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Coffee for Europe
Yury Kulchytsky is not a household name in Ukraine though he should be. This Ukrainian, a warrior and gourmet, whose recipe of making coffee has become known as “Vienna coffee”, contributed a lot to preventing the Turks from overrunning Europe.
Olena KRUSHYNSKA tells a remarkable story of the seventeenth-century Ukrainian hero.
Every time I sip my coffee, I can’t help recollecting the name of Yury Kulchytsky who, by rights, should have been included into the pantheon of national heroes. He should have been as famous as some of the pivotal heroes from the past are known in many countries of the world — but he is not. Which is a shame because he does deserve a national fame.
Kozak, merchant, interpreter
The village of Kulchytsi, near Sambir, in the Land of Lvivshchyna (then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) where Yury Kulchytsky was born, is famous for giving Ukraine a number of prominent political figures, Hetman Petro Konashevych-Sahaydachny among them. Two more Cossack (Kozak would be closer both to the Ukrainian spelling and pronunciation) hetmans, Marko Zhmaylo-Kulchytsky and Pavlo Pavlyuk, also hail from the village of Kultchytsi.
The protagonist of this story was brought into life in the year 1640. He was christened Yury. In later life, he spent a lot of time in the German-speaking lands and was known there as Georg Franz Kolschitzky, and in his Polish persona he was Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki.
Little is known about his life before his twentieth year when he found his way to the Zaporizka Sich, the major Kozak centre and community in the south-east of Ukraine. Cossacks made frequent raids into the Tartar Crimea and against various Turkish targets, and Yury, who joined these raids, learnt the Turkish and Crimean Tartar language and was often employed as an interpreter.
During one of the raids he was taken prisoner by the Turks and spent some time in captivity. He became quite fluent in Turkish. All in all, he was fluent in the Turkish, German, Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish languages.
It is quite probable that it was in Turkish captivity that Yury tasted and came to like strong Turkish coffee. His knowledge of languages came to be very useful too — some Serbian merchants bought him out of the Turkish slavery and offered a position of a translator for the Belgrade branch of the Austrian Oriental Company (Orientalische Handelskompagnie). When the Turkish authorities began to be suspicious of foreign traders, regarding them to be spies, Yury avoided arrest by claiming Polish citizenship. Later he moved to Vienna where he worked as a translator at the Austrian court and continued to develop his trade business.
He bought and sold carpets, silk and precious metals. Since most of his trade partners were Turks, it is but natural to infer that he was a regular drinker of Turkish coffee — it’s hard to imagine any trade talks without coffee being served!
There is another, also quite believable, version of Kulchytsky’s life, in which he never went to Zaporizka Sich. His family had noble roots and that allowed him to make his way to Vienna where he received a good education. His career began at the Austrian embassy in Turkey. When the war between Turkey and Austria broke out, Kulchytsky returned to Vienna.
There is not enough compelling evidence in favor of either of these stories. Personally, I am inclined to choose the Kozak version — it seems to tally better with his heroic deeds in later life.
Either way, we know for sure that Kulchytsky lived in Vienna before the start of the Turkish-Austrian war in the summer of 1683. We know even the name of the street he lived in and the house number: 8 Haidgasse.
Shortly after the news of the beginning of hostilities reached Vienna, Kulchytsky voluntarily joined the Austrian army. His age (he was then forty three) and his diplomatic status would have had protected him from being drafted but he decided it was his duty to volunteer for army service. Such a move does suggest a Kozak past.
Siege of Vienna
The Ottoman wars in Europe, also known as Turkish Wars, were a series of military conflicts in which the Ottoman Empire attempted to expand its territorial holdings in Europe. These conflicts lasted for several centuries. In spite of setbacks, the Ottomans kept making their attempts to grab as much of the European territory as possible.
In 1683 started what is usually referred to as the Great Turkish War. The Ottoman Turks marched to Vienna with a force of between 140,000 and 300,000 men. Some of the protestant Hungarian noblemen, who rebelled against the Habsburg rule, supported the Turks. A Holy League was formed which included Austria and Poland, Venetians and the Russian Empire.
In the summer of 1673, the Turkish forces began their siege of Vienna.
The Viennese were appalled by the strength of the Turkish army that surrounded their city. Even though many Viennese men joined the garrison, there seemed to be little hope that the city would be able to withstand the siege for long.
An appeal for help was urgently to be sent out. Several attempts were made to send couriers to the main Habsburg forces but all messengers were captured and executed by the Turks. Kulchytsky volunteered to leave the besieged and starving city and contact Duke Charles of Lorraine, a Generalissimo of the Habsburg army. Together with his trusty servant, a Serbian, he left the city at night, on August 13, in the rain, wearing Turkish attire for disguise.
They moved stealthily at first but when the day broke, they walked on boldly. Kulchytsky even kept whistling Turkish tunes. When asked who they were, Kulchytsky said that he was a Turkish merchant who delivered food to the Turkish army. Kulchytsky talked and looked so convincing that he and his servant were even treated to a lunch.
However, their Turkish disguise almost led to their being killed by the locals when the pair were crossing the Danube.
Kulchytsky and his servant did get to the duke, and passed on the letter crying for help. The Duke gave them his own letter in which he encouraged the Viennese to hold on as the relief force was on its way.
The pair managed to return to the city, again passing through the Turkish camp. They reported that there was a promise of imminent relief and because of that, the city council decided not to surrender to the Turkish forces of Kara Mustafa Pasha and continue the fight instead.
