Vienna, Austria, is by far the most fascinating city for coffee consumption. I took full advantage of this coffee charm by tasting the best of the vibrant scene.
The foundation for an amazing cup of brew is laid by the incredibly rich history of classic coffeehouses. War birthed the loving Viennese coffeehouse community. It was said that Austrian leaders mistook the Ottoman Turks’ coffee beans for camel feed during the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Yet the officer who had been charged to burn the bags discovered their true worth and swiftly left his army gig to set the Viennese coffee scene ablaze. And the rest if a potently caffeinated history.
Viennese coffeehouses hold many of the same characteristics that I previously knew and loved about all European coffeehouses. As I’ve experienced throughout France, Spain, and Italy, coffee is taken seriously by its patrons and servers alike. Less is more, and quality is life. Yet in Vienna, there is a distinct air of magic that makes its coffeehouses unique. The coffeehouses have a flair of style, punctuated by incredible architecture, Thonet chairs, marble tabletops, and a range of traditional pastries that accompany the drink as an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) treat (think Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel).
The art of drinking coffee is not just a daily ritual in Vienna, but an entry into an elite social scene. As Austrian author and playwright Stefan Zweig states, “(The Viennese coffeehouses 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.”
Writers, poets, and artists alike have been empowered to work in the Viennese coffee scene, fueled by their strong brews and a glass of tap water that is constantly refilled by suited-up, attentive waiters. Many of the greatest 19th and 20th century works in literature and poetry were created in Viennese coffeehouses, and some writers were said to even have their mail delivered to their favorite café.
Yet the most fascinating part about the coffee scene in Vienna is not its history, but its ongoing evolution. Upon the foundation of the coffee artistry of days past lies a new wave of coffee consumption that is slowly creeping into domination. By popular demand, the “Third Wave” specialty scene is sweeping through the city. This movement in coffee is characterized by the following according to Vienna’s Würstelstand (an English-language magazine that aspires to give its readers the most in Vienna and in life):
“Coffee is ‘artisanal’
Beans of the highest standards are used
Baristas are artists frothing milk to a creamy perfection
Drinkers are connoisseurs”
In essence, third wave coffee consumers look to their coffeehouses (known as “specialty coffeeshops”) for quality that goes beyond their experience of the final product. These customers seek perfection from bean to brew, opting for “direct trade” that brings economic justice to coffee farmers, sustainable coffee-growing practices, and innovation in brew methods. Third Wave coffee is not just a daily drink, but an expression of our adaptation to positive social and environmental change.
Since 2012, Coffee Pirates, Vienna’s first specialty coffeeshop and roastery, first established itself, the Third Wave scene has blossomed at an exponential pace. Yet the relative newness of this movement and the passion that its change-makers bring make Vienna’s specialty coffee scene a tight-knit community that shares its tricks of the trade with one another through coffee festivals, education, and conversation.
While living for 6 months in Austria, I stumbled upon the artistry of the Third Wave coffee scene through working with a cappuccino in hand at Coffee Pirates. After realizing that my days were numbered in Vienna with the move back to Boston, I made it my mission in life to take my newfound digital nomad life to each and every one of the Third Wave coffeeshops recommended by Würstelstand. After so many flat whites that my head spun and my organic deodorant was rendered nonfunctional, I can say with confidence that I was truly immersed in Vienna’s coffee magic. Here are my tasting notes from the 14 best:
Kaffemik is minimalist to pure perfection. Their teeny-tiny location feels like a white cubicle integrated into a quiet nook of Vienna’s busy Mariahilferstrasse area. Yet every time I’ve come to Kaffemik, I’ve had a sunny window-side seat, an open outlet, and fast-speed wifi alongside my creamy oat milk flat white. What more could I need? The baristas are always willing to share their shining expertise on the trade, from the bean to the brew to milk-steaming technique to the craft dessert pairing.
I only made my way to this gem two days before leaving Vienna, but if I had been before I would be without a doubt a regular. This coffee bar offers wine and pastries alongside its coffee drinks, each of which can be savored in an atmosphere that feels like a modern art museum. Its standing tables, hardwood floors, and spacious, work-friendly bar-view benches make it an ideal space for socializing, writing, and a mix of the two. But most importantly, its oat milk flat whites are extraordinary.
