Kaffee und Kuchen? Ich liebe dich.
Ah… the sweetest of delights in Germany: Kaffee und Kuchen. This combination of break time (Pause), conversation, sugar and caffeine is a mood-lifter any time of day. Germans believe wholeheartedly in such therapy. I’m with ‘em.
On my second trip to Germany, I met Kaffee und Kuchen for the very first time. We arrived at the airport and were soon relaxing in the car for a two-hour drive to friend Marie’s mother’s home. Hannelore lives due east of Frankfurt in the northernmost tip of Baden-Württemberg (the beautiful state where I would unknowingly be residing 5 years later).
On our way, we passed fields of green, small clumps of woods, and some very bright yellow crops, which I found out to be Raps or rapeseed. Germany’s landscapes are wunderbar. Gazing out the window from the back seat, I was ready for my 10-day German experience. Little did I know I’d be practicing a longstanding and lecker cultural tradition within just minutes.
Soon we made it to our destination. In addition to the welcoming smiles, handshakes and hugs, Hannelore presented Kaffee und Kuchen.: not one, but two lovely round cakes quickly adorned her outdoor tables, accompanied by a steaming pot of coffee and bottled water and juice. What could be better after an all-night flight than a warm cup of coffee with rich cream and a slice of cake (except for that cold beer at the airport, of course)?
Little did I know that the pieces of cake I ate that day would be the first in a long line of mouth-watering dry and not-so-sweet German treats. Mind you, there can be no complaint about either the moisture content of German cake or the lack of sugar – you can make up for those things with your coffee and cream, and added sugar, if you must. It’s almost as if every piece of German cake is designed to go with a cup of hot coffee or tea for dunking – though this act would surely bring disconcerting glances. Therefore, a forkful of cake followed by a slurp of coffee will suffice.
Hausgemachter Eierlikörkuchen (links)
More rewarding than the gastronomic pleasure alone, Kaffee und Kuchen bring people together. In Germany, the tradition is ceremonial. Dessert forks and small Teller (plates) are laid out. A proper German kitchen is equipped with these essentials. There might be fancy napkins, or none at all (Germans don’t seem to be as messy as Americans so they don't automatically put napkins out. A small bottle of milk or cream for the coffee accompanies sugar served in a decorative Schüssel. Once the table is set, you are ready to enjoy with friends or family. Sitting down to Kaffee und Kuchen is much like sitting down for mealtime. People gather around the table, chatting lightheartedly about recent events. Coffee fuels the conversation, and bites of cake allow for pauses.
One Christmas Eve, we sampled different K und K – a store-bought, frozen Apfelkuchen warmed up and a homemade cake as well. Not the best choice for Christmas dinner, but family time nonetheless. I would have preferred ham and mashed potatoes, but when in Rome... I was grateful for the energy boost and the company, though it was a different kind of holiday meal.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Kaffee und Kuchen is that it can happen almost any hour of the day, more informally than a family meal, but important enough to be special. Bakeries abound, and you'll usually find a favorite within walking distance. Each sells bread, rolls, pastries, pretzels, cookies, and other goods – including slices of cake, or whole cakes if you’re so inclined. These items don’t cost much – a chocolatey layer cake slice isn’t more than 2 or 3 euros, and seasonal fruit-filled cakes such as Pflaumenkuchen or Erdbeerkuchen are usually on special and come at a kleiner cost. Therefore, it’s easy, inexpensive and enjoyable for Germans to replace a meal with Kaffee und Kuchen. It’s cheap, quicker, tastes good and appeases the hunger sofort.
Another plus: there’s no cooking involved; this is fast, good food. Bachelors concur: it’s not unmanly for working guys to enter the local bakery on their break anytime between 9 and 3, sitting down with a cappuccino or espresso and a plate of cake -- or two, in Heinie's case. With the appetite-suppressing action of a good cup of coffee, Kaffee und Kuchen become lunch and tide a stomach over until dinnertime. A person could even justify having K und K for breakfast, because this small meal entails a hot breakfast drink and a pastry. (Update: I just read that chocolate cake for breakfast can be a healthy alternative. Quatsch!)
Do the calories in a piece of cake and a cup of coffee loaded with cream and sugar rationalize a cake meal daily? Nope, unless you work in a bakery and/or your metabolism goes a hundred kilometers a minute. Holding off on Kaffee und Kuchen until you have a good reason to enjoy is smarter for the waistline, and random gratification makes K and K more momentous.
Just this Saturday, Heinie wanted to get out, have a coffee and do some people-watching. The second part of that is more his thing than mine, but I enjoy sitting for what can become hours to enjoy a hot drink and the delectable last crumbs of a regional cake
offering. There are so many choices, and every bakery is different! Don’t like coffee? Try hot chocolate and chocolate cake. The overdose is worth it.
Kaffee und Kuchen must be experienced firsthand. Bakeries open at 6:00 a.m. in many places and stay open until 9:00 at night. Most serve coffee drinks, so your Kaffee und Kuchen can happen anytime you’re in the mood.
When you can’t get to Germany (France, Austria, or any other country that has a similar tradition), try K and K at home, at the office, or while out shopping. In between lunch and dinner, when your stomach is just beginning to rumble, suggest to your sister or mother, brother or boss that you enjoy a piece of cake or a muffin of your own choosing, brew a pot or grab a cup of coffee or tea, and just enjoy.
Hot chocolate with chocolate or any other type of cake is not overdoing it
Wörterbuch / Dictionary
(der) Apfelkuchen - apple-filled cake
(der) Eierlikörkuchen - cake made with eggnog in the topping
(der) Kaffee - coffee
kleiner - smaller
(der) Kuchen - cake, pie
lecker - delicious, tasty
links - left
(die) Pause - the break, recess
(der) Pflaumenkuchen - cake with plum filling
(der) Quatsch - nonsense
Quatsch! - Nonsense! Ridiculous!
sofort - immediately
wunderbar - wonderful