Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
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At the end of the 17th century, this enterprising man, wanting to accustom the inhabitants of the city to a new drink, distributed it himself through the streets in jugs on a tray — one kreuzer apiece.

But the product was not in demand: firstly, as it came from the hated conquerors, and secondly, because it tasted bitter!

How to change the attitude of residents to this drink?

The answer is a little later.




The workplace is arranged in the special way, the hearth is in the other — different purposes, different rooms. But this is not everything that a person needs for a normal existence. Its inalienable need is a good place for recreation, pleasant rest and joyful communication.

This is not about a special space in a person’s house, but about a public place where everyone can come and receive all the benefits listed. Something like a club, where you can go to relieve unnecessary stress and chat with those, who came there for the same reason.

Most of the time such place is also a catering point. And it’s not the spot that was created specially for eating — it’s not that much of a hindrance, especially when it’s not necessary, but the goal-setting here is somewhat different. Tuck-in at least distracts customers from communication, but a small amount of food…

Something that is even better could be not even a food, but a drink — just to sip during the conversation, enjoying not only communication, but also taste. It would be nice if the taste had a lot of shades and subtleties to chat about. And if it somehow invigorates you — that is even much nicer!




Few things in the world were not invented in the Ancient Mesopotamia, and one of the most popular drinks for gatherings also originated there. The Sumerians called it “kas”, which roughly translates as “what the mouth wants.” According to the tradition, it was cooked by women.

The procedure was not so simple: the barley, that was used for it, was firstly salted, than fried and grounded. Cone-shaped pies were molded from it, which were sometimes also baked for greater caramelization. What kind of drink turned out, it is already clear — beer, of course, what else could it be!

The tapster, who brewed the beer, was selling it out by filling each glass at retail, usually in a special room, where the working Sumerian people discussed the intrigues of their Akkadian neighbors, the virtues of the local priestesses of the goddess of love Ashtoret and the content of the clay tablets over a mug of kasa. A wonderful rest after a hard day — that is not worse than ours!

The tale, that for bad beer a tapster was either drowned in it, or ordered to drink it until they die, is a later fantasy, there is no such thing in the laws of Hammurabi. But there is a demand to kill a tavern woman who has not handed over the seditious gathering at her place to the authorities. This, it turns out, comes from the Sumerians…




There is no large distance between Mesopotamia and Egypt. So it’s not surprising that beer has taken root there too — the climate is the same, the plants are the same. And another benefit is the same — drinking beer, where it’s hard for bacteria to multiply well, is much safer than the local unboiled water.

Egyptian beer was brewed on an industrial scale, breweries were even a part of the temple complexes, so it was not women, but men who did this in Egypt. The Egyptians called beer “heket” and treated it with caution — some papyri even castigate alcoholism.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Beer in ancient Egypt

Egyptian legends praised beer for saving mankind when the god Ra became angry with the people and sent the formidable goddess Sekhmet with the head of a lioness to heat them up. But cunning people slipped her 40,000 mugs of beer with mandrake, she fell asleep, and humanity was saved.

The Egyptians could not imagine their life without beer that much, so it was even included in the rations of the builders of the pyramids. It was over a beer, bitter Nubian or sweet from the dates, they whiled away their leisure time, discussing the quarrel between Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the level of the Nile’s rise and the Hittite threat.




Surprisingly, wine is much older than beer — there is evidence of it’s finds that are 8000 years old, the beer is 2-3 millennia less. And for a table talks, wine is not worse than beer — the taste is also rich, but there is even more alcohol in the wine. By the way, the Egyptians already had wine, although not everywhere.

But the Greeks, who could not grow the grains well on the rocky soil there, but their the grapes were surprisingly good, quickly abandoned beer in favor of wine and even the god of beer Atys, who was popular with their Lydian neighbors, was renamed Dionysus and found another drink for him to patronize.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Dionysus was originally the god of beer

Wine among the Greeks was usually quite strong, but they practically did not drink it undiluted — it was considered bad form, and they diluted it quite strongly. True, they managed to get really drunk even with a diluted drink. There is a story in ancient Greek literature about revelers, who thought they were on a sinking ship and started throwing furniture out of windows to save it.

There were enough taverns, but private libations were also arranged, where married women were not invited — only hetairas. They called such gathering “symposium”, that’s where the word “symposium” came from. That’s what scientists are doing there! Or at least dream about it…

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Symposium in Greek




It is clear that moderate doses of ethyl alcohol make the conversation more relaxed. But alcohol also has certain disadvantages. Is there any drink for gatherings that does not contain alcohol, but also stimulates energy and looseness, so that the head does not hurt later?

