Seems we have the beginnings of pro-Vienna culinary history movement going on among the readership. Reader Todd writes in to say:
This email is in regards to the Viennese getting the short end of the recognition stick. My passion is coffee and I think most Americans think that the French and especially the Italians are the masters of coffee, when in fact coffee was really introduced to Europe through Vienna.
In fact that’s true. And where do we go to find the first references to coffee in the Western world? Why, the Battle of Vienna of course! A while ago I dubbed the Battle of Vienna the most baking-intensive battle in the history of man, but then what’s pastry without a good cup of coffee, eh? Here’s how the story goes.
It was the morning after the battle that saved Western civilization from annihilation by the Ottoman Empire. A ragtag assortment of soldiers and mercenaries, Austrians, Poles, Saxons and others, were picking through the debris on the smoky, corpse-filled plain, swiping loot from Ottoman encampments and putting mortally wounded enemy fighters out of their misery. Under one burned-out tent, a soldier finds a sack full of shiny, black beans.
“Hey, what are these things?” he asks.
“Put that down, soldier, you don’t know where it’s been,” his commanding officer replies.
“No really,” says the soldier. “What is this stuff, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The officer approaches and sniffs. “Camel dung,” he says. “I told you these Turks were demented. Now come help drag this giant gold hookah back to my apartment.”
“No, wait, hang on a second!” says a Polish scout by the name of Kolschitzky. “I know what this is! You grind this stuff up and you drink it.” The soldier and officer simply stare. “No really, it’s true! Help me collect up all this stuff and we’ll open Vienna’s first café together.”
“You’re on your own on that one, Kolschitzky,” the officer says, turning back to the soldier. “Come on, Private, put your back into it!”
And so Vienna’s first coffee house was born. Or anyway, that’s the story. Supposedly it wasn’t actually Mr. Kolschitzky who opened Vienna’s very first café. That distinction, it’s now thought, belongs to one Johannes Diodato, an Armenian who grew up near Constantinople and knew all about coffee preparation. Kolschitzky, it seems, opened his café a year later.
Whether coffee was actually first found on the charred battlefields, there’s no way to know (I, for one, am skeptical). It’s argued by some that the sacks of coffee were actually left behind as revenge by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who foresaw that in time Westerners would be shelling out upwards of five bucks for cups of the stuff, causing pernicious long-term drains on personal disposable income. That however is just a theory. What’s true is that a mere two years after the battle of Vienna, cafés were becoming pillars of Viennese culture, not to mention big-time outlets for buttery, sugary munchie food.