Fifteen to sixteen years ago, Starbucks launched a bottled beverage called Mazagran.  Through a partnership with Pepsi, they sold a bottled coffee soda in grocery stores.  The “Mazagran Spice Blend” soda was the very first attempt at a joint venture between Pepsi and Starbucks, and, it was a complete failure.  One interesting note: in many ways it was a small stepping stone on the way to the huge success of the bottled Frappuccino.

In the book Pour Your Heart Into It, Howard Schultz tells this story of the history of Mazagran:

Mazagran was a cold, lightly carbonated coffee drink with a name borrowed from the French Foreign Legion posted in Algeria in the ninteenth 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.

From what I recall hearing (though I can’t even tell you where I heard this), I believe that Mazagran was first tested in California as a beverage on tap, not in a bottle, and then released nationwide as the bottled version.

Quite recently, I took a quick drive to Renton, Washington, because I was responding to a Craig’s list advertisment of a woman who stated she had a large number of old Starbucks items in her garage that she was trying to get rid of.  I left Renton with a couple of trinkets, an old mug, an Air Force Bearista bear, and a case of unopened Marzagran.

You can’t really see it from the photos here, but each bottle is labeled with an expiration date of October 7, 1996.  Despite this, Molly (my photographer help at Seattle Custom Framing) and I decided to open up a bottle and try it.  Much to my shock, when I twisted open the bottle I heard the distinctive fizz sound of carbonation being released.  The smell from the bottle wasn’t all that pleasant.  It was sort of the strange odor of burnt coffee, like the smell of coffee that has been on the Mr. Coffee burner a bit too long.  We poured the soda in a mug she happened to have handy, and gave it a try.  It still bubbled up fine.

Here was the surprise.  It tasted fine. Well, we both liked it. In all honesty, if someone had served me this drink in their home, over ice, I would have had no clue that it was a 15 year old bottle. I would likely have just drank it.  However, warm, straight from a bottle, is not really the way to enjoy 15 year-old Starbucks Mazagran.

Hope you enjoyed your Starbucks history lesson: The first product produced by a Starbucks and Pepsi partnership: Mazagran.

For readers at home, since you don’t have the pleasure of drinking 15 year-old coffee soda, I recommend that you try Iced Via mixed with carbonated water, if you’re now craving a coffee soda as a result of this blog post.