Trapped in the spell of a historic cafe

A trip down coffee lane…

If you are a die-hard coffee lover like me, I bet you treasure each cafe moment while vacationing, specially  in Europe. Just the vision of those cheerful, warm and welcoming spaces, usually opening to the street and sun acts like an energy shot. Coffee drinkers are ensconced in comfortable corners, or lined up in pavement chairs facing the road, reading newspapers or observing the world as it slips by, having vibrant conversations, people-watching, thinking, listening, contemplating, or writing. How can you not be lured into these social hubs where people connect (without wifi)? And if history fascinates you, then a vintage cafe with an illustrious past is a double whammy. So, how can you not want it all, even if your cup runneth over?

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An air of royalty at Cafe Hofburg within the Imperial Palace complex of Vienna
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Queued up for a table at Cafe Majestic, Porto. It dates back to 1921!
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Duomo gazing at Cafe Scudieri, Florence, circa 1939

No prizes for guessing my favourite historic cafe experience. It happened one glorious October afternoon at one of the most Viennese of all Viennese cafes, outside Vienna. We were in the musical city of Salzburg, so naturally, a trip to Mozart’s favourite cafe was predestined. Embedded deep in the heart of the alluring old town in Salzburg, the legendary Cafe Tomaselli was loaded with old-world atmosphere. The large space spread over two stories, with outdoor seating on the cobblestone square and tables under the pretty green-white striped awnings on the upper balcony, was fully packed. The bustling interiors were no less stunning…polished wood paneling, glowing chandeliers, marble tabletops, large windows, oil paintings in gilded frames. International papers on racks and coats on hooks mounted over inside pillars. My mind said to me…this is time travel, its 1705 all over again!

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Inviting is the word for Cafe Tomaselli’s sunny facade

The smell of coffee was all around. People of varying nationalities were under one roof, united by a hot beverage that goes by so many different names all over the world…café, kaffee, qahwa, kahve, and kofe. I felt somewhat elevated knowing that the teetotaller Muslims, the world’s first coffee drinkers, revered coffee as “the milk of thinkers and chess players”. But how strange, that the mysteriously invigorating red berry-like beans called buna (Arabic for coffee bean), which originated in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, were consumed by chewing before they morphed into a drink infusion.

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Imagine…it was thanks to traders and merchants (specially Armenians), these beans travelled through Arab and Ottoman lands to Europe, where the first coffeehouses of Vienna and Paris sprouted. The popularity of coffeehouses grew in the 17th century across Paris, Venice and Amsterdam, and specially London, where more than 500 were up and running by 1700. The al-maqhah (Arabic), qahveh-khaneh (Persian), kahvehane (Turkish), Kafano (Yugoslavia), café (French/Portuguese), cafetería (Spanish), caffè (Italian) and kaffeehaus (German) quickly became a huge part of European culture, and it sure has endured!! In fact, Viennese houses are officially tagged as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by Unesco. And we were at one of them, here and now. The clock had come to a halt. We were frozen in time.

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Haven’t coffeehouses come a long way?

Meanwhile, at our table, an elegant waitress in a black dress and white apron was offering a selection from a platter of pastries…being a typical Viennese coffee house, apple strudels and sachet torte were bound to be on the menu. But we chose a delectable, sinful liquor cake slice to go with our cappuccinos. Then we settled back in our chairs, soaking in the sounds of the chit-chat all around, a warm, comfortable familiarity like that of a daily routine.

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My own picture wasn’t as good (Picture courtesy: Cafe Tomaselli website)

I was visualizing myself in a world cafe, an amalgamation of every nation’s coffee culture…a Swede’s caffeine fix would be a large mug of coffee with cinnamon buns or sweet bread. The Italian family would gulp down their favourite espressos, maybe like a shot. The Dutch couple would indulge in “koffie verkeerd” (milk with a drop of coffee, instead of coffee with a drop of milk) in a small glass. The French women would order café au lait (very hot, strong filter coffee or a double espresso, and half milk, often frothed) or “petit noir” (espresso) or a “café noir” (black coffee). A Spaniard would probably take his cafe con leche standing at the bar with a hand in his pocket. The Turk would sip on thick, tar-black juice, served sweet. The Greek would savour his frappe, a frothed-up blend of milk, sugar and Nescafé, served over ice, with or without sugar. The Irish…obviously a cocktail of hot coffee, whiskey, sugar and whipped cream. And the American…well, Americano, “to-go”!

