Coffee and Intrigue: Book Bites with Stephanie Burgis


Book Bites is Cooking the Books‘ more easygoing cousin. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite.

(Both columns have been on a tiny hiatus, but are slowly working their way back in, with the wonderful assistance of Kathryn Martin. Everyone say hi, Kate!)

Stephanie Burgis‘ book Congress of Secrets has been garnering raves, including “a perfect combination of romance, historical fiction, and fantasy” – 4 stars from RTBook Reviews. 

Today, Stephanie’s joining us to talk about coffee (because Vienna, of course) and political intrigue (see also: Vienna) – welcome, Stephanie!

If there’s one drink that symbolizes the city of Vienna for me, it’s coffee. The first time I arrived (on a semester-long college exchange program), I stepped into the closest Kaffeehaus, took my first sip of a Viennese Melange (strong, dark espresso with steamed milk and foam) and thought I’d gone to heaven. I fell in love not only with the coffee but with the entire city, hopelessly and forever.

From then on, I sought out every excuse to return, as often and for as long as possible. And I’m not the only one to be seduced by Viennese coffee.

In the late eighteenth century, the coffeehouses of Vienna were famous hubs for political debate. By 1814, when my book Congress of Secrets, is set, the government had clamped down so hard that no one would dare breathe a word of political opinion in a public space like that (for fear of being turned in to the secret police by one of their many informants). Still, men of all classes flocked to their local coffeehouses to drink strong coffee, read newspapers, play snooker and trade witticisms, while women gathered in the separate Konditoreis, where coffee was joined by delectable cakes.

So it’s no surprise that coffee is important to the characters in Congress of Secrets. My con man hero (disguised as a Russian prince) visits various coffeehouses to get the latest gossip and, of course, enjoy a Melange while he’s there; my secretly-Viennese heroine (the daughter of a radical printer) has had to give up coffee for tea to maintain her own role as an English noblewoman…

But of course, coffee isn’t just a delicious excuse to socialize with friends. It’s also warmth and comfort and mental fuel (as every worker who’s ever mainlined coffee to hit a deadline knows)…and it can be wrapped up in memories, too.

To make a perfect Melange: take a really good European brand of espresso coffee, make a single shot of espresso, pour it into a small cup, and then add equal parts steamed milk and foam.

If you add a slice of apple strudel on the side, you’ll be in my idea of heaven…and whenever I enjoy that particular combination, I’m taken straight back to my first days in Vienna and the experience of falling head-over-heels in love with a complicated, beautiful city.


Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, spent 2 years in Vienna, and now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults (Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets), a trilogy of MG Regency fantasy novels (the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy), and over 30 short stories in various magazines and anthologies. You can find out more and read excerpts of all of her books at:


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