Submitted by Susanne Bacon
The German term “Kaffeeklatsch” (pronounce ‘kuffah-klutsh, meaning gossiping over coffee) has made it into the American language. It is usually a thing of the afternoon hours, and it’s something you enjoy at a private home as well as at a café. Unfortunately, the classic café is becoming more and more a thing of the past in my mother country. There are still a few of the Vienna-style coffeehouses in Germany, but the slightly baroque interior, the quiet classic music, and the typical German Torte with whipped cream or buttercream seem to be replaced more and more by a mix of French bistro and Western Washingtonian coffee chain culture.
A kaffeeklatsch is pretty much the daytime counterpart to the originally male-only, rather alcoholic “Stammtisch” (pronounce ‘Shtum-tish, literally meaning a table for regulars, but also a regular meeting) taking place in taverns. Who knows when the kaffeeklatsch even developed?! It might have been born out of boredom – it certainly was something that only the well-off and idle could afford in the beginning. Times have changed. Cake and torte have become widely affordable; and it is often young mothers who create a kaffeeklatsch for other peers in connection with a playdate for their kids. And then, of course, there are the big occasions like weddings, baptisms, confirmation/first communion, birthdays, and funerals where coffee and cake are at the center of the rituals. The festivity of making time for leisure is simply underlined by fancy cakes and a cup of coffee … as well as the gossip.
The working world and younger generations have turned the culture of kaffeeklatsch a bit around in my mother country. A coffee is often grabbed on the go. Calorie counting has replaced the indulgence of whipped cream torte and buttercream creations (except on occasions as mentioned above). And due to sparse leisure during daytime, the Stammtisch has become the more obvious alternative for working men and women, often enough separate according to gender. (Girls simply can discuss girl stuff better when there is no man who rolls their eyes at them, right? And I guess the same goes for men vice versa.)
To my surprise, Western Washington seems to gain more of a café culture these days than my mother country manages to obtain. And it is not just the older generation who seem to indulge in it.
The first time I entered a café over here was in Olympia. It was a well-known German café with a large cake display, and I had a craving for Bienenstich (pronounce ‘Bee-nan-shtih, meaning bee sting, a cake filled with vanilla buttercream and topped with a baked layer of almonds and honey). If you grow up with German cake you know what it has to taste like – let’s say the cake the pastry chefs sold me that day was perfection, and I grew very nostalgic over the slice, while I was chewing. Lakewood has its own German pastry shop, and there is often a queue at the cake counter, while in the back you hear Germans (mostly ladies) chatting in their mother tongue. There is also some wonderful selection of cakes and torte at Lakewood’s Polish & German restaurant.
Well, it was a surprise to me that there are German coffee places over here at all. The only coffee and cake I had experienced in the US so far were those sponge cake & icing creations for dessert after a festive dinner. And – to be honest – I’m not a fan of most of these cakes or of stuffing a dessert after an already opulent meal.
No, the biggest surprise is how many cake studios and cafés have been springing up over the past eight years that I have had the pleasure to live here. Because they are celebrating the art of making dessert in the most eclectic ways imaginable. They have the charm of classic European cafés without being stuffy or baroque. They have cake displays that make even a philistine as me wonder how this or that concoction might taste. Or how the decoration can ever be created in such a delicate way. And whether a trip to a specific dessert maker up north in Bellingham might be worth the gas mileage or should better be connected with something that justifies the mere consumption of mouth-drooling caloric bliss.
Meanwhile, I look at my recipe books and skip all the pages that relate to baking cakes. And I wonder how my mother managed to bake weekend cakes and torte for her entire life and gave our family a daily kaffeeklatsch without us bursting from our seams. Ah, her wonderful creations … Maybe I should work on my baking skills a bit more consistently, though – do I really want more extra-pounds on my hips?