How the church invented cappuccino

Does a cappuccino make you think of the church? What about a croissant? Or a bagel?

They’re all related, thanks to the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire under the leadership of Polish King Jan (John) III Sobieski and the Battle of Vienna that was waged in September 332 years ago.

For three months, the Ottoman army laid siege Vienna, seeking to gain the city, even tunneling under the gates to take the city from inside. Vienna was a key trade route and crucial to the plan to overtake Christian Europe.

15-hour battle

A combined army of about 80,000, led by Sobieski, attacked the vastly larger Ottoman army on Sept. 12, 1683. After a 15-hour battle, Sobieski’s troops — with the famous mounted Hussars — routed the Ottoman Turks and captured the tent of Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. He escaped, but the day was a route for the Ottoman Empire and ended their attempt to conquer Europe.

The fleeing Ottoman soldiers left behind many items, including bags of a hard, black bean that was largely unknown in Europe. From it, the Turks had made a drink called khafir. Before long, Austrians, were brewing coffee and the rest is history.

The stories vary about who had the insight to begin selling coffee. Legend says it was Blessed Marco d’Aviano, a Capuchin friar beatified by St. John Paul II on April 27, 2003, who rallied the Christian troops with prayer before the Sept. 12 battle., He later found the sacks of coffee beans that the Turkish forces had left behind in their haste, brewed some, but found it too bitter. So he added honey and milk, thus turning the coffee a light brown. The Viennese called it ‘little Capuchin,’ or cappuccino, in honor of the color of the Capuchin habit Blessed Marco wore. However, this legend seems of fairly recent origin than the 17th century.

A spy and coffee

Another story is that Jan Sobieski had a spy, who was also a merchant, who had travelled in the Middle East and was fluent in Turkish. The spy, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, was able to get behind enemy lines and bring intelligence back to the king, as well as get safely out of the besieged city to alert reinforcements.

After the battle, Kulczycki was rewarded with the coffee beans and used them to open Vienna’s first coffee house. The bitter drink was not at first popular; but Kulczycki mixed in milk and honey and business blossomed. Added to that was the fact that Kulczycki would dress in Turkish attire to serve customers, attracting more people. Today, a statue of Kulczycki, attired as a 17th century Turk, stands on a popular old city street corner, holding a coffee pot and a tray of pastries, variously identified as bagels or croissants.

Stirrups and Crescents

Croissants and bagels also have ties to the Battle of Vienna. While bagels were created long before the 17th century, their resemblance to a horseman’s stirrup has been noted since this battle in Vienna. Part of the reason that Jan Sobieski’s cavalry — the 20,000 Hussars — were able to overran the Ottoman Empire’s army was that they used stirrups. This gave them a definite advantage over the Turks, who did not. Also the German word for “stirrup” is bügel. Finally, while legend says that Jewish bakers in Vienna created the bagel to honor Jan Sobieski, what is more likely is that the king lifted the ban on Jewish bakers selling the knotted pastry treat after the battle, in gratitude for the aid of Vienna’s Jewish population.

The croissant — the flaky pastry with the French name — also traces itself to Vienna. (We can thank Marie Antoinette, who was born an Archduchess of Austria, for bringing the treat to Paris.) During the siege of Vienna, the Ottoman Empire’s army tunneled under the walls of the city. However, the story goes, a baker was working late and heard the digging under his shop. He alerted the Viennese army and the tunnel was collapsed. The baker, to commemorate the subsequent liberation of the city, made a new pastry in the shape of the Turkish crescent, the croissant. The rest is sort of a “we beat them, now we eat them” history.


Sources:;;;;; “The Catholic Encyclopedia” and