Starbucks has taught us all that there is more than one type of coffee. But it’s still a linguistic minefield out there.
And the good news is that in Vienna, where coffee is part of the culture, the same word can produce different drinks depending on which coffee house you’re in. So good luck.
And in more good news, the smartly-dressed waiters can appear so intimidating that you’re just too scared to pop an innocent question about what it is you’re actually ordering.
I once made the mistake of trying to order “a coffee” from one such waiter (my fault I know). The reward was a look of disdain honed through decades of practice to a perfection not seen since the day someone suggested to Louis the Fourteenth of France that Versailles was “quite nice”.
With coffee and cake an essential part of the Viennese experience, you need to be armed with a few definitions before daring to order.
Which brings us nicely to the commonest coffees served in the city:
Kleiner Schwarzer / Großer Schwarzer: You’re on pretty firm ground here. A kleiner Schwarzer is a single espresso, a großer Schwarzer a double espresso. The literal translation is small black / large black, and often you’ll see the word Mokka used instead of Schwarzer.
Kleiner Brauner / Großer Brauner: Also a single/double espresso, but this time served with a small jug/carton of milk or cream for you to add at your pleasure. Translated as a small/large brown.
Verlängerter: An espresso with added hot water. The word translates as “an extended one”.
Einspänner: Espresso topped with whipped cream. The word refers to a carriage driving system which requires just one hand, leaving the other free for holding the coffee. It’s suggested the cream kept the drink insulated long enough for the driver to enjoy it warm in the cold.
Cappuccino: This one’s easy. It’s more or less a cappuccino as you know it. But (oh yes, there’s a but)…occasionally it comes with less milk than you expect. Or with a huge dollop of whipped cream (Schlagobers) on top, rather than frothed milk (Milchschaum).
Wiener Melange: Often shortened to just melange, from the French and meaning “mixture”. This is an espresso with steamed milk and topped with a little foam. Which sounds a lot like a cappuccino.
In my experience, the amount of milk varies considerably, but is usually less than with a traditional cappuccino. Equally, I’ve had cappuccinos that look more like a melange. Can also arrive with a surprising dollop of whipped cream, which is known as a Franziskaner.
I actually asked a specialist at the local coffee museum about this and he told me that (officially) a Melange is essentially like a cappuccino, but with a little extra hot water. So there you have it.
Heferlkaffee: Literally a mug of coffee, so coffee with milk – not quite as much milk as you’d get in a Caffè latte though.
Finally, if your nerves are already running on maximum with all the excitement of your trip, you can always ask for your coffee to be koffeinfrei (decaffeinated).
Beyond these common choices there are a host of specialties, particularly in the very traditional coffee houses in the centre. Equally, many Vienna locations have absorbed the international language of coffee. So you’ll also find a few reassuring macchiatos and lattes on menus now.
P.S. Don’t forget the cake.
(Photo credit: © BillionPhotos.com / Fotolia)