After the arrival of Christian forces led by the Polish king Jan III Sobieski, on September 12, the siege was broken.
Kulchytsky was considered a hero by the grateful townspeople of Vienna. The city council awarded him with a considerable sum of money while the burghers gave him a house in the borough of Leopoldstadt. King Jan III Sobieski himself presented Kulchytsky with large amounts of coffee found in the captured camp of Kara Mustafa’s army.
Kulchytsky was hailed as a true hero of Vienna and given the status of honorary citizen. This status freed him from paying taxes. He was also given a job of a personal translator of the Austrian monarch.
It did not take Kulchytsky long to figure out what to do with the coffee beans that had been given as a present — he began making coffee.
He walked around town offering this beverage free of charge to anybody who would care to taste it. For advertisement reasons, he was wearing Turkish-style dress.
On August 13 1684, exactly a year after his heroic exploit (another excellent promotion stunt!), he opened a coffee house in Vienna at Schlossergassl near the cathedral. It was named Hof zur Blauen Flasche — the House under the Blue Bottle.
His coffee house was the first one of its kind in Vienna and one of the first in Europe (it is known that there were coffee houses in Venice, Oxford, Paris and some other towns).
His abilities helped popularize coffee in Austria. Soon enough his “cafe” became one of the most popular haunts in town. People came not only to drink coffee but to take a look at the proprietor who always served the mortar-ground coffee wearing Turkish attire. It added to the place’s popularity.
It was not long before he hit upon another brilliant idea — to serve coffee with milk or cream and sugar or honey. The Turks never served coffee in this way, and the new flavor was an immediate and huge success.
Kulchytsky is also credited with the invention of croissants — cakes in the shape of “the Turkish half-moon”. He charged a very small price for them, which only increased their popularity.
The homey and friendly atmosphere of Kulchytsky’s coffee house made it a place visited by people from many walks of life. He introduced musicians to entertain the patrons and greeted everyone who entered by saying, “How are you doing, dear brother — or sister?”
Kulchytsky wrote a book about his adventures and it became a bestseller.
Several more coffee houses sprang up in Vienna in imitation of Kulchytsky’s place.
Kulchytsky died on February 1694, tuberculosis being the major cause of his death. He was buried at a cemetery near the Cathedral of St Stephan (the cemetery does not exist anymore).
In 1862 a street was named after him (Kolschitzkgasse). There was a coffee house in it named after him too. Its walls were decorated with murals depicting the Battle of Vienna of 1683; there were also portraits of him and of the King Jan Sobieski.
Kulchytsky (spelled in Austria as Kolschitzky) remains a popular folk hero and the patron of all Viennese cafe owners. Until recently, every year in October a special Kolschitzky feast was organized by the cafe owners of Vienna, who decorated their shop windows with Kolschitzky’s portraits.
In commemoration of the Battle of Vienna, a sculpture to Kulchytsky was erected on the facade of the building where the coffee house was located. The figure holds in one hand a tray with a coffee cup sitting on it and in other hand — a Turkish style coffee pot.
The sculpture is still there — but the coffee house is not.
At present, there are over a thousand coffee houses in Vienna, with a great many restaurants and confectionaries which also offer coffee.
UNESCO put the Viennese culture of coffee houses on its World Heritage List in November of 2011.
Memory of Kulchytsky in Ukraine
It seems that Kulchytsky is much better remembered in Poland and in Austria (as Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki and Georg Franz Kolschitzky respectively) than in Ukraine.
It was only relatively recently that his name has resurfaced again. In the Ukrainian city of Lviv, there used to exist a coffee house named after Yury Kulchytsky. It must have been thanks to that coffee shop that an interest in Kulchytsky and his deeds began to stir up.
One of the fist private coffee houses (after Ukraine’s independence) is called The House under the Blue Bottle. It is considered to be the one of the “right” coffee haunts in Lviv, located in the central ancient part of town known as Rynok and which is frequented by the locals.
The village of Kulchytsi boasts a Local History Museum that includes an exhibition on Yury Kulchytsky with a monument to him standing in front of it. It was erected in 2010 to commemorate the 370 anniversary of Kulchytsky’s birth. The monument was unveiled during the Kulchytsky Fest traditionally held in mid-July.
The curator of the Museum, Bohdan Sydor, who is a great Kulchytsky enthusiast, loves telling stories about Kulchytsky, both true and fable, and invites the visitors to the coffee house which is located in the basement of the museum (which he himself actually founded), and treats guests with a cup of coffee made according to Kulchytsky’s recipe.
The author expresses her gratitude to Ihor Sapeliak and Serhiy Reminnyi for help they provided in research for this essay.
An old print with a view of the siege of Vienna; the two figures in the foreground are those of Yury Kulchytsky and his servant.
Yury Kulchytsky's personal seal.
Many prints and paintings were devoted to The Battle of Vienna, arguably the most important European event at that time.
The title page of Yury Kulchytsky's memoirs.
The monument to Yury Kulchytsky, at the corner of the street named after him in Vienna.
The First Coffee House in Vienna. 1683. A painting by Franz Schams. 1823.
In the memorial coffee house in the village of Kulchytsi, which boasts a museum of Yury Kulchytsky, the coffee is made to Yury Kulchytsky's recipe.
The actors who took a part in a film about Yury Kulchytsky, at the unveiling of the monument to Kulchytsky in the village of Kulchytsi.
The Kulchytsi villagers and guests at the ceremony of unveiling of the monument to Kulchytsky in 2010.
Local History Museum in Kulchytsi Open 10 am to 5 pm, Monday — off
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