January 14 - 20, 2018: Issue 343


Cafe Central in Vienna interior near entrance with statue of Peter Altenberg. Photo courtesy Clayton Tang.


by George Repin

Seeing people in the city of Sydney hurrying to work grasping in one hand a  disposable cup of coffee, bought on their way - or observing the many coffee shops of various types and sizes tucked into every available space in the central business district of the city it is hard to imagine that the growth of a “coffee culture” in Australia is really only quite recent.

When Ivan Repin in 1930 opened his first small shop, which was the genesis of a chain of Coffee Inns in Sydney, he served a good cup of coffee and charged for it.  This was virtually unprecedented.  The public expected tea or coffee at the end of a meal, without charge.  The coffee then generally available was atrocious – stale, over-brewed, or prepared with coffee essence or, worse still, from coffee and chicory essence.

Despite the economic depression of the 1930s the business was a success and attracted a growing clientele of dedicated coffee drinkers.  Ivan Repin popularised coffee as a beverage in its own right – not just as an adjunct to a meal - raising consumer awareness of the pleasures of a good cup of coffee.

When Australia opened its doors to refugees from Central Europe, escaping from the looming threat of Nazism, many of them in Sydney went to Repin’s because, they said, the coffee was like the coffee they enjoyed “back home” in Europe.

Coffee Houses have a long history in Europe.

Legend has it that Georg Franz Kolschitzky, (born around 1640 in Galicia), who acted as a scout in the defence of Vienna in the early 1680s when the Ottoman Turks were stopped at the gates of Vienna, invested part of his reward opening Vienna’s first coffee house.  However, it was an Armenian merchant Johannes Diodato who, equipped with a license from the Imperial Court to trade with the Turks, who brought coffee to Vienna in 1685.  By this time other Western European cities already had coffee houses – Venice in 1645, London in 1652, Hamburg and Marseille in 1671 and Paris in 1672.

Café Central is one of a number of outstanding coffee houses.  It was opened in 1876 by the Pach brothers.  It became a meeting place for intellectual discussions on the great issues of the day, where poets and thinkers could meet, or to play cards or billiards in a magnificent setting.  They could enjoy the culinary classics for which Vienna became world famous.

A selection of pastries

Currant Meringue Flan

For almost seventy years Café Central remained a symbol of Viennese coffee-house culture and to quote Alfred Polgar “An asylum for those who want to kill time without being killed by it” and “a refuge for people whose misanthropy is just as strong as their craving for people to be alone but need company to do so.” 

However, at the height of World War II, in 1943 Café Central shut its doors and remained closed until, in the early 1980s, a new owner began its careful restoration.  Now as one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses it presents Viennese coffee culture and cuisine at the highest level with modern interpretations of the great classic dishes.

Coffee is presented in many forms – ranging from “purist” black coffee and “Turkish” coffee, to compositions that include ingredients such as liqueurs, spirits, cream and various toppings.

The patisserie produces an amazing variety of breads, pastries, gateaux, flans, strudels and sweet dumplings.  (A few illustrations from a book calledCafé Central – ISBN 978-3-200-02411-3 – of examples of product from the patisserie accompany this article.)

Apple Strudel

Apricot Curd-Cheese Dumplings
Café Central, Palais Ferstel in Herrengasse, Vienna. Photo courtesy Florian Prischl 

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia   Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist  Kraków  Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge  Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos  Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg  Gruyères   Strasbourg  Coventry Cathedral  The Roman Theatre at Aspendos  Turkish Carpets The Duomo of Orvieto  Rovinj  The City Walls of Dubrovnik Monaco - Snapshots   Bonifacio, Corsica  Autumn in New England USA  The Great Ocean Road  Pompeii  Didyma  Lawrence Hargrave 1850-1915  The Corinth Canal  Malta  Snapshots of Amsterdam 

Copyright George Repin 2018. All Rights Reserved.