Starbucks has taught us all that there is more than one type of coffee. But it’s still a linguistic minefield out there. Especially in Vienna. Here’s some help…
Coffee (Kaffee in German) is part of the culture here. No wonder, then, that the drink has its own specialist vocabulary. And just to complicate matters, some choices on the café menu are more or less unique to the city.
In more bad news for the confused visitor, the smartly-dressed waiters sometimes seem so intimidating that you’re too scared to pop an innocent question about what it is you’re actually ordering.
I once made the mistake of requesting “a coffee” from one such waiter.
Straightforward “coffee” is not really a thing here, so my reward was a look of disdain honed across decades of practice to a perfection not seen since the time someone suggested to Louis XIV of France that Versailles was “quite nice”.
I seem to recall the response was something like:
Very good, sir. And did sir perhaps have any particular kind of coffee in mind?
(Actually, waiting staff here are usually perfectly friendly.)
Popular types of coffee
So, with coffee and cake an essential part of the Viennese experience, you should arm yourself with a few definitions before ordering. Which brings us nicely to the commonest coffees served in the city…
Kleiner Schwarzer / Großer Schwarzer
(The tray, glass of water and upturned spoon are all part of the coffee house culture)
You’re on pretty firm ground here. A kleiner Schwarzer is essentially a single espresso, though the term predates the arrival of Italian espresso machines in Vienna a few decades ago. A großer Schwarzer is a double espresso.
The literal translation is “small/large black”, and you may see the word Mokka used instead of Schwarzer. Technically, Mokka should refer to Turkish coffee, though.
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. Kleiner/Großer Brauner translates as a “small/large brown”.
An espresso with added hot water. Verlängerter translates as “an extended one”.
(A drink with a history)
An espresso topped with whipped cream (Schlagobers) and usually served in a glass. This one has a lovely etymological background.
The word refers to a carriage driving system which requires just one hand, leaving the other free for holding a coffee. Allegedly, the cream kept the drink insulated long enough for the driver to enjoy it warm in the cold.
(…and more cream)
Typically a double espresso with a decent serving of whipped cream on top. Kind of like a powered-up Einspanner, but in a cup.
(A familiar beverage)
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 on top, rather than frothed milk (Milchschaum).
(Perhaps the most local coffee in Vienna)
A local favourite (mine, too) 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 Melange can also arrive with a surprising dollop of whipped cream, sometimes known as a Franziskaner.
And, if you do order a Franziskaner, then you face the eternal dilemma that has split communities and families across Austria’s capital.
Do you eat the whipped cream using the spoon, then drink the coffee? Or do you mix it all together and drink the results?
Anyway, all very confusing, no?
I actually asked a specialist at the local coffee museum about the Melange and he told me that (officially) it’s essentially like a cappuccino, but with a little extra hot water. So there you have it.
Anecdotally, I’ve also seen menus where the Melange is based on a single espresso and the cappuccino on a double espresso. And menus where the reverse was true. What fun.
Literally a “mug of coffee,” so coffee with milk – not quite as much milk as you’d get in a Caffè latte though. And not always served in a mug but in a large cup.
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).
A host of specialties exist beyond these common choices, particularly in the very traditional coffee houses in the centre. You may find, for example, a Maria Teresia (or Maria Theresa), named after the famous 18th-century Empress: commonly a single or double espresso with whipped cream and orange liqueur.
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, drop 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.