Coffee and croissants

All coffee comes originally from Ethiopia where the coffee tree grows wild. By the fourteenth century, the tree was cultivated by the Arabs and exported from the port city of Mocha in today’s Yemen. But it was once the Ottomans occupied the Arabian peninsula in the first part of the sixteenth century that the habit of coffee drinking really took off. The first coffeehouse opened in Istanbul in 1554, and before long sipping coffee, eating cakes and socializing became a fashionable pastime. From the Ottoman Empire the coffee-drinking habit was exported to the rest of Europe, together with the word itself. “Coffee” comes from the Turkish kahve, and ultimately from the Arabic qahwa. The first coffee shop opened in Venice in 1645, in London in 1650 and in Paris in 1672.

Vienna has its own and quite distinct café tradition. The Viennese drink their coffee with hot foamed milk and, just as in Turkey, it is served with a glass of cold water. The first coffeehouse in Vienna was opened by a man called Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, a Polish officer in the Habsburg army that had helped liberate the city from the Ottoman siege of 1683. Since Kulczycki had spent two years as a Turkish prisoner of war, he was well acquainted with the habit of coffee drinking and was quick to spot a business opportunity. Every year, coffeehouses in Vienna used to put portraits of Kulczycki in their windows in recognition of his achievements.

There is a legend that the croissant – the flaky, crescent-shaped pastry that French people in particular like to eat for breakfast – first was invented during the siege of Vienna. According to one version of the story, the Ottomans were trying to tunnel into the city at night, but a group of bakers who were up early preparing their goods for the coming day heard them and sounded the alarm. The croissant, invoking the crescent shape so popular in Muslim countries, was invented as a way to celebrate the victory. Unfortunately, however, this story cannot possibly be true. Baked goods in a crescent shape – known as kipferl in German – were popular in Austria already in the thirteenth century.

External links:

15 Minute History, “Who are the Turks?”

History of Philosophy, “Turkish delights: Philosophy in the Ottoman Era”