2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Ukraine Falls In Love With Coffee, Again

Ukraine Falls In Love With Coffee, Again

Coffee in Dnipro

When discussing coffee, one might think of Italy and Austria, of Colombian blends, and of deep jungles in the heart of South America. Rarely does one think of Ukraine. But, for many Ukrainians, coffee is now not just a treat, but a daily necessity. As I walk through the city of Dnipro, I can’t help but notice all the coffee shops. Sometimes there are as many as four on the same street.

Almost every morning I walk past the Holy Trinity Cathedral to my favorite coffee shop in Dnipro. The name, My Coffee, conveys warmth and a reminder that I belong. It suggests that even I can have something of my own in this grey but welcoming city. It’s one of the newer ones, reflecting the city’s changes. Its yellow and wood interior is small, but never congested. I would not describe it as homey. It’s slick but easy, angular but cozy. I usually order a cappuccino, and they give me a choice of Arabic or a Costa Rican blend.

It wasn’t always like this. Like modern Russia, Ukraine was a country of instant coffee and tea. It is only in the past five years that coffee has taken center stage. And with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginnings of the war in Donbas, came a desire, even a need, to invest in Ukraine. To remember Ukrainian culture. To feel pride.

This is perhaps why Yuri Kulczycki has had somewhat of a renaissance. Kulczycki was born in 1640 in what was then part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and is now western Ukraine. According to a long-held (and only recently disputed legend, Kulczycki founded Vienna’s first coffeehouse, Zur blauen Flasche (“at the blue bottle” or “the place with the blue bottle”) after the Ottomans’ unsuccessful Siege of Vienna in 1683. He was a hero in Vienna because, as a fluent Turkish speaker, he managed to smuggle crucial messages in and out of the besieged city by posing as a Turkish merchant.

Kulczycki’s siege heroics may be true, but his link to Vienna’s coffee tradition, less so: according to more recent sources, Vienna’s first coffeehouse was actually founded by an Armenian, out of his apartment building. Kulczycki’s link to Vienna’s coffee tradition appears to have been invented in 1783, in Gottfried Uhlich’s history of the Turkish siege.

But no matter. The original Blue Bottle coffeehouse—and whoever opened it—is long gone. But there is now a new Blue Bottle coffeehouse in Lviv, honoring this legend. Lviv now has more than 600 cafes. Dnipro, my current home in Ukraine, has fewer, but more keep opening.

It’s strange now to imagine a Ukraine without coffee shops. To walk down the boulevards and not smell the aroma of roasted beans. Some Ukrainian history may have once been lost, but, like the location of your favorite coffee shop, it’s never forgotten.

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