Shum ’14 explores tradition and ritual of European coffee houses

This is the third post in our summer series about Dale Award recipients.
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Greta Shum ’14 takes notes at the Sacher café. (Photo: Courtesy Greta Shum)
While many Princeton students associate coffee with Dean’s Date and Friday-morning precepts, Greta Shum’ 14 is spending her summer studying the beverage across the Atlantic – not as an antidote to sleep deprivation, but as a rich tradition steeped in artistry and rituals.
Armed with a Martin A. Dale ’53 Summer Award and the German language proficiency she picked up in her first two years at Princeton, Shum left for Vienna June 7 to observe and write about the historic coffee house culture of Vienna. She has visited over 30 coffee houses so far, and hopes to profile each one.
“I brought three notebooks to Vienna and filled all of them in the first month,” she said, noting that she has talked to waiters, tourists, and other coffee lovers to get a stronger feel for the coffee-house culture. Coffee houses became something of a “salon culture” in the area after being brought by foreigners from Turkey and Italy, according to Shum. In Vienna, sitting down with a newspaper and a cup of coffee in a coffee house is standard practice for many. The establishments typically are very elegant, with newspapers available in holders and well-dressed waiters. “People here have developed a very interesting sort of ‘snobbery’ about it the way they have about wine,” said Shum, who is herself slowly learning the difference between “good” and “bad” coffee with the aid of a course at a barista school.

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The typical Viennese presentation of coffee: on a tray with a small glass of water, a spoon balanced on top of the glass of water, and the “Wiener Mélange” in a white cup and saucer. (Photo: Courtesy Greta Shum)
But her most significant challenge is whittling down the volumes of material from her coffee house visits into several profiles. She explained that she has found difficulty representing a culture that has developed through two world wars and continues to evolve with the influence of globalization. “The fact that Vienna is a very big city has made it very susceptible to change and adaptation,” she said in an email. “Trying to capture that over the course of a few hours for each coffee house is very difficult.”
Shum will head to Paris and Italy in mid-August, where she will have more coffee. “My teacher in the barista course was adamant that only the Italians knew what they were talking about when it came to coffee, so I’m really excited to see and taste it,” she said.

2 thoughts on “Shum ’14 explores tradition and ritual of European coffee houses

  1. John Mora

    Great idea! My first visit to an Austrian coffee house made quite an impression. Beautifully elegant spaces for a wonderful moment of relaxation and rejuvenation. I hope you’ll publish your profiles. All the best!

    Reply

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