Coffee roasting in Vienna dates back centuries. In fact, it dates all the way back to 1683, when the first coffeehouse opened in Austria, after the Battle of Vienna where the Turks were defeated and their loot was imbibed for its caffeinating pleasure. It is also true that they added milk and sugar at this point, so not everything was perfect back then.
A century ago, Vienna had hundreds of roasters in the city center, but industrialization closed most of them down and supermarkets with prepackaged goods became the norm. A movement has emerged to take a step back.
“We wanted to bring back tradition and tell people that coffee roasting is a wonderful craft, and the result can really taste like coffee instead of burned coal plus rancid oils,” says Werner Savernik, co-owner of CoffeePirates along with partner Evelyn Priesch. “We now try to bring back the coffee in the mind of the customer, show them differences in flavor by different origin countries, varieties, and roasting profiles.”
What started in 2012 as Vienna’s first specialty coffee shop with an in-shop roastery, near the university campus in Vienna and the old courts of the “Altes AKH” in the Ninth District, has doubled in size and now also offers a second location on Währingerstraße, near the touristic first district of the ancient city. But the initial thought of planning a roaster started somewhere on a world travel extravaganza—“anywhere between New Zealand and Colombia” says Savernik. The great adoration of the profession and the idea that there are “a thousand ways to love a coffee drink” are what inspires Savernik to expand his current offer—with a new shop in the works, a Kees van der Westen Spirit coffee machine in construction, and a separate, bigger roastery opening soon. “It might sound epic, but that's because it is,” says Savernik reverently of the coffee world.
The city, after all, is the fountainhead of Wiener Kaffeehaus for better or for worse. So fittingly so that “Viennese Coffee House Culture” is categorized under the rubric of Intangible Cultural Heritage with UNESCO. And so Savernik romances this very notion—“Austrians don’t rush in, take an espresso, and walk out of a cafe as they do in Italy. We sit for hours and enjoy the atmosphere, read a newspaper, and chat with friends.” CoffeePirates takes this essence into the 21st century with coffee as the base, in a “relaxed atmosphere,” and adds homemade food, a little bit of shopping, and Wi-Fi to complete the offering.
But Austrians still order the lackluster Melange as a variation of the cappuccino, or a Kleiner Brauner which is between an espresso macchiato and a cortado. “It’s moving in direction of flat whites and more and more to the double shot espressi from specialty coffees,” Savernik confirms. But the interest in filter coffee in the city is also unfurling. “We always serve at least two different beans for V60, Kalita, AeroPress, and Chemex. And since last year, we also offer cold drip coffee out of a Coffeega Ridge 3.2,” says Savernik. “It’s fantastic to see how this coffee hits the taste buds of our guests.”
Savernik is committed to finding the best beans available, of course—whether direct-traded or using specialty importers like Nordic Approach and Mercanta. “We [have] visited a lot of the farms and cooperatives where our coffees are coming from. It’s always a great inspiration to visit the farmers in the origin countries and see what a hard work it is to produce excellent coffees,” shares Savernik.
For this little wooden hideout in the Imperial City, it’s a statement against the big players in the industry, made from the golden heart of coffee Vienna. “We are the good and friendly ones fighting against bad coffee. Our philosophy is to only serve great cups of coffee of best qualities to our guests—prepared with love.”
Daniel Scheffler is an international freelance journalist whose work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.
With additional photos courtesy Werner Savernik.