The Aztecs found such drink. It was prepared from the fruits of a moisture- and shade-loving plant with beautiful pink or white flowers, which grows so poorly in the sun that it is usually planted in the shade of coconut palms or bananas — although this is technically grass, but it is much taller.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Aztec drinking cocoa

They called this tree the Aztec word “xocatl”, which is difficult for us, and the Olmecs who lived in those places before them simply said “kakava”. Do you remember Lyolik in The Diamond Arm used to say “there will be kakava with tea for you!”? During the stagnation, of course, they concealed the meaning of this word from the people, but now it is completely clear to us that he was an Olmec. Now we have a lot of it, you can eat as much as you like.

The fruits of this tree were highly valued. For a fried turkey, they asked for 200 of such fruits, and the whole complex of pleasures from an intergirl from the Mayan people could be obtained in just 6 fruits. That is, for one turkey, it was required to please 33 Indians —  such a powerful peoples there were…

The Aztecs prepared a bitter tonic drink called “foamy water” from grated fruits with red pepper and vanilla, in the Aztec dialect — “xocoatl.” It tones you up no worse than alcohol, and the head is not aching! It was said that without this drink, the emperor Montezuma would never enter his own harem, and his usual dose was 60 cups a day. Maybe they’re not lying — the size of the cups is not indicated …




Both wine and beer, which appeared in Asia, and American chocolate have perfectly taken root in Europe precisely as stimulating drinks that promote active communication (an overdose of alcohol does not count). But that was not everything — a camellia from the Far East came to their aid.

The long-known in China broth of leaves of one of the species of camellias almost simultaneously came to different parts of Europe — to London and Moscow. It was brought to Moscow by land, from northern China, where it is called “cha”, and it sailed to England by sea, from South China — there it is called “te.”

It came to Russia not without adventures — the Russian ambassador, who was presented with, among other things, four packs of tea, decided that the damned Chinese people were mocking him, offering hay as a gift, treating him as a cattle. Fortunately, he brought it home, and the tsar and the patriarch tried it, and they liked it.

There were also difficulties in the British Isles. The mother of one of the captains, who brought a local delicacy from the Far East, had no instructions and cooked it as best she could — boiled until it got soft, drained the water, salted and peppered, seasoned with oil and served. Guests liked it…

But everything slowly improved, and tea houses were added to the beer houses, taverns and bodegas, where one could sit and chat over a fragrant drink: in the East — about royal decrees, in the West — about parliamentary bills, and, which is funny, they said the same things…




And by the way, around the middle of the 9th century, the Ethiopian shepherd Kaldim noticed that if his goats eat the leaves of one plant, they begin to jump in crazy way. Kaldim tasted both the leaves and the fruits of this plant, made sure that he, too, was experiencing some kind of special cheerfulness, and informed the abbot of the local monastery, who began to water the monks with the decoction of this fruits.

This is more of a legend, but something similar was clearly in fact. The monks really fell asleep less often during long services, and the effect of a decoction of the roasted seeds of this plant became known to the Arab neighbors, who called it “kahwa” — translated as “something that drives the sleep away.”

From there, coffee quickly reached the Ottoman Empire, where in 1555 the first coffee house was opened for everyone. To be honest, when the grand vizier in disguise went there and listened to what the people were saying about the authorities, not only the coffee house was closed, but coffee was also banned…

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Old turkish coffee shop

However, the ban did not last long — the drink managed to be liked by all the Turks. But it did not manage to cross the Mediterranean Sea and spread in Europe right away — the clergy objected, calling it  “the black blood of the Turks” and convicting this potion of a detrimental effect on Christian souls.


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One of those, who helped the invigorating drink to cross the Mediterranean was Yuri-Franz Kulchytsky. Three hetmans came from his native village of Kulchytsi in the 18th century: Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny, Marko Zhmaylo-Kulchytsky, and Pavlo But (Pavliuk). Quite a lot!

Few sources have been preserved, so it has not yet been decided whether he was an Orthodox gentry or, like other gentries of the Sas coat of arms, adhered to the Catholic rite (this is also indicated by the name Franz). Some people consider him Serb Djuro Kolcic, but what’s the difference?

They say that he went to the Sich from a young age and during one of the campaigns he was captured by the Ottomans, where he perfectly studied the Turkish language — besides it, he also knew Hungarian, Serbian, German and Romanian. According to the legend, in captivity he was cured of a migraine by drinking coffee.

Having escaped from captivity, Kulchitsky started trading in oriental goods, but then left his business and went to work as a court courier between the Habsburg monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. For such occupation, knowledge of not only the Turkish language, but also Turkish customs was a clear advantage.




