This is probably one of the most exciting Starbucks blogs I have written so far! About 15 years ago Starbucks released a new test product that ended up failing when going to market. It was a “great lesson”, as Howard Schultz (Starbucks CEO) describes it in his book “Pour your heart into it”, it paved the way for what is now bottle frappuccino but at the time was expected to be a big hit. This test product was called Mazagran, a lightly carbonated coffee drink made from a 150 year old recipe. I managed to get a few bottles of Mazagran to add to my ever expanding collection and write up a little blog on these beautiful bottled Starbucks drinks.
The history of Mazagran goes back over 16 years and is still fascinating to read about in Howard’s book, he recalls what happened when releasing this product with Pepsi all those years ago:
“I give great credit to Craig Weatherup , now chairman of Pepsi-Cola Company … for making the partnership work, because they recognised the long-term value of the joint venture and the Starbucks brand. As it happens, the joint venture’s first attempt was a failure. Mazagran was a cold, lightly carbonated coffee drink with a name borrowed from the French Foreign Legion posted at Algeria in the nineteenth century. When we test-marketed it in southern California in 1994, it polarized people. Some loved it, others hated it. A lot of customers were willing to give it a try because of the Starbucks brand name, but Mazagran didn’t get the repeat business we had hoped for. We finally realized, with disappointment, the we had created a niche product, one that would catch on, if at all, only after a slow build. So we kept pushing until, in 1995, we found a better approach. Frappuccino had been a surprise hit that summer, drawing in tens of thousands of customers who were not normally coffee drinkers, filling our stores in afternoons and in hot months when the coffee business is usually slow. One day, in the midst of an agonizing discussion about the future of Mazagran, I said: “Why not develop a bottled version of Frappuccino?” The Pepsi executives were immediately enthusiastic.”
Of course, after reading the history and actually getting my hands on the bottles I had to do my very own tasting. The best before date on the bottles reads 1996 so trying a bottle might not have been the best thing to do but I just couldn’t resist the temptation.
On opening the bottle it gave a nice little fizz after 15 years in the glass bottles. A smell of Starbucks coffee filled the air and I poured a cup of Mazagran. It looked like a fizzy cup of cola but with a distinctive white bubbly head on top. I took a lot of notes on the coffee as I do with any new tastings. So next the smell, full body aroma, it really did have a signature Starbucks smell. I guessed it was something like espresso blend with very interesting overtones. I smelled spices, cinnamon, hot ginger, sweet but at the same time sour (the sourness was probably due to the age). There was some chocolately notes, lemon, roasted nuts, nutmeg and a very deep flavor I couldn’t pick out, like spiced hot cherries or berries. To my surprise it smelled exactly like a Starbucks Discoveries Seattle Latte but with a gingery heat to it. Next, I tasted the drink – the first slurp was very interesting, it fizzed like a sparkling water or Champagne, with small bubbles tingling along the tongue. It tasted a lot like it smelled, except in the taste I got a definite cinnamon orange taste, espresso coffee and then a spicy ginger aftertaste. I can’t say the taste of an orange coffee was nice but it was definitely refreshing and completely unlike anything I have ever tried before. It makes sense on tasting what Howard was talking about, this was a flavor that you either loved or hated and sadly the test market didn’t like it at all.
I hope you enjoyed this very rare Starbucks coffee tasting with me and look forward to any questions or comments you have on this piece of Starbucks history. Enjoy the photos!