Germany's kaffee und kuchen tradition

Photo by Alisa Anton
Photo by Alisa Anton

Germany's kaffee und kuchen tradition

by Gail L. Winfree
Stripes Europe

You’ll find plenty of cafés scattered across almost every town in Germany. On any given afternoon, you’ll likely discover them bustling with people sharing a tradition that’s become a core of everyday German life.

"Kaffee und kuchen" (coffee and cake) is an afternoon ritual where friends, family, or coworkers will meet for an hour or two to enjoy coffee, cake, and socializing.

Shortly after coffee was introduced to Germany in 1675, coffee houses began to spring up in places like Hamburg, Bremen, and Hanover. It was expensive and reserved for nobility. It’s not certain when or where the first kaffee und kuchen get-together took place, but it probably looked much different than today’s version.

Today’s kaffee und kuchen gatherings follow no set rules or formalities and people of all ages and social statuses can be found sharing tables, conversing and enjoying their favorite afternoon beverage.

Germans are serious coffee drinkers. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Germans grind through 12 pounds of coffee beans per person per year, ranking them 16th among the world’s biggest coffee drinkers. Not only do they drink a lot of coffee, but they gave us the paper coffee filter – invented by Melitta Bentz in 1908 – and the electronic drip brewer ­– invented by Gottlob Widmann in 1954 – two discoveries that revolutionized the coffee industry.

You’ll find a variety of coffee and other hot drinks in German cafés with the most popular being:

  • "Schwarzkaffee/Americano," black coffee
  • "Milchkaffee," coffee with hot milk
  • Latte Macchiato
  • Cappuccino
  • Tee (tea)
  • "Heiße Schokolade," hot chocolate

You can order coffee by the cup (tasse) or pot (kännchen). Also keep in mind that many cafés serve wine and beer along with other cold drinks.

What’s coffee without cake?

Go into any German café or "backerei," (bakery and you’ll find sugar heaven. The variety of German cakes and pastries are endless. Be aware that German cakes are usually heavy with cream, fruits and nuts, but rarely as rich as American sweets. Traditional German cakes such as "apfelstrudel" (apple strudel) are baked flat, while others, called “torte”, are layered. "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte" (Black Forest cherry cake) is one of Germany’s favorites and has become popular outside the country.

Cakes are often served depending on the fruit in season. In summer, you can find fresh "pflaumenkuchen" (plum cake) and "erdbeerboden" (strawberry cake). In winter, the "stollen," a fruit cake containing dried fruit, marzipan and covered with sugar ­– owns the cake counters. The "christstollen," similar to the American fruit cake, is especially popular during the Christmas season.

Other cakes like "käsekuchen" (cheesecake with quark), "prinzregententorte" (a six- or seven-layer sponge cake with chocolate and butter cream, topped with apricot jam and glazed with dark chocolate) and "bienenstich" (bee sting) consisting of almonds, honey, and custard cream are always popular. Regardless of the cake you choose, a big heaping portion of "schlagsahne" (whipped cream) goes good.

Getting together with friends for an afternoon of coffee and cake just might be a German tradition you’ll carry on for years to come.

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