POC is another space that I discovered far too late in the game. This coffeeshop is hidden from the main street – perhaps because it’s built upon a funeral parlor that housed even Beethoven’s body – but the lively shop is vibrant inside. Würstelstand describes it as a “grandfather’s workshop” – a bit chaotic, eccentric, and rustic in charm, yet a museum-like hub of in-depth learning. Like Kaffemik, its baristas are beyond knowledgeable and willing to share it. And patrons are in a league of their own – an open house spillover of all of Vienna’s most notable characters from the university. Come with an open mind a fresh palate for creative coffee. My favorite was the “Adventurous White Special” with oat milk.
The original Third Wave coffeeshop does not disappoint. Coffee Pirates is a hub of hipsters, rich in style and wired by excellent coffee. The café is a workspace and meeting space for many, always busy and bustling with artistic charm. With Thonet chair chandeliers and smiling baristas in pirate hats, its décor would be deeply provocative to old-world Viennese coffeeshop fans. When I was feeling fancy, I would go for the dirty chai, which was always topped with latte art as impressive as the aesthetics around me.
5. Fürth Kaffee
Like Coffee Pirates, Fürth Kaffee doubles as a specialty roastery in addition to serving incredible coffees. It has the feel of a historic library – a showroom of coffee instruments with workers who enjoy indulging budding food photographers in finding the perfect lighting for coffee art (thank you, Mr. Barista!).
6. Jonas Reindl
Jonas Reindl is another hub for university students. Like Coffee Pirates, it’s always busy, noisy, and deeply entrenched in style. The caffeinated energy of the shop and the truly tasty quality of coffee make it well worth the loud vibe.
Another hotspot for hipsters entrenched with bold, sleek style, Wolfgang is a crafty corner of the modern clothing store QWSTION. Because who wouldn’t want to end their shopping spree with stylish cup of brew? Like Kaffemik, Wolfgang is minimalistic, yet it is warmly inviting for fashionistas and foodies alike.
Kaffeefabrik is a tiny bubble of coffee expertise. Despite its small size, the shop is replete with rich coffee smells, creative coffee-making equipment, and knowledge from the baristas that spills out the door. The shop is the perfect escape if you have only 10 minutes for a flat white, but you want to indulge in an amazing pause of high quality coffee and education on its sourcing.
9. Fenster Café
There is absolutely nothing else like Fenster Café in Vienna. The stand is literally a hidden window within and alleyway of the historic, winding streets. You will think you’ve stumbled upon a wormhole to a world of modern magic in medieval landscape – and you have! The coffee tastes like a dream with specialties ranging from ‘marshmallowccino’ to ‘cornettoccino’ (a coffee in an ice cream cone) to coffee infused in flowers. I tried and loved the Xander Macchiato – the barista’s special of marshmallow cream in espresso. This unique sugary drink made question my adult tastes in coffee, but I was too thrilled with being a kid again to care.
Fun-sized, but full of fresh-ground beauty. Kaffeemodul is ‘as big as a chicken coop”, as Würstelstand calls it, but the shop is another high-quality dreamy coffee creator.
GOTA Coffee Experts is a hike from Vienna’s central scene, but as the name says, it’s another hub of coffee expertise. GOTA makes a stellar weekend workspot, especially if you love being surrounded by lively conversation and coffee smells.
CaffèCouture is another showroom and roastery in a Parisian location of the city. The shop is filled with Vienna’s workforce who take a pause to savor their morning or afternoon drinks. As a bonus, the shop’s latte art is on point. Anytime I receive a swan on my cappuccino, I am utterly impressed.
13. Café EL.AN
Café EL.AN is compact, but it feels surprisingly roomy because of its cushiony table seats. Quiet, friendly, and truly tasty, this shop offers a pause away from the elaborately built architecture of surrounding historic cathedrals.
14. AGGYS coffeeshop
Last but not least, AGGYS is a shop within a Viennese museum that offers up more Third Wave tastes… supposedly. I hunted down AGGYS on my last day in the city, but was led by Würstelstand to its old location that had just been CLOSED for business. Its new location was not open on Wednesdays, much to my disappointment (note the face). Alas, my journey to Vienna’s coffee bests cannot rest until the last sip of espresso is tasted. Until next time, Vienna. As the Third Wave scene continues to evolve, I still have work to do.
TO BE CONTINUED