Vienna Diaries: Embracing the City’s Coffee House Culture

If I’m being honest, I think coffee and cake were two of the main draws for my recent visit to Vienna – right after seeing and spending time with my dearest friends of course!

You can only imagine my giddy excitement in anticipation of this new chapter of my #DessertDiaries. Not to mention for the caffeine junkie in me, as coffee houses in Vienna today are famous for serving some of the most extensive selections and combinations of coffee featuring flavoured liqueurs, chocolate, oodles of whipped and/ or ice cream…

The city’s coffee house culture dates back to the late 17th century (1863 to be exact) when a Viennese citizen experimented with the coffee beans left behind by the fleeing Turkish invaders – he subsequently obtained a license to open the city’s first coffee house.

Today there are over 2,500 coffee houses in Vienna spanning  café restaurants, traditional coffee houses, espresso bars and café confectioneries. The coffee house culture is so entrenched in the city’s traditions and lifestyle, that it’s been included by UNESCO in their national inventory of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”!

With limited time and a new wave of contemporary eateries also demanding the attention of our appetites (more on this, soon!), we had to be incredibly picky about the cafés we chose to visit. So we made sure to cover as many of the essentials as we could…

Café Imperial Wien

… The main highlight of which for me, was the Café at the Imperial Hotel.

Formerly the palace of a Duke, the hotel is a Viennese institution in its own right. It’s most well-known for its legendary Imperial Torte, created by a young apprentice cook in 1873 to celebrate the official opening of the hotel and in honour of Emperor Franz Joseph I.

Following a recently renovation, the café today seamlessly merges together traditional and modern elements in a resplendent setting…


The menu is rooted in Austrian specialties, with a strong emphasis on fresh and local ingredients.

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit, as the trip coincided with the start of the white asparagus season in Vienna! The luxurious spring vegetable can be had in a variety of ways…


But I most enjoyed it in its natural form with a hearty helping of hollandaise or polanaise on the side – the buttery, creamy sauces added an indulgent lift to the soft, mellow flavours of the tender asparagus stems.

Upon my request, the incredibly charming waiter even passed on the chef’s tips for preparing the asparagus at home – provided I’m able to find comparably fresh produce back in London, that is!


It was the Imperial Torte for afters, of course.

Light, delicate layers of cacao cream and wafer-thin almond pastry cocooned by a rich marzipan coating, with a smooth chocolate glaze adding a final flourish… A real triumph of a  dessert, it tasted every bit as good as I remembered from my childhood.

As for the coffee, I opted for a cappuccino, which in Viennese-style arrived with remarkably frothy clouds floating on top!


 But in hindsight, perhaps I should have tried an iced coffee instead?

Either ways, I suppose it’s always good to have something to look forward to for the next time… Especially now that I have my eye on the other pastries lining the café’s pretty display too!


Café Imperial, Kärntner Ring 16, 1010 Wien, Austria

Café Landtmann

Breakfast at Café Landtmann was also a highly memorable experience.


I loved the old-world charm of this elegant and inviting coffee house, which can count Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich and Paul McCartney as just a few of its many eminent patrons!


Founded over 140 years ago, the innate grandeur of the Landtmann has been faithfully upheld by Vienna’s Querfeld family, which took over in 1976, at a time when the traditional coffee house was in decline.

The family have lovingly restored the timeless details reflective of the café’s legacy – right down to the the beautiful wooden panelings gracing the walls and ceilings – whilst bringing the Landtmann smoothly into the modern era.

Under their stewardship, the café is now well-reputed for its fine patisserie – the oven-fresh apple strudel is especially a must here. Based on the original Viennese recipe, it’s considered the best you’ll find in town.

As suggested by the cafe, I paired the pastry with a Melange – the city’s equivalent of a cappuccino, topped with milk foam… The combination made for the perfect coffee break, with our group of four chatting away into the late hours of the morning as is the custom in Vienna’s café culture!


In case you’re interested, along with Café Landtmann, you can also find Vienna’s original apple strudel at one of the other six cafés run by the Querfeld family.

And if you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration, they’ve generously shared their recipe, here!

Café Landtmann, Universitätsring 4, 1010 Wien, Austria

Café Sacher

As you’d expect, we also paid a visit to Café Sacher – home of the eponymous Sacher torte.

As legend has it, it was created in 1832 by an apprentice cook, sixteen-year old Franz Sacher, who worked in the court kitchen of Prince Metternich. The chef had taken ill and so it fell upon young Sacher to take on the mantle for creating a special dessert for an upcoming reception.


Essentially a chocolate cake coated thinly with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing – the Sacher Torte is now a dessert so famous, that you’ll invariably find a queue for it outside Café Sacher. It’s spawned different versions world-over but the café’s original recipe remains a closely guarded secret to this day.

While I’d really enjoyed the cake during a previous visit to Café Sacher in Salzburg, on this occasion I have to confess that we were all a tad underwhelmed, finding the cake much too dry and a bit on the stodgy side…


But our hot drinks on the other hand, now these were spot on.

I had Anna’s Kaffee. A layered concoction involving espresso, egg-rum liqueur and foamed milk, it was one heady affair.


While a shot of original Sacher liqueur enriched my friend, Sanjana’s already-indulgent hot chocolate, to new heights.


So although it may have been the “touristy” thing to do, it’s safe to say that our visit to Vienna would have been incomplete without an hour or two whiled away in Café Sacher!

Café Sacher, Philharmoniker Str. 4, 1010 Wien, Austria

Sadly, I didn’t have the time for a few of the other coffee houses on my wish list, notably Café Central – a long-time favourite of the Viennese literati.

But on the plus side, I was able to squeeze in a few of the more contemporary restaurants into our itinerary too! Have a read about the best of these #ViennaEats, here.

Do you have a favourite coffee house in Vienna?

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  1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    OK, I am so regretting not trying the Imperial Torte when I was there – seriously, too many cakes and too little time, that’s the major first world problem in Vienna right?! You found some great choices out there Ayushi! Also, don’t think any coffee will ever taste the same after Emma’s epic find that you’ve shown here!

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