Glass of water with coffee

by Thomas Stiegler

Many stories entwine themselves surrounding the glass of water with the coffee!

The most widespread assumption is certainly that it should serve to compensate for the loss of fluid caused by coffee.

Which is not entirely wrong, because water really does reduce the diuretic effect of caffeine somewhat.

But this fact has only been known since the 20th century and it has been proven that a glass of water has been served with coffee since the 18th century.

So we have to look for the roots of this custom somewhere else and since I have done some research, I would like to take you on a little trip to 18th century Vienna.

Coffee was already known here very long ago but it was around this time that it really became popular. It was »the« new fashionable drink, especially among the aristocracy, which was regularly served with plenty of milk and sugar.

However, there was the small problem of not knowing where to put the spoon after stirring.

In Viennese society it was considered equally ungentlemanly to lick the spoon after use as it was to simply place it on the saucer.

Thus, resourceful coffeehouse owners soon came up with the idea of serving a glass of water in which one could place the spoon after use.

Espresso und ein Glas Wasser, ©JayMantri

The only tricky thing was, that the water of Vienna was so dirty that it was better to hide it from the guests.

It was still used by the simple people but the nobility, on whose money one was dependent, wanted to spare this sight.

This way, it soon became an unwritten law that the Viennese coffee houses were only allowed to offer water that was already crystal clear and pure before cooking.

And as they did not want to be inferior to their competitors in any way, they were also prepared to invest in a joint water treatment system.

This of course also had the nice side effect that Vienna was one of the first cities of the old continent that had clean drinking water.

The idea to serve a glass of water with the coffee was of course enthusiastically accepted by the population of Vienna and also internationally, more and more people became aware of it.

The first time it caught others’ attention was at the time of the Congress of Vienna and when finally, half of Europe visited Vienna during the Austrian World Exhibition in 1873, the idea spread to other countries.

This is why it is now customary almost everywhere in Europe to serve a glass of water with coffee.

Much later, when more and more guests started to drink this water, it took on another meaning.

As soon as the glass was empty, a waiter would rush over and fill it up again. This was of course the ideal opportunity to place another order without having to call for the waiter.

A practice that has unfortunately been forgotten today.


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