Over the past week or so, headlines have been buzzing with the concept of an “espresso tonic,” a beverage made by mixing espresso with tonic water. Here are a few examples:
Harper’s Bazaar UK: Introducing the espresso tonic
If the concept sounds familiar, you’re not alone. High end espresso bars have been offering a small glass of water — tonic, sparkling, or mineral — with espresso for at least a decade. So we’ve all been mixing “espresso tonics” for years in our own stomachs, if you think about.
Still, the idea of mixing espresso with tonic water in a cup itself isn’t exactly a new trend either. All of the above headlines come from British publications, which leads me to suspect this idea only recently made its way to the UK.
Digging a little deeper, I found an Eater article on the subject of mixing espresso with tonic water — from two years ago. Eater’s 2015 article explains that this was not a new concept at the time: “The idea of mixing tonic water and coffee is not an unfamiliar one,” with its origins in barista competitions.
What makes tonic water and espresso a good pairing in the first place? I can’t say for certain, but I can offer a conjecture. Espresso has a certain harshness to it, while tonic water is refreshing. Both have the distinct characteristic of feeling thick or heavy in the mouth, with espresso leaving behind a strong aftertaste, and the carbonation in the tonic water helping cleanse the palette.
Alternately, it’s a similar appeal as an Americano. The addition of water draws out the fast punch of an espresso into a longer affair, while still retaining the refined nature of a shot of espresso. Sort of like a fancy cocktail, but with espresso instead of alcohol.