Ukraine’s Coffee Capital!

  • Ukraine’s Coffee Capital!
Issue 16, September 2009.

In recent years the local authorities in Lviv have worked hard to inject a carnival atmosphere into the everyday life of the city, introducing a whole range of public holidays and festivities that have added to the traditionally Bohemian Lviv buzz and given the city a more festive, tourist-friendly feel. Few of these holidays have proved more popular or been more in line with local traditions than the annual Coffee Festival, which celebrates Lviv’s role as the founding father of today’s thriving Eastern Slavic coffee-drinking culture. Indeed, Lviv can lay claim to being the inspiration behind such European coffee culture powerhouses as Vienna and the other domains of the Habsburg Empire.
A Lviv entrepreneur named Yuriy Kulchytskiy is credited with having opened the first coffee house in Vienna itself in 1683 at a time when the culture of coffee-drinking was still relatively new to Europe in general. Ever the enterprising young Lvivian, Yuriy is said to have stocked his initial coffee shop with sacks of beans pilfered from the baggage train of the retreating Ottoman forces, which had been smashed at the gates of Vienna in a decisive moment for modern European history. While most people are still familiar with the implications for European culture of this victory over the invading Muslim Ottoman armies, few are aware that it is thought to have also indirectly ushered in a whole new era in café culture and changed the way we socialize forever. It was not long before the romantic side streets and elegant boulevards of old Lviv were dotted with coffee houses, and this tradition has survived Soviet oppression, Nazi invasion and post-Soviet inertia to emerge once more the past decade in all its former glory. Today Lviv boasts Ukraine’s most sophisticated and elegant café scene, and this month’s coffee festival will put this culture into the spotlight, with plenty of fun at all of the city’s coffee houses and around Rynok Square.

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