“It Didn’t Begin In Brazil”
America has been referred to as a ‘melting pot’ but if you had a television camera focused in on every kitchen (and there are almost 100 million of them) on any random weekday morning, I think we could more aptly reclassify our country as one huge ‘boiling pot’ — of coffee that is!
According to the National Coffee Association, there are approximately 405 million cups of coffee drunk in the United States each and every day. As you might easily guess, this story doesn’t end here. Let us, therefore, now go back in time to Central Europe where the practice of drinking coffee had much earlier origins. . . .
The first cafe in Central Europe was opened in Vienna in 1683 by a Pole named Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. The story goes that Kulczycki served as a courier, repeatedly bringing important information out of Vienna, beleaguered by the Turkish Army under the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha, to the relieving army under King Jan Sobieski. In return for his services he obtained the privilege to open a public coffee house, the first in Vienna and, in fact, in the whole of Central Europe.
Coffee first appeared in Poland a few years later. In the 18th century the coffee-drinking habit was widespread throughout the country.
Jedrzej Kitowicz, contemporary author of the famed “Description of Customs and Habits in the Reign of Augustus III,” wrote that . . . “The coffee-drinking habit first spread to the courts of great nobles, followed by the nobility in general and later by the prosperous merchant class.” Later still it spread “from the affluent classes to the general populace . . . tailors and shoemakers, street-vendors and porters, even the meanest of the populace all took to coffee.”
Father Benedykt Chmielowski wrote in his famous Encyclopaedia, first published in 1745-46, that “coffee is a beverage used by almost all Oriental and European nations. The effects of this beverage are to make the head free of stomach humours, prevent sleep, dispel intestinal wind and produce a concoction in the stomach.”
Many foreigners also wrote about the popularity coffee enjoyed in Poland. Johann Erich Biester, head of the Royal Library in Berlin, wrote in 1791 in his “Letters on Poland” that “even in neighbouring countries, good strong coffee is known as Polish and the weak brew as German coffee.” Johann Joseph Kausch, a Silesian medical practitioner, wrote that “nowhere had he found such good coffee as in Poland. The coffee there is extraordinarily strong and limpid, the cream most creamy, so that people never take more than one cupful at a time.”
Coffee became a universally used beverage recommended even by doctors. “In the morning, the best way to taking coffee is with milk, but in the afternoon pure black coffee is best” was the advice given in 1794 by Jedrzej Krupinski, a learned proto medic in the Kingdom of Galicia. The poet Ignacy Krasicki, Bishop of Warmia, in a letter addressed from brother to sister in 1784, wrote the following reflection on the subject of coffee: “Achilles and Caesar were great men both, but knew not the delights of a cup of coffee with cream.”
Adam Mickiewicz himself testified to the importance once attached to the making of coffee. A well-known line in Book II of his famous epic “Pan Tadeusz” runs: “In every self-respecting Polish home. . . there is a special woman for the making of coffee, known as the coffee-girl. She must be versed in all the secrets of coffee brewing, which should have the blackness of coal and the translucence of amber, the aroma of Mocca and the consistence of mead.”
The first coffee house in Warsaw was opened in 1724 by a courtier of King Augustus I but to begin with as a chronicler wrote, “it was frequented by Saxon couriers only, nobody else went there. It was not until the middle of the century that cafes began winning popularity. The first cafe opened in 1763, enjoyed great popularity despite the fact that the premises were on the third floor.”
The first open-air garden cafe was opened in the 1780’s on the site where Parliament now stands. It was known as Wiejska Kawa (the Rural Cafe). A few years later, the famous Tyrolska (Tyrolian) Cafe was opened and after that cafes began springing up all over the city like mushrooms after rain. In 1822, there were 90 cafes in Warsaw and their number kept growing. A census taken in 1824 disclosed that 104 people in Warsaw were ‘cafe keepers’ which is sure proof that it was a thriving business. Cafes were soon opened in all the more important streets in the city. Some were literary salons in their own right and played an important role in social life. Many people wrote about the role cafes played in city life, men like historian, folklorist and chronicler Kazimierz Wladyslaw Wojcicki. The heading Wojcicki gave to his description of literary life prior to the outbreak of the November 1830 Rising was “The Literary Cafes of Warsaw.”
According to his testimony, the oldest of them all was “Pod Kopciuszkiem” (Cinderella Cafe) in Dluga Street, where Warsaw University professors were regular customers as well as the founder of “Kurier Warszawski” (The Warsaw Courier) and its chief editor, the director of the National Theatre, musicians and theatre artists. “Ah,” Wojcicki sighed, “would that a painter with the skill of an Orlowski had visited the place, what a collection of drawings and caricatures he would have amassed of the sort of characters that are becoming increasingly scarce.” Cinderella Cafe changed premises repeatedly; between 1826 and 1830 it was housed in a residence occupied by another cafe which was frequented by the young generation and was popularly known as Dziurka (The Den) because, according to one of its customers, the door off the staircase leading to it was so narrow, nobody could guess where it would lead to. It was a cozy little place where people would sit over their coffee perusing the home and foreign press. “The cafe consisted of an entrance room where an excellent brew of coffee was made over an open-hearth fireplace and two other rooms where customers sat savouring their coffee, one overlooked the narrow street, the other gazed on a dark backyard. The cafe was a great favourite with university youth, students from various higher schools, writers both young and elderly. From noon on, it was always full. An exemplary quiet reigned there, interrupted now and again by a subdued flow of conversation, careful not to disturb people reading their newspapers.”
As you can see, the cafe or coffee played an important role in setting the tone of society life and in exerting great influence on Poland’s intellectual life.
Now that you know so much more about the popularity of coffee — isn’t it about time you’ve had a cup!!
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .