Kolschitzky and Camel Fodder

Publication Year: 

Image retrieved from 2.bp.blogspot.com June 10th, 2014

Coffee arrived in Vienna a bit later than in France. In July 1683 the Turkish army, threatening to invade Europe, massed outside Vienna for a prolonged siege. the count in charge of the Viennese troops desperately needed a messenger who could pass through the Turkish lines to reach nearby Polish troops who would come to the rescue. Franz George Kolschitzky, who had lived in the Arab world for many years, took on the job, disguised in a Turkish uniform. On September 12, in a decisive battle, the Turks were routed.
The fleeing Turks left tents, oxen camels, sheep, honey, rice, grain, gold-and five hundred huge sacks filled with strange-looking beans that the Viennese thought must be camel fodder. Having no use for camels, they began to burn the bags. Kolschitzky, catching a whiff of that familiar odor, intervened. "Holy Mary" he yelled. "That is coffee that you are burning! If you don't know what coffee is, give the stuff to me. I can find a good use for it." Having observed the Turkish customs, he knew the rudiments of roasting, grinding, and brewing, and he soon opened the Blue Bottle, the first Viennese cafe. Like the Turks, he sweetened the coffee considerably, but he also strained out the grounds and added a big dollop of milk.
Within a few decades, coffee practically fueled the intellectual life of the city. "The city of Vienna is filled with coffee houses, " wrote a visitor early in the 1700s, "where the novelists or those who busy themselves with newspapers delight to meet." Unlike rowdy beer halls, the cafes provided a place for lively conversation and mental concentration.
Coffee historain Ian Bersten believes that the Arab taste for black coffee, and the widespread European (and eventually American) habit of taking coffee with milk, owes something to genetics. The Anglo-Saxons could tolerate milk, while Mediterranean peoples-Arabs, Greek Cypriots, and southern Italians-tended to be lactose intolerant. That is why they continue to take their coffee straight, if sometimes well-sweetened. "From the two ends of Europe," writes Bersten, "there eventually developed two totally different ways to brew this new commodity-either filtered in Northern Europe or Espresso style in Southern Europe. The intolerance to milk may have even caused cappuccinos to be smaller in Italy so that milk intolerance problems could be minimized."

pp. 10, 11 Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast (1999)