Embracing Germany: Kaffee und Kuchen

Embracing Germany: Kaffee und Kuchen

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

When a German friend first explained the “Kaffee und Kuchen” tradition, my eyes lit up like a child who first spots their birthday cake. He explained some of his fondest memories were having cake and coffee in a cafe with family every Sunday after church.

He laughed as I suspiciously questioned him, like any good journalist, to confirm it was common practice to frequently gobble delicious sugary carbs while sipping on strong German coffee. I also assumed not partaking would greatly offend the locals. I was assured the latter was not true but I was trying to validate to my metabolism why we were about to carb load on cake. “When in Germany,” I said.

It should be noted coffee and cake, or “Kaffee und Kuchen,” is much different than having cake and coffee in America. German cakes tend to be less sweet and slightly drier, a refreshing change.

Here’s what to expect when you partake in this tasty tradition.

Coffee

There won’t be an expansive coffee menu like Starbucks. Do not walk in and order a venti half-caff, four-pump, sugar-free cinnamon dolce soy skinny latte. The barista will be confused, annoyed and walk off. German cafes stick to the caffeinated basics but do those basics very well. A typical coffee menu will have the following:

  • Kaffee
  • Espresso
  • Cappuccino
  • Latte (sometimes referred to as “milch kaffee")
  • Latte macchiato

For sizes, “groß” means large (sometimes referred to XXL on a menu) and “klein” is small. There will also be a nearby stand for “Milch und Zucker” or milk and sugar. To order in German say, “Einen Kaffee, bitte” or “one coffee, please.” If they ask you if it’s “mitnehmen” that means “to-go.”

Cake

Now let’s talk about the real reason you’re reading this: Cake or “Kuchen,” pronounced “coo-ken.” In most bakeries or “bäckerei,” cakes will be on display at the main counter. There are some consistent sweet staples along with seasonal cakes. In the summer, you’ll see berry and plum cakes and in the winter, apple cakes. If you’re having trouble deciding, ask the baker their favorite. They’ll enthusiastically tell you which is their specialty. Here are some classics:

  • “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte” - Chocolate sponge cake layered with thick whip cream, along with cherries and chocolate shavings. A.K.A ‘Black Forest cake’ and is by far my favorite. In some cakes, there is a shot of Kirschwasser, a cherry brandy with about 20% alcohol, mixed in with the filling. Be sure to ask the baker in case you abstain from alcohol or if a kiddo is partaking. 
  • “Obsttorte” - Vanilla cake with a lip along the outside to hold a mild pudding with seasonal fresh fruit and gelatin.         
  • “Biskuitrolle” - Sort of like those Swiss Rolls you ate as a kid but life-changing. A thin layer of cake rolled with a filling of cream or jelly, along with fruit. These come in a variety of flavors with strawberry being the most popular.
  • Apfelstrudel - Flaky croissant-like crust stuffed with apple cinnamon goodness topped with either powdered sugar or ice cream. 

To order a slice of cake say, “ein Stück Apfelstrudel,” if you’re ordering apple strudel. If you’re unsure of the cake’s name just say, “ein Stück vom Kuchen” and point to whatever you want.

While I’m a big fan of both coffee and cake, “Kaffee un Kuchen” is about so much more. It’s about catching up with friends and family, smiles and laughter and making new memories.

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