Traditional Kaffee und Kuchen
Enlarge image Bakeries and cafés display their colorful cakes in glass cases. (© picture-alliance / dpa ) In between lunch and dinner, there is traditionally a short break for a social gathering around a piece of cake or two and a hot steaming cup of coffee or tea. This ritual is referred to as Kaffee und Kuchen, Kaffeetrinken, or Kaffeeklatsch. These days, it is still quite common to get together with friends and family on Sunday afternoon between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. to share some cake and good conversation.
Whether the gathering takes place at someone’s home or in a café or a confectionary shop, this tradition is a long-standing one in Germany. Records show that cakes have been baked in Germany for some 400 years.
Enlarge image The Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte is made with Kirschwasser, or cherry brandy, which is produced in the Black Forest. (© picture-alliance / dpa) A good number of German cakes have achieved international popularity. Some of the most popular tortes are also among the most elaborate. The Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake) is a chocolate layer cake filled with whipped cream and Kirschwasser-soaked cherries and decorated with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cherries.
The Frankfurter Kranz is a white bundt cake layered with buttercream and sometimes also a red jam. The exterior is covered in buttercream and candied nuts before being adorned with cherries. Other people favor cheese cakes and cream cakes for special occasions. The most delightfully named cake would have to be the Bienenstich (bee sting cake), which refers to its honey and nut topping.
Despite its popularity in the US, the so-called German Chocolate Cake with its nutty coconut topping is, however, not a German cake. Invented by a woman in Texas in 1957, the cake takes its name from German’s Sweet Chocolate, a chocolate created by an American baker named Samuel German in 1852.
Enlarge image Erdbeertorte (strawberry cake) is usually served with lightly sweetened whipped cream. (© picture-alliance / dpa / Stockfood ) On average, German cakes tend to have more butter and less sugar than their American counterparts. Lighter treats such as a simple sponge cake topped with fresh fruit or a bundt cake, known as Gugelhupf, are often served with a healthy dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. A yeast dough sheet cake can be simply baked with butter, sugar and almonds or more elaborately topped with fruit and either streusel or meringue. These are also sometimes filled with pudding or Quark, a German fresh cheese. Summer is the perfect time for tortes and cakes made with seasonal fruits ranging from red currants and gooseberries to strawberries, blueberries and rhubarb.
German-American immigrants most certainly brought their traditional cake recipes with them. That words such as kaffeeklatsch or coffee klatsch, streusel, and strudel exist in the American-English dictionaries attributes to the importance of their cake-baking tradition in the US.
While cake is sometimes served as an after-dinner dessert in the US, this is rarely considered in Germany. Dessert in Germany is more often served in a bowl and would include dishes like pudding, sweetened Quark with fruit, stewed fruit, or ice cream.
Saxony’s Coffee House Culture
Enlarge image With an annual per capita consumption of 148 liters per year, Germans drink more coffee than any other beverage, according to the German Coffee Association. (© Colourbox.com) The Saxons are known not only for their cake-baking talents, but also for their love of coffee. Coffee arrived in Germany in the 17th century, and the city of Leipzig’s first coffee house opened in 1694. The coffee houses of Leipzig provided an important venue for the economic, cultural and political discussions of this important trade and publishing city.
Even composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who served as cantor of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig in the mid-18th century, made coffee the main topic of the cantata Be quiet, stop chattering, which became popularly known as the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211). The text, from the poet Christian Friedrich Henrici (aka Picander), tells the story of a father who is trying to break his daughter’s habit of drinking coffee. Finally, she agrees to give up coffee in return for being allowed to marry but secretly intends to land a husband who will support her coffee habit.
Enlarge image In his 1889 drawing "Haushaltspolitik" (Household Politics), C.W. Allers depicted a "Kaffeekränzchen." (© picture-alliance / akg-images) Since women were not allowed in the coffee houses, they began organizing private Kaffeekränzchen, or coffee parties, in their own homes. This new movement soon spread from Leipzig and Hamburg to the rest of Germany. In the 20th century, women finally gained unrestricted access to the public coffee houses.
The Saxons left behind a few more coffee-related legacies. Blümchenkaffee, a German word to describe the much loathed weak coffee served to save money or when the supply ran low, is one. The literal translation is “flower coffee” which refers to the fact that while drinking a cup of weak coffee, one can even see the flowers painted at the bottom of the cup. The other, is the coffee filter. This was invented by Melitta Bentz of Dresden in 1908, when she poked holes in a bottom of a pot, covered it with blotting paper, and added coffee grinds and boiling water. This method became extremely popular at the next trade fair in Leipzig.
Tea Culture of Northern Germany
Enlarge image This modern-day tea service includes a timer to achieve the perfect steeping of the tea. (© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb ) Not everyone takes coffee with their cake, and some areas of Germany have long-standing preference for tea. Tea was sold in the Apotheke, or apothecary, as a medicine beginning in the 17th century. In the 18th century tea imports increased in Northern German cities, especially in Hamburg and Bremen.
Today, a quarter of the tea imported in Germany is consumed in the sparsely populated East Friesland region in the state of Niedersachsen, where the per capita rate of consumption is on par with that of England. The tea time traditions – including the delectable cakes and cookies – which became en vogue in the 19th century still have many followers in this part of the country, where it is known as the East Friesland tea culture.
According to tradition, a piece of rock sugar is place at the bottom of the tea cup, which will crack when hot tea is added. Then a spoonful of rich, sweet cream is added to the side of the cup, which creates a little “cloud” in the tea. Stirring is strictly forbidden, as it is said that the unstirred cup allows one to taste all three elements of the tea.