Hapsburg at Home
Coffee, a glass of water (to alter the coffee’s strength, I recently discovered), cream pitcher, sugar cubes, and petite spoon, all on a silver tray, with a fruit streusel: beyond a perfect breakfast, a traditional Viennese coffeehouse evokes so many of my favorite things.
The ornate surroundings, either the imperial décor of Wien’s Café Schwartzman or the high-end deco of Praha’s Café Slavia, across from the National Theater, transforms me into a late 1800s poet and thinker, inspired wild hand gestures and hats with nicotine and caffeine buzzes, changing the world.
I actually fell in love with sour cherry streusel during long afternoons spent at northern Manhattan’s student staple, the Hungarian Pastry Shop – frequented by the likes of Allen Ginsburg – while studying at Columbia: not exactly Vienna. Looking out at St. John the Divine, I was focused on my thesis rather than travel. It was several years later when I experienced my first “real” taste of this traditional coffeehouse culture in Prague (also not Vienna), at Café Louvre, and died over their plum streusel. This experience marked the beginning of the year that I had the opportunity to visit the Hapsburg trio of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna – some of my favorite cities. Perhaps more significant than furthering my love for fruit streusel (but only just), is how my love for the architecture and amazing graphic design that came out of those former Hapsburgs cities reached a point of near frenzy. Art Nouveau, Deco, and the early pre-war graphic design from the region are an aesthetic of which I will never tire. Prague was also extremely memorable because of my visit to Michelin’s two-star La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise (I digress…).
But, back to Café Louvre, where my silver tray held a latte in a Julius Meinl cup. After my visit to the Museum of Decorative Arts and the vintage graphic posters throughout the cafe, I was primed to instantly fall in love with the captivating red Mohr graphic. Julius Meinl is in fact a Viennese company, with an ever-growing presence.
The company was founded in 1862 by a man from the countryside whose son went from innovating the roasting process to becoming the largest coffee roaster and importer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire by 1913 – fueling that coffeehouse culture and, I’d like to think, driving the creatives.
In 1926, the iconic Mohr graphic was created, modified over the years to its contemporary iteration, the red silhouette and swooped cup handle, created in 2004 by Italian designer Matteo Thun.
The company continues its tradition by funding a number of poetry events worldwide. Turns out, you can own little slice of coffeehouse history and graphic design – Julius Meinl’s online shop sells the china in varying motifs as well as vintage reproduction prints using the original coffee boy design. There’s nothing I like better than housewares that remind me of being away from home. Cups, saucers, and creamer to be ordered for future Saturday writing sessions and maybe a print for the kitchen – Hapsburg at home.