As noted before, I love the natural flavor of tart lemon—bracing and almost painful on its own, but vibrant and zingy when treated properly. That “treated properly” bit is where I tend to disagree with the masses. Most people seem to prefer more sugar and cream and eggs and whatever else is commonly found in lemon-flavored treats than I do. (Though not everyone.)
This is why, as beverages go, the citron pressé is high up there on my list. Though, to be fair, it’s the only other non-alcoholic drink on my list aside from water, coffee and tea. Hold up. What’s a citron pressé, you ask? I’ve never heard of this thing. We’ll get there, but indulge me a minute.
I first heard of this drink when I was 14 years old, a freshman in Mme. Pierce’s French 101 class. If you took a foreign language in high school and were anything like I was, the chapter on ordering food was easily your favorite.
Mme. Pierce would play a cassette tape (don’t snicker) for our audio exercise, and our classroom would come alive with the sound of a Parisian café: clinking glasses, background conversations, probably an accordion, and then a harried serveur with a brusque voice would begin the exercise: Qu’est-ce que vous prenez? We’d go around the room, placing our imaginary order en français while Mme. Pierce would pause the tape.
Most of the food vocabulary we learned covered either familiar French icons (le croque-monsieur) or had American counterparts (le hamburger), but le citron pressé was trickier. It’s not exactly lemonade, Mme. Pierce explained. The French have a different version.
In my 14-year-old budding Francophile mind, everything the French did was better than what I had access to. I liked lemonade just fine, so if the French had a better version of it, I needed to know what it was tout de suite.
So fast forward to my first trip to France, right after I graduated college, when I was finally going to order this drink that I’d seen in every food chapter of every French textbook I’d encountered over the last eight years. I wish you could have seen the look on the face of the serveur when I ordered it. On a frosty evening in February.
A citron pressé is delightful. If you order one in a café, the waiter will bring you a tall glass filled with ice, along with a little pitcher of water and a little dish of sugar cubes. Then he’ll squeeze an entire lemon into the glass and walk away, leaving you to mix your drink to suit your taste. For a lemon lover like me, it’s heaven. If you don’t want it very sweet, don’t add too much sugar. Don’t want to dilute the lemonness of it? Go easy on the water. Facile, non?
But the citron pressé, much like its gauche American cousin lemonade, is best enjoyed in the warmer months, when the icy, lemony drink feels refreshing. Most people don’t order them in Paris in February, when one’s café compatriots are sipping un café or un vin chaud with thick scarves wrapped around their throats and one’s waiter is trying not to laugh.
Sure, this drink might be better suited to summertime, but if you love lemon in any degree of tartness, by all means give it a try as soon as you can. Since my first citron pressé was enjoyed in the dead of winter, I feel it’s only right to keep up the tradition I started and make one right now.
A citron pressé is as much as about the preparation ritual and the accessories as it is about the drink, so here are a few items you’ll need to make one: