Starbucks has taught us all that there is more than one type of coffee. But it’s still a linguistic minefield out there.
And in more good news, the smartly-dressed waiters can sometimes seem 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 time someone suggested to Louis XIV of France that Versailles was “quite nice”.
(Actually, waiting staff here are usually quite friendly.)
With coffee and cake an essential part of the Viennese experience, you need to be armed with a few definitions before ordering. Which brings us nicely to the commonest coffees served in the city…
Popular coffee types
(A Wiener Melange)
Kleiner Schwarzer / Großer Schwarzer
You’re on pretty firm ground here. A
Kleiner Brauner / Großer Brauner
An espresso with added hot water. The word translates as “an extended one”.
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.
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).
A local favourite that combines German and French words that mean, taken literally, “Viennese mixture”. Often shortened to just Melange on menus and when ordering.
This type of coffee is an espresso with steamed milk, 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. The latter can also arrive with a surprising dollop of whipped cream, sometimes 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.
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.
If this is all a struggle, find your way into an Aida café. Their menu includes cutaway drawings of cups that show exactly what goes into each type of coffee. Their version of a Melange, for example, is a double espresso with steamed milk and whipped cream.
P.S. Don’t forget the cake.