The biggest difference between tea rooms and coffee shops in Vienna and the places we’re more used to visiting in the UK is the virtual lack of cake.
I’m talking here about the specialist tea rooms (or at least the one we went to) and the modern speciality coffee shops, rather than the traditional cafés many visitors to Vienna seek out.
It seems that tea lovers go to tea rooms to taste tea and coffee lovers to their favourite coffee shop for the coffee. Sounds reasonable enough. But I’ve yet to go to any such place in Britain and not be offered also a cake, a cookie or some sort of sweet thing to eat alongside your cuppa.
Our own tour of Viennese coffee began at Caffe Couture, which was opened on Garnisongasse by owner Georg Branny four years ago with only two items on the menu: coffee with milk and coffee without milk. He also had the novel idea of having no price list: you paid what you thought was reasonable.
They’ve now expanded to two branches in Vienna and since Easter this year abandoned the pay-what-you-want approach. The menu on offer might now extend to the usual espresso and filter methods, and there was a cake or biscuit tray on the counter (empty when we got there, though), but this place still focuses almost totally on their coffee.
And what a fantastic quality it was. They roast their own beans out the back of the coffee shop, and the cappuccinos we had were made on a Marzocco machine that purred rather than gurgling and spluttering as many do when the milk is being frothed.
This was a fantastic start to our Vienna coffee experience. I actually liked the plain white décor made up mainly of painted and stacked pallets. It’s the kind of coffee shop you could sit in for a while reading the paper (or knitting), though most people we saw clearly used it as a quick stop-off on the way to work. Extremely friendly place and would be my regular haunt if I lived in Vienna.
Next stop was a place called Kaffee Modul on Josefstaedter Strasse.
Again the quality was superb, though the roast here was darker and richer – they had two options in the espresso machine, both roasted up in Hamburg.
This time the cookie jar did have a few things in it (though quite a few less after we’d finished with it), but again a place where the focus is the coffee and people really do go for…a coffee. Not a cake in sight!
I liked this place, too. Its tiny size gave it an intimate feel in spite of the plain white walls and seats. You wouldn’t get more than 6 or 7 people here at any one time, so in size terms it reminded me of The Window coffee shop in Norwich (one of my favourites in the UK).
Sadly our third attempt to get to a contemporary coffee shop fell foul of this late summer holiday syndrome, which had caught us out in both France and Germany. Baltasar Café in Praterstrasse only reopened the day after our visit. Shame for us!
The traditional Viennese café is a world apart, though what was nice about Georg Branny’s story is that he is the son of old café-owning parents!
We tried Café Sperl, in a majestic building on the Gumpendorfer Strasse.
There’s great history to this place, which has been going since the 19th century as a focal point for local artists and literary types, though the history in the menu book speaks of the difficult years when these bohemians had to share the space with the unsavoury military bods during a rather darker stage of Austrian history.
This is the kind of place where you’d traditionally go for a tea/coffee and Sacher Torte or strudel, though the timing in our own Vienna visit meant we went for hot chocolate and a sandwich (go for the cheese and bread rather than toastie if you like Germanic bread rather than ordinary sliced stuff).
For tea we struggled at first. My google search had thrown up a Colonial Tea House linked to Haas and Haas, but it has clearly moved premises in the last five years and we just couldn’t find it in the relentlessly pouring rain.
This meant we ended up on Day 1 having a rather pleasant cuppa (teabag only, though) with some delicious apple strudel at The Old Pharmacy opposite one of the palace entrances.
A good place if you’re in the centre and really do fancy a cuppa in Vienna.
But on our last morning we also discovered Jager Tee (that’s Jaeger but I can’t find the umlaut on this laptop…).
This is the oldest tea room in Vienna, having opened in the 1860s, and the lady in charge today is an ancestor of Mr Jager’s original partner, one Mr Einzenberger.
This is a real speciality tea house, focusing mainly on its shop at the front selling all kinds of teas and tea-making equipment, along with various Buddha models and other oriental paraphernalia.
At the back of the tea shop is a delightful little tea room, where you can choose from a menu of ten or so teas, all loose leaf, of course, and all prepared under the Jager label.
We went for a Ceylon English Breakfast and an Assam. They very kindly found us a small jug of milk (which was clearly not something most customers want), and I can honestl y say this was one of the most refreshing cups of tea I have ever tasted.
Fantastic quality and a top tip for tea in Vienna.
But again, don’t go looking for the afternoon tea experience. There is no food on offer, let alone scones or cakes. This is very much a place for tea lovers in Vienna. But if you like your tea, then go there and enjoy.
So, having whittled down our chosen cafés from 12 to five or six, we still expected to be eating too much in Vienna. But with this tea only or coffee only approach, we actually left town feeling a little hungry.
But what a great place Vienna is for real tea lovers and coffee fans.