When Life Gives you Lemons (A History of Lemonade)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When life gives us lemons, we blend an incredible new maté. This July, we’re introducing a sensational Tea of the Month, Electric Lemonade. This super-charged citrus supernova is guaranteed to give you a major boost. But it got us wondering… what’s the story behind lemonade?

That cool refreshing drink

While the lemon’s origins can be traced back to Northern India and China, the first reference to a sweet lemon drink dates back to 11th century Egypt, in the writings of Persian poet and adventurer Nasir Khusraw. Further evidence of this ancient drink come from records of the Cairo Geniza, which from the 1100’s to the 1300’s, would trade qatarmizat, a sweetened, bottled lemon juice. Sounds refreshing!

French connection

Although sweetened lemon drinks had already existed for centuries, a beverage resembling modern-day lemonade wasn’t introduced until 1667, where it appeared in François Pierre de La Varenne’s cookbook, Le Confiturier Français. The recipe read as follows:

Lemonade Recipe


Take one pint of water. Add ½ pound of sugar, the juice of six lemons and two oranges, the zest of ½ lemon and the zest of 1 orange. Mix the water well well in 2 clean containers by pouring it in one and then into the other several times. Strain through a white napkin.

Less than a decade after Varenne’s recipe appeared, chilled lemon drinks had grown in popularity, and in 1676, the Parisian Compagnie de Limonadiers was granted exclusive rights to sell lemonade. At the time, vendors would distribute the beverage by the cup, from tanks carried upon their backs… a practice that some tea companies carry on to this very day.

Branded Jet Pack

The grand stand

In front yards and on sidewalks across North America, it’s not hard to find entrepreneurial youngsters doling out cups of lemonade for a quarter or two. But the very first lemonade stand can be credited to Brooklyn’s Edward Bok. In the 1870’s, a 10-year old Bok started selling ice water to horse cart passengers for a penny a cup. Some other boys caught wind and quickly copied Bok’s business model. To stay ahead of the pack, he added lemon juice and sugar to the water, and started charging 3 cents a glass. It was a hit, and a very profitable endeavour. In fact, Bok’s concept was so successful that it was replicated around town, and by the 1880’s, scores of these stands were opening up around the city. We think it’s safe to say that this tradition will [lemonade] stand the test of time.

The Lemonade Stand [Advertisement],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #245, https://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/245 (accessed June 15, 2015). Annotated by Robert W. Sexty


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