Ukrainians and Viennese have been arguing for ages about the origins of Europe’s first coffee houses. As far as it can be traced back, a Ukrainian war hero named Yuri Kulczycki brewed the first cup of coffee in Vienna sometime soon after the Battle for Vienna in 1683, in a place called Under the Blue Bottle.
Both countries claim credit
for inventing European coffee shops, even if for Ukraine, it is only on behalf
of its homegrown barrista Kulczycki. The typical Viennese coffee house -- an
elegant institution with high ceilings, marble-top tables and a stack of
newspapers to make one linger over an impeccable black brew with a customary
glass of water -- may be more famously known than its Ukrainian cousin, but to
trace back the origin of the communal coffee space, you have to go to Lviv, a
Medieval city in western Ukraine.
Kulczycki was a Cossack (a
mounted soldier) with a quirky moustache who came to Vienna to trade after
years on the battlefield and in captivity in Turkey, which is where he
discovered the coffee house experience he would bring to Europe and improve
upon. When the Ottoman troops laid siege on Vienna, he volunteered to sneak
through the enemy camp and persuade the Polish army to rescue the imperial
city. Dressed as an Ottoman merchant and able to speak fluent Turkish, he
accomplished the mission and saved the city during the 1683 Battle for Vienna.
As the spoils were divided, he apparently wanted just the mysterious sacks with
green beans as his reward.
Kulczycki’s coffee house,
where he roasted his pungent trophy and famously added milk and sugar for the
first time, no longer exists, but in Lviv you can experience those early
flavours in its reincarnated namesake, Under the Blue Bottle.
To find it, turn into a tiny
alley off the main Rynok Square and squirrel away from sight along old houses
until you spot an oak door with a blue bottle over it. These directions have
eluded many a lost visitor, but it is worth the hunt.
Natural light sneaks through
one small window in the otherwise candlelit room. Coffee is prepared 1700s-style: on the open fire in small
copper jugs with long handles. The brewing style differs from a traditional Turkish
three-time boil as the coffee gets removed from the stove when the first
chocolatey foam pops to the surface.
Under the Blue Bottle’s
simple, almost cold, stone interior is fitted with an Austria-Hungarian coat of
arms and wobbly chairs, inspiring intimate conversation perfect for a third
date or scheming a mysterious plan.
Locals consider it a secular
sin to order a coffee take away. In Lviv, the coffee capital of Ukraine,
experiencing the beverage properly means sitting down and hanging out while you
Another unassuming jewel,
Cafe #1 (5 Katedralna Street; 380-32-242-3369),
is nestled next to the 17th-century Renaissance Boyim chapel, with
soot-black Catholic statues adorning the facade. The coffee house is furnished
with aged sofas, mirrors and waxy tables and is popular among the youth for its
eccentric gypsy vibe, great coffee, moist cherry pies and wi-fi.
Although Lviv has more than
600 cafes, Internet is often missing from their menus to preserve the Medieval
theme that appeals to many tourists and local artists. Flocking to Lviv for
literary evenings, art salons and music performances, the latter often converge
in Dzyga Art Gallery,
which houses a bohemian cafe under a dome-shaped roof.
Lviv is also renowned for
its cakes and sweets (influenced by the border city’s neighbouring Austrian,
Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, and Armenian traditions) which compliment the coffee
shop experience. The secrets of Viennese signature apple strudel and chocolate
cake Sacher are well-known among Lviv pastry chefs but syrnyk, a moist pie made from fresh cottage cheese, is a local
specialty that many guests to the city take back home.
For the best syrnyk-coffee
combination, visit Cukiernia,
a cafe where residents and tourists form a line in the morning for a small
table in front of its glass pastry case, gleaming with dozens of sweets.