Kaffee und Kuchen

The ubiquitous coffee pot
I grew up around the culture of Kaffee und Kuchen. This important event usually happened on Sunday afternoons or on birthdays. It involved good, strongly brewed coffee, heavy cream (whipped, if possible) and an assortment of rich cakes, including fruit flans using whatever fruit was in season, with more whipped cream and the ever-present Streusselkuchen and Königskuchen. Other cakes might include Bienenstich, Honigkuchen or the decadent Schwarzwälderkirsch Torte. Readers of my novels might recognize the cakes and the table setting.

Perhaps it was a symptom of the after-war generation. Perhaps having survived the horrors of war, the simple pleasure of sitting around a table and gorging on food was a sort of heaven on earth. I don’t know. I do know that the coffee table Kaffeeklatsch was the highlight of the week for my parents and their fellow immigrant friends. 

Kaffee und Kuchen meant you had a home, a table, food, and people to share it with. Kaffee, after years of ground up dandelion root or ‘ErsatzKaffee was a totally appreciated luxury. It might be instant coffee with canned evaporated milk during the week, but for the Kaffee und Kuchen sessions, it had to be freshly ground ‘real’ coffee. 

Embroidered by my parents while on 
immigration ship in 1953 on Beaverbrae 
The table itself was not merely a flat platform on four legs. It was a stage showcasing a woman’s talents—starting with the tablecloth. I remember tablecloths elaborately embroidered with floral motifs and crocheted lace along the edges. I remember the handmade coasters, the crocheted cozy for the porcelain coffee pot, and the carefully chosen serviettes … often mismatched … but each uniquely beautiful. 

Then there were the dishes. Dishes for my mother and the women of her generation were status symbols like cars were for the men.  As a kid, I had my own favourite china teacup set from Mom's Sammeltassen collection. I felt surprisingly sad when that teacup disappeared in the shuffle of her final move. And yes, the teacups were for sipping coffee. 

I’m not sure if Kaffee und Kuchen culture is still going strong over in Germany. Here in Canada, as the war survivors pass away, many of their traditions are fading with them. But I have the porcelain coffee server to remind me. It's not all that useful anymore. But when I smell the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I can often hear the Kaffee Klatsch ... as the survivors of war, homelessness, gulags and immigration indulge in the freedom of Sunday afternoon peace. 

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