We're Calling It Now, the Espresso Tonic Is the Drink of the Summer

Carbonation meets caffeination in the best way possible.

It seems like every year, there are one or two beverages that become the drinks of the summer. Last year’s hits included the Negroni Sbagliato, Dirty Shirley, and an especially unexpected combination of espresso and orange juice that gained notoriety on TikTok. Influencers and plebeians alike posted videos of themselves dumping a shot of espresso into a tall glass of OJ, and their surprisingly positive reactions prompted others (including myself) to try doing it, too. The natural sugars in orange juice help balance out the bitterness of coffee, and it’s not a surprise that people want a more refreshing, tart alternative to an iced latte. As a coffee lover, beverage goblin, and follower of food trends, I’ve already started preemptively wondering what drink will take over the internet this summer. So in the name of science, I tried mixing espresso with a variety of other liquids, hoping to discover a new coffee pairing for the people. While I learned that espresso and iced tea don’t taste great when blended together — a finding that I probably could have predicted before this experiment — I did also land on my new warm weather beverage obsession: the espresso tonic.

Espresso Tonic

Irina Sergeevna / Getty Images (2)

To be clear, I did not invent this drink. The combination of espresso and tonic water originated in Sweden in the early aughts, allegedly created by a barista at Koppi Roasters in 2007. It grew in popularity throughout Scandavia, and eventually made its way abroad through barista competitions, like the World Barista Championship. Although the espresso tonic has yet to become a mainstream coffee order here, you can occasionally find it on a cafe menu; I’ve seen it as a seasonal offering at Konditori in Brooklyn, and it’s also on the menu at Nashville’s beloved Barista Parlor. Its construction is as simple as the name implies: pour tonic water over ice, then top with a shot of espresso. You don’t have to do things in that order, but adding the espresso last will give you a prettier finish, because the dark coffee separates on top of the bright, clear tonic, making for a scene that’s perfectly primed for an Instagram story. If you pour the tonic water over the hot espresso instead, you might end up with some funky-looking foam, as our Senior Drinks Editor Oset Babür-Winter can attest:

A failed espresso tonic

Courtesy of Oset Babür-Winter

Optional additions include a dash of simple syrup (I personally don’t think the drink needs this, but if you like a sweeter beverage, go for it) and a twist or slice of citrus, if you’re feeling fancy (which I usually am).

For the uninitiated, tonic water is sparkling water infused with quinine and sugar; it’s not everyone’s mixer of choice, and if you’re not a gin and tonic person then you probably won’t like the characteristically bitter flavor that tonic water brings to espresso. However, if you do like the taste of tonic, then you’ll find that coffee is the perfect partner for it. The subtle sweetness of quinine balances the dark, earthy flavors of espresso, and the bubbles help everything feel lighter and brighter. Tonic water also typically has some citrusy notes, which can bring out the same flavors from your coffee. 

If you need another reason to try an espresso tonic, it’s also an excellent choice for entertaining. With the espresso floating on top of bubbly tonic, and a little orange peel to make it look like you put forth a lot of effort, it’s a buzzy little non-alcoholic cocktail that works well for a picnic or other daytime gatherings — and your guests will thank you for their new favorite bittersweet coffee beverage. Overall, these ingredients work together for the same reason that orange juice and espresso work together, but the espresso tonic is just a little more refined, bittersweet, and sippable. So when you’re taking a hot girl walk this summer and need a little beverage for the road, pour some of that leftover tonic water from last night’s party into your water bottle, and top with a shot of espresso.

How to make an espresso tonic

Making an espresso tonic couldn't be easier. Simply pour the tonic water of your choice in a glass with an ice cube, and top with a shot of espresso. Garnish with an orange or lemon twist, and enjoy.

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