My earliest memory of coffee dates back to the age of five. I can remember my grandfather holding my younger brother in one arm, and with the free hand of his other, an espresso cup.
As he rocked my brother, who was just two at the time, he would bring the espresso cup to his lips… and then to my brother’s.
My brother’s small face scrunched in surprise, the bitter taste of the espresso sitting heavy against his tongue, before finally registering into what can only be described as an expression of pure excitement.
Each time the cup was raised to his lips, it was as though he was experiencing espresso again for the first time. While I’ve never known for certain, I’ve always cherished the thought that my grandfather had likely done the same with me.
I have always loved coffee, but only recently began to take a real interest in the customs and traditions surrounding it.
This interest began with my first trip back home to Algeria. I suddenly realized how differently coffee was consumed elsewhere.
In Algeria, it was treated less like an urgency, and more like a delicacy. It was always consumed sitting down, either in a cafe or in your home, and never in a hurry.
On one particularly warm morning during my visit, I found myself craving an iced coffee. Unequipped with the exact words needed to communicate my request, I opted for the roughest possible translation instead — café and froid. Literally… coffee and cold.
I watched as my grandmother proceeded to mix cold water into a glass of instant powdered coffee. She handed me the glass with confidence and I — sure that my translation had failed me — accepted the glass out of politeness more so than anything else.
In actuality, what she had made me was a version of the first iced coffee ever created.
The French invasion of Algeria began in the 1830s when they seized control of the Ottoman Empire. In the latter half of the decade, Sufi Emir Abd al-Qadir, an Algerian revolutionary, led a resistance against French troops.
In 1837, Abd al-Qadir negotiated a treaty with French General Bugeaud known as the Treaty of Tafna, but once he had secured power within the country’s interior, he began to fight for freedom of colonial invasion along the coast as well.
Just three years after the treaty had been signed, Algerians outnumbered and captured over 100 French soldiers at the outpost of Mazagran, a town and commune located along the coast of Algeria.
Then, just days after their capture, French reinforcements arrived, resulting in an end to the besieged fortress. Despite the French being able to escape, the short period of time spent within the fortress was enough to give birth to the origin of modern-day iced coffee.
While confined within those walls, their limited access to resources prevented them from cutting their coffee with brandy as they normally would, so as a cost-effective solution, they were given beakers of cold water to use instead.
This cold coffee beverage became known as mazagran, named after the town in which it was conceived.
French soldiers took mazagran home with them, and it was common to order mazagran in France until the 20th century. However, once the drink left the borders of Algeria, it took on many forms, and the rules of consumption changed.
There’s no clear consensus on how mazagran was prepared. Some research proposes that it was prepared by pouring hot coffee over ice.
Other research still suggests that it was served with a side of cold water with which to cut it with — a nod to the original story of the soldiers.
And today, the drink is less common in both Algeria and France. The truest version to the original you can find is actually in Portugal.
Portuguese mazagran is typically made with a twist of lemon and at times involves the inclusion of rum.
While you’re unlikely to come across mazagran on the menu of your local coffee shop, chances are you’ll still be able to order some variation of an iced coffee.
What was once viewed as an alternative to customs has now become accessible, and customary, for many of us — and that might be a good thing.
After all, everything eventually evolves but stories can still be preserved, and for me, the story behind iced coffee is one of humble beginnings — and simultaneously — of the long, complicated history of my home.
- 1 cup of black coffee
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
- Preferred sweetener, such as cinnamon, sugar, or vanilla
- 1 lemon wedge (optional)
- Fill a glass with ice.
- Brew one cup of black coffee through your preferred method (French press is my go-to because it allows me to adjust the strength of the coffee based on steep time).
- Once prepared, pour the coffee over the ice.
- Add freshly squeezed lemon juice and sweetener to taste, and mix.
- Optional: Garnish the glass with a whole slice of lemon.
Adeline Hocine is an Algerian Muslim freelance writer based in the Bay Area. You can find her on Instagram.