While it’s pretty unlikely that you’ve come across mazagran on the menu board down at your local coffee shop, you can probably walk in with a fair degree of certitude that they’ll have some kind of iced coffee (or cold brew) available.
Some people consider mazagran to be the first “official” iced coffee recipe—but like many other coffee origin stories—including the origin of coffee as a beverage itself—mazagran’s history is a little hazy.
What is Mazagran?
Mazagran is a cold coffee drink that is made with sugar and lemon.
Before you say it, yes—it’s essentially a form of coffee lemonade. It’s sometimes simply called “lemon coffee.”
As you might expect, mazagran has a fairly complex flavor profile.
With its citrus flavors swirling around its strong, dark coffee/espresso flavors, it’s something you really have to try yourself to understand how it tastes.
What’s the Story?
The (abridged) story goes that mazagran was originally created by French Foreign Legion soldiers. At one point the soldiers were confined inside their fort—an outpost near the small town of Mazagran, Algeria.
Due to limited resources while they were fighting across the Mediterranean, they were forced to use cold water to dilute their coffee, instead of cutting it with milk or brandy as they normally would. Besides giving them energy, the iced coffee also helped them cool off under the Algerian sun.
When those soldiers got back to France, the recipe for their drink spread to cafes, and soon a cold coffee drink named “mazagran” was widely available in the country.
What About the Lemon and Sugar?
Believe it or not, no one seems to have a clear idea of exactly when the lemon or the sugar was added to the official drink recipe.
It may have started after the drink spread across the border into Portugal. (The French Foreign Legion certainly weren’t being supplied with lemons from their homeland, nor were they probably leaving the fort to pick them very much.)
Finding Mazagran Today
Today the drink isn’t very popular in Algeria or France—replaced by more standard “iced coffee” variations. However, it continues to be popular in Portugal and is not difficult to find in coffee shops.
While the Algerian-French beverage seems to have transplanted itself entirely from France to Portugal for whatever reason, coffee that’s served in a tall glass is still referred to as “mazagrin.”
That’s enough history for today—let’s make mazagran!
How to Make Mazagran
- The best, strongest coffee you can find
- Ice cubes (enough to fill a glass)
- 2 lemon wedges
- (Optional) Vanilla extract and/or cinnamon syrup
- Brew a strong cup of coffee using your normal method.
- Fill a tall glass with ice cubes, and carefully pour your freshly brewed coffee on top of the ice (make sure not to pour hot coffee directly on glass or it may break).
- Squeeze the juice from your 1st lemon wedge and sugar to taste.
- (Optional) If desired, add drops of vanilla extract or cinnamon syrup to taste.
- Give the drink some good stirs.
- Garnish the glass with the 2nd lemon wedge.
- Salut! (Cheers!)
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