Turkish Woman and her Slave in a Hammam
Kolschitzky and the Camel Feed
Coffee arrived in Vienna soon after France. In July of 1683, the Turkish army, which held Europe under the threat of occupation, was conducting a long siege of Vienna and had camped just outside the city. Viewing the situation as hopeless, the count who was directing the Viennese soldiers was seeking a representative to pass through the Turkish lines in order to reach the Polish side and get them to come and save them. Franz George Kolschitzky, who had lived for years in the Arab world, assumed this duty and disguised himself in a Turkish uniform. By September 12, the Turks had been repulsed in a decisive victory.
The retreating Turks left behind tents, oxen, camels, sheep, honey, rice, beans, gold and 500 bags of strange-looking beans that the Viennese thought was camel feed. Since it was not going to be used for the camels, they started to set fire to the bags. Familiar with the smell, Kolschitzky intervened. “Holy Mary! You are burning coffee! If you don’t know what coffee is, give it to me. I will find a good way for you to use it,” he cried. Because he had observed Turkish traditions, he knew how to roast, grind and prepare coffee. Not long after that Kolschitzky opened The Blue Bottle, Vienna’s first café. He would sweeten the coffee like the Turks did, but then he would strain it and add a little milk.
Coffee nourished the intellectual life of the city over the course of the next several decades. One 18th Century traveler observed that the city of Vienna was filled with cafes where novelists and newspaper writers met for pleasure. “Unlike the noisy beer halls, cafes provide a convenient environment for intense discussion and mental concentration,” he wrote.
Coffee historian Ian Bersten believes that there are genetic reasons for Arabs’ preference for black coffee and the Europeans’ (and later Americans’) widespread preference for coffee with milk. He says that although Anglo-Saxons can assimilate milk, Mediterranean peoples – Arabs, Cypriot Greeks and Italians – tend to digest lactose (milk sugar) with difficulty, and this is the reason why they continue to drink highly sweetened black coffee. Bersten observed that the two ends of Europe had developed two completely different ways of making this new product: the filtered coffees of Northern Europe and the espressos of Southern Europe. He said that the reason why a cup of cappuccino in Italy is so small is to reduce the digestive difficulties because of milk intolerance.