Mazagran, the taste of someone’s summer somewhere

Illustration for article titled Mazagran, the taste of someone’s summer somewhere
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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I first learned about the existence of mazagran, a blend of iced coffee and lemonade, two weeks ago, from an article that offered suggestions of new international coffee horizons to explore for people who had grown weary of dalgona coffee. As it happens, I have yet to grow tired of dalgona coffee, but mazagran sounded fascinating enough to investigate. It’s very rare that you read about something without being able to imagine what it could possibly taste like.

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But I like coffee, and I like lemonade, and a few commenters said it was surprisingly refreshing and that the acidity wouldn’t kill me, so I decided to look into it.

The first thing I learned is that mazagran isn’t always mazagran. Or, rather, mazagran contains multitudes. The original Mazagran is a town in Algeria. Back in the late 1830s, French soldiers crossed the Mediterranean to colonize the entire country. Depending on which story you hear, the garrison was either briefly captured in 1837 or the soldiers were caught in the middle of a battle in 1840. Whatever the case, they were cut off from their precious supplies of milk and brandy that they mixed in their coffee. In desperation, they turned to water. Much to their surprise, it was not as terrible as they’d feared. It was even refreshing. They enjoyed it so much, they brought this innovation back to Paris.

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For most of the next century, but mostly between the Belle Epoque and World War II, mazagran was an essential part of Parisian café culture. Mostly it referred to black coffee served in a glass as opposed to a cup, which was called a demitasse. But in summer, cafe owners would serve mazagrans over ice with a side of cold water. Sometimes they added seltzer. Sometimes they added a slice of lemon and a straw. According to one source, when it crossed the ocean to the U.S., it became known as a coffee highball.

After the war, the mazagran became passé in Paris. But it migrated and evolved. In Austria, it’s served with rum, and (at least according to guidebooks) you have to drink it all at once, like a shot. And in Portugal, it’s served with sweetened lemon juice. Or sometimes lime juice. Iced coffee is also served with lemonade in Sweden, but there they’ve dispensed with the mazagran business and call it kaffelemonad. Coffeeheads have brought it back to America where they call it coffee lemonade. Which, if you haven’t guessed already, is English for kaffelemonad. So many names for the same damned thing!

Confusingly, mazagran is also the name of the first drink Starbucks tried to sell in its bottling deal with Pepsi. It was a coffee soda with no lemon whatsoever, and it was a flop. But if the Starbucks mazagran had been successful, we might not have bottled Frappuccinos, and what a tragedy that would be.

After all that research, I was thirsty. Of course, it would have been way easier to pour myself a glass of water, so I did that. But I still wanted to taste mazagran.

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There are even more recipes for mazagran than there are names and definitions. You can use espresso or cold-brew coffee or even Nespresso if you’re really devoted to it. You can use sugar or simple syrup. You can serve it shaken or stirred. You can add sparkling water or still. You can add rum or not. One thing you must never, ever do is use lemon juice from those little plastic lemons because that stuff is gross. Squeeze your own damned lemons. Or limes.

I tried several preparations—none, alas, with rum because I left my bottle behind at my last job. It was... surprising. You taste the lemonade first, and then coffee comes in at the finish. It’s not much different than iced tea with lemon, I guess, except the obvious: coffee flavor instead of tea. It’s sweet and tart and bitter, and it tastes like summer.

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It’s not a drink for gulping down as fuel first thing in the morning. Well, unless you like a lot of tartness for breakfast. It’s more a drink for sipping, like a cocktail, in the middle of the morning or late in the afternoon, preferably in a shady spot, like a porch or a veranda or a cafe table (but at a safe social distance!), where you can sit and watch the world go by. One of the world’s most luxurious sounds, I think, is the clink of ice in a glass. It shows that someone cared enough to use glass instead of plastic and that you’ve got time to sit with your drink, to enjoy it and savor it. It’s a cheap luxury, but aren’t those the best kind?


Illustration for article titled Mazagran, the taste of someone’s summer somewhere
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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Mazagran

There are dozens of ways to make a mazagran or kaffelemonad, and if you like the result, then none of them are wrong. Here’s one way, with options.

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  • 2 shots espresso, chilled, or 5 oz. cold-brew coffee (I prefer espresso and make mine in a moka pot over the stove, but if you don’t have one and aren’t fancy enough to own a countertop espresso machine, you can buy shots at your friendly neighborhood coffee shop. Yes, it’s a pain, but overall, it will take less time than the 24 hours it takes to steep some cold brew. If you’re using cold-brew concentrate, remember to dilute it first.)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Simple syrup or sugar, to taste
  • Ice
  • A lemon wheel for garnish, if you’re feeling fancy
  • Rum, to taste (optional)

If you’re using sugar instead of simple syrup and espresso instead of cold-brew, mix the sugar into the coffee while it’s still hot so it will dissolve better.

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Pour the coffee into a glass. Pour the lemon juice over it. The lemon juice should sit on top of the coffee in a separate layer, which looks kind of neat. Add the simple syrup or sugar, and the rum, if you’re using it. Stir it all together (or shake it in a cocktail shaker). Pour it over ice and garnish with the lemon wheel. Sip and enjoy.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

After seeing this and the post about sorrel, I should mention sumac. Last year I picked some wild sumac here in Southern Illinois to make Caucasus-region dishes, and I also steeped some to make a pitcher of sumac...tea? I added a little sugar, and it tastes almost exactly like Lipton’s citrus green tea. Delicious!

(Yes, there is poison sumac, but it’s not found around here and easy to spot, in any case, as the berries are white instead of the bright rusty-red of the edible kind.)