Are you in need of a mid-afternoon boost of sugar and caffeine? Then host an impromptu get-together with friends and catch up over a cup of coffee or tea, and sweet treats. Germans have a word for it: Kaffeeklatsch. It literally means coffee chatter, and originated as a weekday afternoon activity for stay-at-home mothers and grandmothers. But there’s no reason for this tradition to be relegated to the dustbin of history, or to women. Take a break, call your friends and invite them to join you for a Kaffeeklatsch at home or in the office.
The origin of the word Klatsch
Until the invention of washing machines, laundresses would gather at local fresh water sources to wash dirty clothes. And few activities are more dear to people at work than gossip. So, while smacking dirty linen against rocks to make stains disappear, the washwomen may have speculated about the origins of the stains. Forbidden romances? Unfaithful husbands? Out of wedlock pregnancies? Lots of topics to talk about. As the German word for smacking is “klatschen,” it eventually became synonymous with idle chatter or small talk. “Tratschen” is another word with the same root and if you put both together, as in “Klatsch und Tratsch” than you really identified a rumor mill.
How coffee came to Germany
The coffee plant reputedly originated in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. A genius must have figured how to ferment, roast, grind and turn the seeds of that plant into a stimulating, hot beverage. Coffee spread across the growing Arab empire in middle ages and, as trade with northwest Europe expanded in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the first coffee houses appeared first in Italy, then France, and in 1673 and 1677 in Bremen and Hamburg, respectively. In fact, over the next three centuries, these two ports cities became European hubs for storing, processing and even de-caffeinating coffee beans from all over the world..
The Golden Age of Kaffeeklatsch
In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the classic age of enlightenment and reason— coffee salons and at-home coffee soirees grew immensely popular in Europe, especially in Germany and the Austrian empire. Primarily upper-class ladies (Damenkranz) congregated at these places for one purpose: to share the latest gossip, stimulated by caffeine and sugar. Johannes Sebastian Bach even composed a comedic opera about the addiction to coffee chatter, with words from the German satirist Christian Friedrich Henrici (also known as Picander). The name of the opera is “Schweigt Stille. Plaudert nicht” (Be quiet. Don’t chatter), or better known as Bachs Kaffeekantate (“Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße”).
Klatsch in so many words
As coffee bean plantations sprung up all over the world in countries around the equator, the price of coffee in Europe decreased significantly in the nineteenth century, making it affordable for all social classes to engage in Kaffeeklatsch. Satirist Wilhelm Busch coined the phrase: “Gute Unterhaltung besteht nicht darin, dass man etwas Gescheites sagt, sondern dass man etwas Dummes anhören kann.” (Good conversations do not come about that you say something of substance, but that you can listen to something stupid). It’s significant that the German language contains a great variety of words for Klatsch (with or without coffee):
gemütliche Zusammenkunft – nettes Geplauder – brodelnde Gerüchteküche – Klatsch und Tratsch – Klatscherei – Tratschereien – Klatschgeschichten – Gerede – Getratsch(e) – Gequatsche – Geflüster – Gemunkel – Getuschel – Geraune – Gerücht – Gelaber – Geplapper – offenes Geheimnis – Stadtgespräch – Altweibergeschwätz –Bürogeflüster – Buschfunk – Flurfunk – Lästerei(en) – Ratscherei – Fama – Flüsterpropaganda – Legende – Nachricht – Sage – Ondit – Rederei – Latrinenparole – Plauderei – Banalitäten – Klatsch – Nachrede – Phrasen – Rederei – Smalltalk – Unsinn – Halbwahrheiten – Blödsinn – Flausen – Nonsens – Widersinn – Schnickschnack
Quality Coffee and Cake
Today, the world’s fourth largest consumer of coffee is Germany. The movie Out of Rosenheim, also known as Baghdad Café, contains a funny scene symbolic of Germans’ love affair with their own coffee. Coffee brands like Jacobs, Dallmayr, Eduscho, or Tchibo are well known for their strong flavor, aroma, and caffeine and Germany’s nutty, creamy, or fruity cakes and sweets are perfect complements. Although the ritual of Kaffeeklatsch is waning in dual income, modern families, it’s still popular to meet and drink coffee in the afternoon hours. To accompany it, see our selection of Kaffeeklatsch favorites in Recipe Collections—Kaffee und Kuchen.