Food and Drink Content Collection: Sachertorte & The Viennese Coffee House

In our series “Collecting Content for Europeana Food and Drink” we let you have a look into the selection process of culinary objects for Europeana. This time, we are in Austria, where the Austrian National Library shows us their collection highlights within the cultural heritage of food and drink.

Among old drawings, prints and photographs of animals, fruit and famous persons in connection with food and drink themes as well as early printed books containing among other things illustrations of herbs, the Austrian National Library features a a great selection of black & white photos related to the Viennese coffee house tradition.

Sachertorte – A piece of Vienna

Sachertorte is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialities. The chocolate cake was invented by the Austrian-Jewish confectioner Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. Metternich engaged his personal chef to create a special dessert for his important guests: “Let there be no shame on me tonight!”. As the chef was ill, the sixteen-years-old apprentice, Franz Sacher had to undertake the task.

“Let there be no shame on me tonight!”

Sacher’s eldest son Eduard perfected his father’s recipe and developed the torte into its current form. The cake was first served at the Demel bakery and later at the Hotel Sacher, established by Eduard in 1876.

Sachertorte is being sold on the street in front of the Hotel Sacher in 1948
Sachertorte is being sold on the street in front of the Hotel Sacher in 1948

The dough is also referred as “Sachermixture” that contains many eggs and has a high fat content. The cake is coated with a thin layer of apricot jam and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides.

The Viennese coffee house

One will find Sachertorte in each of the numerous Viennese coffee houses, which are a typical Viennese institution. For some locals, their favourite coffee house serves as a second living room. Apart from coffee, you will be able to find newspapers, billiard tables or tables for chess and card games. Every coffee is served with the famous small glass of tab water, free of charge. People come here to read newspapers, play billiard, chess, and card or have a chat. But not only coffee houses itself are a typical Viennese tradition, the Viennese waiter is as well: He typically tends to be very grumpy and exhibits a certain arrogance.

About a hundred years ago, you could also find the Piccolo. He was the apprentice who supported the waiter in his daily work and helped him with preparatory tasks. Women, as a matter of fact, were not permitted to the coffee houses before the second half of the nineteenth century.

Men reading the newspaper, a piccolo serves coffee. Café Sperl in 1948
Men reading the newspaper, a piccolo serves coffee. Café Sperl in 1948
Men are playing billiard in the Café Sperl in 1948
Men are playing billiard in Café Sperl, 1948

The pictures above depict one of the famous traditional Viennese coffee houses founded by Jacob Ronacher as Café Ronacher in 1880. Ronacher sold the establishment to the Sperl family, who renamed the business Café Sperl. In 1884 ownership passed to Adolf Kratochwilla, in 1968 to Manfred Staub who renovated the cafe in 1983. In recent years, the Cafe Sperl has won several awards such as the “Austrian Cafe of the Year,” 1998 and the Goldene Kaffeebohne in 2004. The café is on the Austrian Register of Historic Places.

By the way, 5th of December is National Sachertorte Day, so why not take this occasion and indulge in a piece of the famous chocolate cake yourself?


By Zsuzsanna Brunner, Austrian National Library