburg.) Looking at the coffeehouses in Vienna through an exterior lens, one can argue that coffee and the coffeehouse atmosphere for the people of Vienna was and still is a social drug.
The origins of Austrian people can be tracked back as long ago as (50,000 B.C.E – 8,000 B.C.E.). Interestingly enough, Austria is actually landlocked and boarded by other countries.
Due to being the center of all of these different cultures, Austria has swayed back and forth in terms of political and cultural beliefs. Vienna, being the largest city in Austria, is home to the majority of the population. Vienna today is a hotspot for creativity. Music and robust art scenes can be described as a religion in Austria. “Opera houses and concert halls are seen not as elite indulgences but, rather, staples of a life worth living” (Weiner.) At the center of the robust creativity in Vienna is the coffeehouse. “Like the city’s concert halls, the coffee house is a secular cathedral, an idea incubator, an intellectual crossroads – in short, an institution as much a part of the city’s fiber as apple strudel” (Weiner.)
Vienna didn’t invent the world’s first coffeehouse, but it still remains the hotspot for coffee drinkers and social gatherings further proving just how important coffee and coffeehouse culture is to the Viennese.
Coffee, a drink that is consumed all over the world, comes mainly from the beans of coffee plants. These plants are originally from Ethiopia. “Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages and most internationally traded commodities in the world in good part because caffeine is the world’s most popular and legal drug” (Topik.) Coffee has been a part of Viennese culture since the Ottoman Empire. People in Vienna have been drinking coffee as far back as the 1600’s (Hoeller.)
Throughout the times of turmoil and detonation, the Viennese have continued to drink coffee. Coffee Houses have in turn have become an integral part of living in Vienna. If you were to visit coffeehouses in Vienna, you would find artists, intellectuals, elite and random city dwellers chatting, eating, reading or gambling. “The Viennese coffeehouse is a classic example of a ‘third place’. Third places are informal, neutral meeting grounds. Think of a New York diner, a Parisian bookstore, or a British pub” (Weiner.) In other words, coffeehouses are a central and natural social ground for the people of Vienna.
When one walks into a Viennese coffeehouse, they can expect a fine dining experience. One coffeehouse example, described by BBC Travel Writer Eric Weiner, is Café Sperl. “It is freighted with history. It was at the Sperl where the painter Gustav Klimt declared the Viennese Secession in 1897, thus launching Vienna’s own modern art movement.” Café Sperl offers a fine dining experience.
You will not find track lighting or laminate floors. The café is renovation-free and features all of the original elegance and beauty. Baristas are nowhere to be found as waiters deliver your coffee and treats to your table.
The classic coffeehouse trend in Austria has continued over the years. After the second world war the coffeehouse culture did shift a bit due to the introduction of a new drink. The inclusive nature was still apparent of the coffeehouses, but a new method of brewing was introduced: the espresso machine. The espresso machine was created by the Italians and was introduced to the Viennese in date (UIUC.edu.) This new espresso drink, which was a bit more expensive, became very popular due to the flavor and it being prepared quickly. A trend that is very evident today, quicker could be better. Unlike the Western culture we live in here in America, this was no challenge to the Viennese people, although the espresso may take less time to make, they are still people who can be found lingering in coffee houses in Vienna for hours.
In our Western culture of America, we are convinced that faster pace is better for our success. In an article published in the New York Post, Dr. Stephanie Brown truly touched upon how our American society has a self-destructive addiction to faster living. “This is success in America. Progress equals fast, which equals success, a recipe for addiction,” (Brown.) Unlike Americans, the Viennese lead a slower paced life. The Viennese coffee culture is a perfect example of this. Viennese coffeehouses, unlike coffee houses elsewhere, are expressly designed for lingering: they were odes to idle time, and a reflection of Vienna’s laid back approach to life,” (Hoeller). In other words, Western Identity in the United States is much different than those in other countries. Vienna is a great example that further distinguishes just how different Austria’s way of life is in comparison to America.
Although coffeehouses have always been popular in Vienna, there has been an emerging trend/current event in the market place that has negatively affected these small businesses. Americanisation has been a major trend affecting Viennese Coffeehouses. Many large companies like Starbucks are moving to Austria which has impacted the local coffeehouse sales.
Typical Viennese Coffeehouses today have fancy marble tables and a high-class atmosphere (UNESCO.) Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, believes the Viennese Coffeehouse is: “actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.” The current trend of Americanisation has negatively impacted this image. Starbucks is quick and convenience. “In countries outside of the United States, Americanisation is the influence American culture has on the culture of other countries, such as their popular culture, media, cuisine, technology, business practices, or political techniques,” (World Public Library.) In addition to Americanisation, there is a growing number of Millennials/Gen-Z which is also negatively impacting the Viennese Coffeehouses. “For those who work in coffee, this conversation is particularly relevant. The reality is that Gen M-ers drink more specialty coffee than any other generation…millennials have shifted the value proposition, placing their experience above the product,” (Ward.) In other words, the growing number of Millennials wanting a faster experience is truly a trend that is negatively impacting the specialty coffee companies in Vienna.
All in all, the coffeehouse culture in Vienna has been fluent since the 1600’s. The culture continues to grow as people and their love for coffee continues to evolve. Vienna and the traditional coffeehouses may face more challenges with the changing morals and values of Millennials and other generations to come.
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