Only in Vienna by Duncan J.D. Smith

74 29 1 st District The Comfort of Strangers 1st District (Innere Stadt), the Café Bräunerhof at Stallburg- gasse 2; take U-1, U-3 to Stephansplatz In 2011, Vienna’s traditional coffee house culture was designated ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by UNESCO. This makes it every bit as important as the Argentine Tango, the Mediterranean diet and the Panama hat. According to the listing the Viennese coffee house is a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.” The city’s coffee house tradition is a venerable one, stretching back to the late-17 th century, when an Armenian trader was allowed to roast and sell coffee beans by royal decree. The new beverage was well received and coffee houses sprang up rapidly across the city. In the early days, however, the different varieties of coffee had no official names and so customers made their selection using a colour chart! These days choosing is done by name, the most common varieties being the ubiquitous Mélange (espresso with steamed milk and foam; topped with whipped cream, it is called a Franziskaner ), Schwarzer (single espresso), Brauner (single espresso served with a little milk or cream), Verlängerter (espresso with added water), Kapuziner (double espresso topped with whipped cream), and Einspänner (espresso in a glass topped with whipped cream). The latter was traditionally popular with Vienna’s fiaker drivers and is said to be named after the one-horse cabs common after the First World War, when fodder was short (the word ‘Einspänner’ refers to a solitary soul). The traditional Viennese coffee house has a distinctive atmosphere and a specific protocol dating back to its fin de siècle heyday. Against a backdrop of dark wood, cream coloured walls and subdued lighting, coffee is served by waiters dressed in black suits and bow ties (it always arrives on a silver tray accompanied by a glass of water). Customers sit at marble-topped tables on either Thonet bentwood chairs or sturdily-upholstered banquettes. Once settled they can read from a selection of national and international papers for as long as they wish. Indeed if they remain for several hours the chances are that they will take lunch or an evening meal, and probably succumb to a slice of Apfelstrudel , Milchrahmstrudel or Gugelhupf along the way. With only discreet attention from the waiter, it has been said that the Viennese coffee house is the perfect place to be alone whilst enjoying the comfort of strangers.