Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition

Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition
A family takes part in the Kaffee und Kuchen tradition in Zellingen, Bavaria. Photo: DPA
This leisurely afternoon ritual is key to the German lifestyle.

The mid-afternoon is a signal to many Germans for a traditional pick-me-up in the form of “Kaffee und Kuchen” – literally, coffee and cake. 

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Be it with coworkers, friends, or family, the culture of “Kaffeeklatsch” (the act of catching up over the two delights) enjoys nationwide popularity, typically between the hours of 3 and 4pm. 

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You might invite guests to your home to show off your own hand-baked goods, or if you prefer to trust someone else to take care of the baking instead, countless cafes and the more authentic ‘Konditorei’ are dotted all over the country – and as a general rule of thumb, the more old-fashioned, the better.

A typical selection at a Konditorei. Photo: DPA

A longstanding tradition

The origins of the beloved custom can be traced back to the 17th century, when coffee was first imported to Germany. In these times, it was only the aristocracy who would indulge in the pastime, but by the 19th century the indulgent treat became more accessible, and the combination has since become a cultural staple.

Whilst the working world often only allows for a quick, shop-bought treat during the week, Germans will often make use of the weekends to celebrate with large pots of coffee and a selection of delicious sweet treats.

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And despite being somewhat comparable to the English custom of ‘afternoon tea’, the cakes you’ll find in Germany are nowhere near as dainty.

Expect to see a big slab of decadent Bienenstich, Erdbeertorte or Baumkuchen enticing you from behind the glass counter of the patisserie. 

Regional variations

Exactly how your ‘coffee and cake’ set-up may look differs across the country and time of year, as traditional German cakes vary according to both region and season. 

In the Black Forest, cafes are known for their Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – indulgent layers of whipped cream and chocolate sponge (with added cherry liquor as the secret ingredient) are topped with chocolate shavings and cherries. 

A slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Photo: DPA

In Bavaria, it’s the Prinzregententorte, which combines seven layers of sponge and chocolate buttercream to symbolise its seven districts, finished with apricot jam, dark chocolate and cream. 

Frankfurt’s speciality is the Frankfurter Kranz, a Bundt cake layered with jam and buttercream and sprinkled with caramelised nuts. Over the festive period, Germans enjoy Stollen, a Christmas speciality from Saxony – a fruit bread made of nuts, spices and dried fruit and coated with icing sugar. 

Bringing together the chance to catch up with friends and to sample some delicious German delicacies, indulging in ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ really is the perfect way to spend your Mittagspause (afternoon break).

 

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