Like a fickle heroine in a romance novel, I refuse to choose. I love them all. The Melange, the Brauner, the Grosser Schwarzer. They are a far cry from a cuppa joe in a paper cup. Viennese kaffee culture is unhurried and downright civilized. It is gentle in the way it is phrased; our coffee break is their kaffeepause. I'll drink to that.
There are newer, hipper, smoke-choking-the-air coffee houses in Vienna, playing American Top 40 and serving chai lattes. I am drawn to the direct opposite; impossible-to-find cafes, hidden behind arched doorways in the narrowest of cobblestone strasse.
If your coffee habit is fueled by Dunkin or Starbucks or your neighborhood independent, odds are slim that coffee service is a formal affair. There are more than enough options for kaffee und kuchen in Vienna, all blissfully lacking an impatient line of humanity oversharing on cellphones.
Easing myself through heavy drapes positioned to keep out the cold, a stern looking gentleman indicates with his hand that I should follow. He is outfitted in somber black trousers, matching dinner jacket, white shirt and perfectly tied black bow tie. There is nary a laptop to be found in plain sight.
The interior of the dining room is a variation on one theme, Classic. Curvy banquettes and marble top tables circle the room, a contradiction of dark woods and brilliant light play. The burgundy upholstery is velveteen, smooth beneath my icy fingertips. Plump cushions sigh as you sit back. Or maybe that's me. My boots spill tiny puddles of snow on the tired carpet.
I am reminded of a favorite pair of my grandmother's earrings in the sparkle of the chandeliers. Heavy mirrors fight for wall space with framed renderings of European composers. Light sconces dripping with tiny crystals interrupt every so often, their reflection in the mirrors casting more glimmer across the room. The overall effect is magical; two parts old world Vienna, one part Lite-Brite. The hushed quiet is punctuated by the occasional clinking of glass and the whoosh of the espresso machine.
My favorite waiter thus far is bespectacled, bald headed and no nonsense. I want to linger over the descriptions of the coffees, but his watch is ticking. He reaches for the menu, impatient, gently scolding. The wording for one beverage describes double espresso with froth and a 'good deal' of warm milk. Bitte, danke, danke, bitte, I'll have that. Oh- and bitte, the plum strudel, the "PFLAUM STRUDEL." I sound like an idiot. Danke.
Mr. Personality returns with an oval silver tray and sets it down before me. It holds a bracing cold glass of still water gussied up with a lace doily. The star attraction is a stemless glass of coffee resting on a saucer. A slender silver spoon is perfectly poised across the top of the glass, as daring as a Cirque du Soleil balancing act. I almost hate to take that first sip and smudge the line between foam and coffee. Not only is the milk perfectly frothed, the rich espresso that lies beneath is ideally hot and remains so.
My dessert arrives a few moments later in a cloud of powdered sugar. I am lost in the plum strudel- paper thin layers of crust that shatter beneath the tines of the silver fork. There is barely a layer of fine cake crumbs separating strudel dough from the thick spiced plums. The fruit is jammy and tart, the intense flavor of slowly cooked preserves. An occasional raisin provides just enough sweetness and walnuts just enough crunch. Pausing between bites for a sip of still hot kaffee, I am absolutely certain about the strudel. This is it, no doubt, my plum and only.
Until the next silver tray comes along, with a glass of water, a perfect kaffee and a slice of lemon meringue torte.
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