Respect the Bean: Coffee as a State of Being

At the Vienna School of Coffee, Master Barista Johanna Wechselberger teaches the art of honouring the brewed beverage

On the quiet corner of Hahngasse and Pramergasse in Vienna’s 9th District, an aroma of freshly-ground coffee floats out each time a visitor opens the doors. A new coffee shop? Well, not exactly, at least not by Viennese standards.

This is the Vienna School of Coffee, an offbeat, a one of a kind coffee manufacturer more reminiscent of a Jamaican plantation than Café Central. Coffee bean sacks hang from the front counter where an espresso machine greets each guest. Behind the mechanical maître d’ sit three more espresso machines with coffee cups emblazoned with the school name piled on top.

Plants in tin pots adorn wooden shelves, which together with the wooden floor add a warmth to the slanting rays of sun reflecting off jars filled with coffee beans and glasses stacked along the shelves. Further in, a modest, black leather sofa and a couple of minimalist armchairs make friends with a wooden table accommodating unusually shaped coffee filters. Here is somewhere where people “respect the bean”.


Journey to java 

Johanna ­Wechselberger’s ­coffee courses ­include Espresso Milk Foam and a Latte Art ­Workshop | Photo: die Rösterin

Johanna ­Wechselberger’s ­coffee courses ­include Espresso Milk Foam and a Latte Art ­Workshop | Photo: die Rösterin

I popped in one Saturday morning unannounced.

Espresso machines grinding fresh beans reverberated off the eardrum like distant, rumbling African drums.

An earthy aroma soon wafted into the nostrils as a rich, steaming cup of robust, Guatemalan coffee with spicy overtones, flowery and smoky, was placed before me.

Johanna Wechselberger, founder of the school, was just getting ready to start a round of roasting.

She visits coffee producers throughout the year, and was preparing to leave the next morning for Hawaii. But today she took a break to show me around.

Wechselberger’s passion for coffee began at home where she began adjusting and repairing old coffee machines, which led to her fascination with the roasting process. She was “not a housewife,” she quipped, “but a domestic goddess!” After learning as much as possible about coffee online, she opened her own tiny coffee bar at the Naschmarkt.

But there, coffee was soon pushed aside for a whole gastronomic undertaking of preparing and serving food and alcoholic beverages. And what interested her was the coffee.

Wechselberger’s journey eventually led her to found the school in 1996, and to earn the title of Master Barista – one of three worldwide – awarded by the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association Europe), accrediting her as a trainer, international judge, brew master, and certifier. SCAE brings together farmers, baristas, and roasters who are dedicated to the process of producing high quality coffee.

The Vienna School of Coffee offers a four-day course for professionals in the coffee industry – including theory and practice for SCAE exams and certifications at barista levels one and two. Espresso and Milk Foam is a one-day course for the finishing touches of the espresso machine. There is a Latte Art Workshop for latte art and etching, and a three hour home barista course.

The school presents two-hour “coffee shows”, revealing why different varieties require different machines – Hario V60, Syphon, Aeropress, or Vietnamese filter. There are also tasting seminars, and a final lesson in recognising the various rare varieties. In short: how to get the best out of coffee beans.


Ask the experts 

Another place to start is with Wechselberger’s and Tobias Hierl’s book, The Ultimate Coffee Book for Beginners and Professionals published in German and English by Braumueller.

“Though coffee only began being traded about 1,000 years ago, it has evolved into a multi-faceted coffee culture today,” the authors explain. For instance, Austria has traditionally been an espresso-based culture; now, with Berliner influence, the scene may be shifting towards filtered coffee, popular in places like the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Nordic States.

In Vienna, there are places where artisan roasters and true baristas offer a simple, good cup of coffee. Wechselberger recommends People on Caffeine (POC), a small hole-in-the-wall café near the Altes AKH that won 6th place out of 30 countries worldwide in the World Barista Championship held at the Messegelände in June 2012. For coffee-to-go, the best places to find quality at decent prices are Kaffeemodul on Josefstädterstraße 35 or the Kaffeeküche in the U2 subway stop inside the Schottentorpassage.

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