Mazagran is a sweetened cold coffee beverage which is popular in countries such as Algeria (where the drink was invented), Portugal, Spain, and Austria.
It’s believed that the origins of mazagran coffee date back to 1840. It was during this time that France invaded and colonised Algeria – a north African country which borders Morocco and Tunisia.
Along with a more rudimentary form of cold brew which was consumed by Japanese sailors in the 17th century, mazagran has been described as “the original iced coffee” by some historians.
Today, the cold coffee drink is popular during the warmer months in some countries, and contains a number of ingredients.
To find out more about the history of mazagran coffee, as well as regional variations of the drink, I spoke to Tiago Marques, a manager at Café A Brasileira in Lisbon, Portugal. Read on for more of his insight.
You may also like our article on what qahwa coffee is & how you can prepare it.
What is mazagran coffee?
Although there are several ways to prepare mazagran coffee, the original recipe only included cold coffee and water. Since then, the drink has evolved to include other ingredients. These include lemon juice, cane sugar, mint, and different alcoholic spirits. However, in order to know more about mazagran coffee, we first need to look back at its history.
Where did it come from?
Many historians agree that the beverage was first invented in 1840 in Algeria, when the country was under French colonial rule (which ended in 1962). The term “mazagran” is believed to have originated from a fortress named Mazagran in the coastal town of Mostaganem in northwest Algeria. In 1837, French colonisers occupied the fortress for several years.
To cope with hotter temperatures, it was said that French colonial soldiers would drink cold coffee with added water. Some troops, meanwhile, used sweetened coffee syrup or would add different types of spirits to the beverage – including cognac and rum – to stay awake during the night.
“French colonist soldiers added cognac to their coffee to prepare for battle,” Tiago tells me. “They then added water or ice to create a cold beverage.
“When these soldiers returned to Paris, they ordered their coffee drinks ‘mazagran style’ in coffee houses and bars, which made it become a more popular drink in France,” he adds. “It was served with ice and lemon in tall glasses, [and became known as ‘café mazagran’].”
However, while it’s clear that French colonisers invented mazagran coffee as we know it today, it’s important to note that Algeria’s history of coffee consumption dates back much further.
It’s believed that in the 15th century, Yemeni Sufi monk Ali bin Omar al Shadhili introduced coffee to Algeria. At the time, coffee was commonly roasted and consumed by Sufi Muslim people. In Algeria, coffee is commonly referred to as “shadiliyye” – a moniker which is believed to come from Ali bin Omar al Shadhili.
The cultural significance of the mazagran cup
Across many African and Middle Eastern countries (such as Ethiopia, Senegal, Lebanon, and Turkey), there are a number of traditional brewing methods and coffee beverages. As part of these coffee cultures, people also use traditional brewing equipment or drinkware, such as the mazagran cup.
The tall shape of the mazagran cup was inspired by traditional Algerian coffee drinking vessels. Mazagran cups are usually made of porcelain, terracotta, or glass, and are designed to have a “foot”. In some cases, mazagran cups may also have handles, but this isn’t common.
Historically, in France, mazagran coffee was served in “mazagrin” glasses, which closely resemble the traditional mazagran cup. In fact, the historic province of Berry in France – which is well known for its intricately-designed porcelain – is believed to have manufactured mazagran cups sometime in the 19th century. Vintage mazagrans are often purchased for significant amounts of money.
Regional recipe variations
Today, mazagran coffee is on the menus of coffee houses and bars in countries like Portugal, Spain, Austria, and France – with each country often having its own unique twist on the drink.
The mazagran is especially popular in Portugal, with some even describing it as “Portuguese iced coffee”. This is largely because of the long history between Portugal and some north African countries, including Morocco.
In the 16th century, Portuguese colonisers established the Portuguese City of Mazagan – which is now part of the city of El Jadida – in Morocco. The former city is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historically significant architecture.
“For Portuguese people, the mazagran is a Portuguese drink and a national treasure, which we often consume with a pastel de nata or two,” Tiago says.
Café A Brasileira, which first opened in 1905, is one of the oldest and most famous coffee shops in Lisbon. The café was first used to import Brazilian coffee to Portugal, and has since become a popular place to visit for both locals and tourists.
Tiago says that the Mazagran has been the only cold coffee beverage on Café A Brasileira’s menu for more than 115 years.
In Portugal, it’s common to prepare a mazagran with either a filter coffee concentrate or espresso, along with ice and lemon. You can also add rum or sugar syrup.
What about other countries?
Meanwhile, in parts of Spain (mainly Catalonia and Valencia), many cafés serve mazagran coffee with lemon peel, which locals refer to as “Café del temps” or “café del tiempo”. In Austria, however, the drink only contains ice and rum – and people often consume it in one swallow.
While mazagran coffee has remained popular in these particular countries for some time, it has yet to become a part of coffee shop menus elsewhere. In fact, in 1994, Starbucks and PepsiCo launched a “Mazagran Spice Blend” carbonated drink in California, but it didn’t prove to be popular among US consumers.
Following this, Starbucks then used the coffee extract from its Mazagran Spice Blend in its ready-to-drink Frappuccino products, which quickly became a commercial success.
So, how do you make it?
Although there are many ways to prepare mazagran coffee, we have included two recipes below:
The classic Portuguese mazagran recipe
This recipe is from Felipe Caixinha, a bartender at Café A Brasileira.
- Two shots of espresso or 240ml of brewed coffee
- Two tablespoons of brown sugar
- Four to five tablespoons of fresh lemon (or lime) juice
- A few lemon (or lime) slices
- A handful of crushed ice
- A few mint leaves
- Fill a cocktail shaker (or glass with a lid) with the crushed ice.
- Add the lemon juice, sugar, and coffee. Shake vigorously.
- Serve in a tall glass and add mint leaves and lemon slices.
The “specialty” mazagran recipe
Mateus notes that if you prefer a non-alcoholic version of the drink, substitute the rum for a larger volume of cold brew – he recommends between 120ml and 150ml.
- 80 ml cold brew
- 10 ml of brown sugar syrup (mix equal parts sugar with warm water)
- 15 ml of Sicilian lemon syrup (recipe below)
- 35 ml of lemon juice
- 45 ml of rum (Mateus uses one which has been aged for seven years)
- Add all ingredients, along with large ice cubes, to a cocktail shaker.
- Shake vigorously and strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Serve in an old fashioned glass (a glass tumbler used for serving spirits) with ice.
- Garnish as desired – Mateus suggests thin slices of lemon sprinkled with ground coffee.
Mateus’ lemon syrup recipe
- In a sealable jar with a lid, place 30g of lemon peel with the pith removed.
- Add 300g white sugar and keep covered overnight at room temperature.
- The following day, add 300ml hot water and mix until the sugar completely dissolves.
- Filter the mixture and store in the fridge for up to 25 days.
The popularity of mazagran coffee in countries like Portugal and Spain is undeniable, but it’s evident that it’s yet to spread to coffee shops in other parts of the world.
However, given the immense popularity of cold brew, iced coffee drinks, and coffee cocktails with consumers across the world, it is certainly possible that we could see mazagran coffee appear on menus more further afield in the near future.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on the origins of coffee in Africa.
Photo credits: Isabelle Mani, Mateus Maneschy, Ana Luiza Sanchez, Fil de Fer
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