In 1683, the Turkish Sultan tried to storm Vienna once again . Besieged by a 200,000-strong army, the city with a 16,000-strong garrison held out with all its might and thought about having to surrender. Then a courier was sent from the city with a request for help — it was Kulchitsky who was the one.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Kulchitsky on an engraving from 1683

With a Serb servant who also spoke fluent Turkish, they crossed the line of trenches and managed to pass themselves off as Turkish merchants. The besiegers let them pass, mistaking them for natural Turks, but the Austrians almost killed them — for the same reason… But they managed to pass the letters.

By another route, they returned to the besieged city and assured everyone that help would come soon . The crown decided not to surrender, and soon the troops of Jan III Sobieski lifted the siege from Vienna and defeated the Turks. The time has come to hand out awards to those involved in the success — including Kulchitsky.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Victory of Jan Sobieski near Vienna

The commander was not stingy — Kulchitsky was presented with a house, and money, and a silver medal, and the title of “Caesar translator”. And when he asked to give him 300 bags of some incomprehensible grains, which were mistaken for camel food, no one was against it.

He decided to try to sell the drink he knew to the Viennese. He himself walked around the city with a tray laden with cups of hot coffee, and offered to those who wished for just a kreuzer. But the Viennese did not appreciate the drink — some kind of bitter, and in general it came from the godless Turks… How to convince them?




Just because you don’t like a product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Maybe you just need to add something to it, in order to improve the attitude of consumers towards it?

The main thing is to correctly decide what exactly needs to be added…




The most obvious action to improve the taste was the same, that was already done with tea and chocolate — add some sugar. The Turks did not do this, adding only some spices to coffee — usually cinnamon or vanilla. And with sugar, the drink immediately became clearly tastier.

The next step was also worked out on tea — to add milk, the British basically drink tea this way. This immediately softened the taste of the drink, which was harsh for an unaccustomed person, and made it more acceptable. But how to get away from the association with an openly hostile country?

It turned out that this is also possible — you just need not to weaken this association, but to strengthen it, but change the sign. Kulchitsky began to bake and serve a crescent-shaped bagel with coffee — here’s a harmful Muslim symbol for you, bite off a piece of it and eat it, it’s great!

When the attitude towards coffee changed, he opened the cafe Under the Blue Bottle in the center of Vienna, at Domgasse 6, which soon became a popular place in the city. He himself served coffee in a luxurious and exotic Turkish outfit — this no longer disgusted, rather attracted.




Cafes in Vienna are still a favorite place to relax, meet, and work. A student who is cramming his notes before the exam can sit here, and a passer-by who has forgotten his umbrella and got caught in the rain, politicians and philatelists, lovers and businessmen meet here, and everyone can find their own coffee. The assortment of different types of this drink offered here will not fit on the table.

As you tell the waiter “klein” — he will bring a small cup, “gross” – a large one, there is also “kenchen” — a jug for two. If you want your drink without milk — say “schwartz”, with milk — “braun”. You can have a couple of drops of milk — this is “cappucсino”, a little more — “nous”, even more — “gold”, and coffee and milk equally — “wiener melange”. For each cup of coffee – the same amount of cold water.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
How coffee is served in Vienna

There is also a “gespritz”, “with injection” — with a small bottle of cognac, rum, calvados, grappa or even vodka. And children usually ask for “mit schlag” — “with a blow”, this is a coffe with a cap of cream sprinkled with chocolate chips. And at least as many options — for every taste.

So the work begun by Kulchitsky received a worthy continuation. Its primacy is now disputed, it is proved that the Armenian Johannes Diodato opened a cafe in Vienna even earlier, and the first coffee was brought to Europe by the Venetians at the beginning of the 17th century. But is it worth depriving Kulchitsky of his merits if someone traded coffee before? This is not a running race!

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Monument to Kulchitsky in Vienna




A dry conversation, by definition, is not harmonious enough — with a cup or a glass in hand, the conversation becomes softer and more varied. Unless, of course, there are not too many glasses…

Even in Ancient Mesopotamia, it was not recommended to relax in public places — if you say something wrong, and the tavern clerk will report, otherwise she herself will be punished… And what has changed?

It turns out that not only alcohol disinhibits. In cocoa there is theobromine, in tea and coffee — caffeine, they work no worse than alcohol, and there are fewer dangers. However Balzac, who died from excessive coffee consumption, is also worth remembering…

If something doesn’t work, see how similar problems were solved. Both tea and cocoa became more attractive after adding sugar — why not to do the same with coffee?

They say that there are too many fabrications in the stories about Kulchitsky… And where are there not? Kulchitsky himself is quite real — he just lived too long ago. But monuments to him are still standing now, and they are definetly more than real…

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to Sell an Unusual Bitter Drink?
Monument to Kulchitsky in Lviv


All illustrations from open sources

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