Vienna’s coffeehouses were once synonymous with intellectual thought, where great minds met and sipped. Luke Waterson looks at how they became such legendary breeding grounds for innovative thought—and why they could become so once again.

When you’ve spent as much time in as many of Vienna’s coffeehouses as I have, the first common denominator you’ll notice is that serving decent coffee is not their primary objective. The coffee, truth be told, is awful.

This might seem odd, where the ever-burgeoning java industry is increasingly about coffee quality, at least in the western world where it’s all about a personal link with the coffee estate or which type of roasting results in the best flavor.

But in Vienna, where fashionable coffee drinking was first popularized in Europe, the brew was only ever the pretext for the get-together of the clientele. The quality of the coffeehouse—the physical social space, and what happened within it—always came first.

WW1 may have marked the end of the coffeehouse heyday, but a century on, there is a scheme afoot to return Vienna’s coffeehouses to a status befitting of their illustrious past—and smartphones and social media followings are not part of the plan. Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations involves, well, just meeting up and talking. On life’s weightiest topics. And with complete strangers.