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Koffie Verkeerd (Dutch version of Italian caffelatte)

My train of thought came to a halt as the waitress returned with our order. In Viennese style, glasses of water was served along with the coffee. We lounged leisurely, filling our senses with the heavenly caffeine and relishing the bitter-sweet goodness of our dessert. How exhilarating that coffee-houses once used to be a symbol of freedom and an inspiration for artistic expression! In these “schools of the wise” as the Turks called them, people read the latest pamphlets, caught up on news of major events, attended scientific lectures, struck business deals, discussed art, literature and politics. At one time, there was a move to shut down coffee houses because they bred gossip, forbidden discussions, political dissent and many a conspiracy! Lucky for coffee-lovers like us, the plan was thwarted…

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Drama, intrigue and caffeine at a 17th century Paris coffeehouse (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Fantastic imagery was surfacing in my mind…philosopher couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at Cafe de Flore, Paris; celebrated author Charles Dickens at Caffe Florian, Venice; artist Gustav Klimt at Café Museum, Vienna; romantic poet Goethe at Caffe Greco, Rome! It was all so magical, knowing that Mozart may have sat in this very cafe, maybe at this very table, drinking his coffee and dreaming about his next composition! Suddenly I was drowsy…maybe I was drunk from the liquor cake slice…or maybe I was just high on Salzburg!

124 thoughts on “Trapped in the spell of a historic cafe

  1. Wow, I’ve just been educated about the history of coffee and how each nationality drinks it! Thanks! I do have a favourite coffee which comes from Costa Rica, the foothills of Poas Volcano. If you’ve not tried it I recommend it. By the way I’ll be in Vienna later this month so I’ll check out Cafe Hofburg.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your writing really makes me want to get up and pour myself a second cup of coffee!
    I loved that you included so much information about the origins of this beloved beverage.
    We had a similar experience in Lille, northern France, where we had a cappuccino and traditional thin waffles. I think it was the oldest tea salon/café of the city. I prefer tiny hipster German cafés to be honest, but I still love the unique atmosphere of these grand cafés from another age!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful looking cafe. I really love the cafe picture with the newspapers hanging by sticks. I’ve only ever seen that in libraries before.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. European cafes are the stuff of fairy tales, aren’t they? I love it when you could just sit outside and sip on your coffee while enjoying the view. If I ever make it to any European cities soon, I’d be sure to hit up a local cafe.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mozart’s favourite cafe, wow! I’m not a coffee or tea drinker but always find myself lounging about in a coffee shop ordering nothing but a bottle of water and maybe a pastry when in Europe. You just have to, right?! “the milk of thinkers and chess players” – I hadn’t heard that before, definitely rings true when you stop and think about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m such a coffee junkie! Love this post, especially the history and cultural references. I’ve noticed I’ve had awful headaches the past few mornings and I was pretty sure its because I hadn’t had my morning coffee. So I’m on a three-day coffee detox! It ends tomorrow and I can’t wait 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not a big fan of coffee but loved reading the history of the coffee bean journey. It is good to see how you connected a coffee house to history.Cafe Tomaselli, I am going to keep that in mind.

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  8. I loved reading about how coffee came to become so popular! Salzburg is such a wonderful city and I only wish I had more time there to check out the restaurants. I did spend a week in Vienna though so greatly familiarized myself with the yummy Viennese desserts. Hopefully I can make it back to Salzburg soon 🙂

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  9. We love coffee so much, in fact I’m drinking one right now! It’s definitely true that Europe has so many great cafe and choices, too many really! It’s great to hear about the history of coffee being a coffee lover, thanks for sharing!

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  10. I can almost smell the coffee brewing from here! Such a fabulous history and I would love to try more coffees from around the world – especially in Europe as I’ve never been. My favorite to date is one from Colombia a friend brought back for me.

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  11. You have not only taken your readers on an exquisite historical journey about the history of coffee you have also completely sold Vienna. I felt as though I was sitting in that cafe admiring the other national coffee drinkers. I visited Vienna 16 years ago. I have been to a lot of countries since, but Vienna is unique and special. The culture the history the historical buildings the backdrop of the mountains. Thank you for a wonderful reminder. I hope to be sitting sipping cafe con leche very soon in this same cafe.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As I sip on my latte at my laptop, I am soaking up all the caffeinated glory of this post. I saw the top photo on your IG account so I am glad to have read the article – what a great place to visit! I’m no good at chess, but I must be a strong thinker judging by the amount of coffee I consume…!

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  13. Am truly engaged with your ways of describing your moment at your favorite cafes, sniffing its aroma of hundreds of different coffee around the world. True, whi needs a wifi if coffee could make you travel for every sip?

    -blairvillanueva

    Like

  14. Loved the fact that you could put up a whole blog around your coffee experience. Right from historic significance to current trends, the entire blog is very interesting to read. I also like the photos which could give me a feel of what you would have experienced.

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  15. From the very forst picture I knew it was in Vienna.
    How can those pkaces be so ekegant, royal and historic?
    Almost any cafe we went to had that touch!
    Next time I will visit this one too.

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  16. By no means am I a coffee drinker, but I thoroughly enjoyed this trip through various regions of coffee. It’s really neat to see the pictures of cafes from yesteryears and how they compare to the modern day.

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  17. I’m not a coffee lover at all but I do love cafe culture. I particularly love cafe culture in Europe. Wish I could be part of that all the time.

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  18. Lovely post. I’m a coffee lover so this is right up my alley. Don’t they provide water with your coffee everywhere? I think they should. Also not all Dutchies drink caffe latte’s! I (and most of my friends and family) drink my coffee black:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a lot of countries do provide water and the purpose is to cleanse the palate so that the coffee taste is purer. The Dutch example is just an example, of course..something little more typical, but thank you for clarifying.

      Like

  19. The beautiful story along with a lesson in coffee history. I really enjoyed reading it. Loved your photos too. Coffee beans come alive with a golden glow. Oh, these coffee cups with such an intricate filigree of design. Fantastic!

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  20. This is what I like about traveling. You get to know not only different places, but also traditions, customs, food, drinks, and history. Interesting article! And I could almost feel the smell of coffee from the picture with the cofee beans haha.

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  21. The cafes of Europe are unlike any other! Loved learning the history behind the location- intriguing and makes the cup of joe all the tastier I’m sure!

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  22. Your writing and recounts are so inspired. The language is so descriptive and accompanied with your lovely photographs I could fully picture what it was like to visit Vienna. I am very much looking forward to a future visit to Vienna to sip coffee and admire the people passing by.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I have not been to Salzburg yet but this is the kind of place that I would pick for a sightseeing break in the middle of the day: good coffee + history is always a winning combination for me!

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  24. Coffee is my life 😀 If have to talk about coffee the Italian name is Espresso and this is the typical coffee I usually drink 2/3 times per day! I love it but I have to say something about the Italian coffee: It’s not the real coffee, I tried an incredible coffee in Vietnam 2 years ago and another one in Colombia just last year, well, they were AMAZING! Great post and nice reading, thanks for sharing it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  25. What an interesting place to visit – I love finding cafe’s like this where you can sit and imagine the greats of years gone by sitting in the same spot, and wonder if they loved the coffee as much!

    Like

  26. I love coffee, it’s something I NEED first thing in the morning, no food, just coffee. Then afterwards, I can consume solids. Otherwise I’ll be grumpy the whole day, LOL. It’s true how visiting other countries and exploring their coffee culture is a wonderful way to think of all that history and how then brought us to now. Where’s the best coffee you’ve had yet? Any favourites?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Whimsical writing. I picture you doing this while sipping on your coffee of choice, after your leisurely meander through the menu weighing your options. I love a good cup of coffee, and love it more in a gorgeous European cafe. I’ll have to go to this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. It’s a treat learning about historic coffee cafes as I am a big coffee addict. A book, coffee, and some good vibes would be all I need when visiting Cafe Tomaselli. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  29. You are not going to believe this but I don’t like coffee. Or tea for that matter! I only drink water and wine lol. You have no idea how many people are shocked by this. I’m hoping to head to Europe again in 2019 and would love to visit some of these Cafes just for the scene you paint, not so much for the brew lol

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Recently, I gained this habit of collecting coffee beans from all cafes that I’ve visited and labelling it. It looks fun and am like a kid collecting stones from the beach. 🙂

    -blairvillanueva

    Like

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