The first time I saw an espresso tonic on a menu, I shuddered. Combining espresso, tonic water, and ice felt like a weird (and awful) combination dreamt up by hipsters. But I’m willing to try anything new, especially in iced coffee form, so I gave it a go.
…And I instantly loved it! When made well (and that is key), espresso tonic is a zesty, refreshing alternative to the heavy frappuccinos on offer in the summer months. I’m calling it now: this is the Boy Coffee of the summer.
Whilst making bold predictions usually ends with us looking stupid, we’re pretty confident with this one. Here, I’ll break down exactly why I think Espresso Tonic is going to blow up. Plus, we’ve snuck in our tried and tested recipe so you can get a jump on the next big coffee trend by making it at home.
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In an unusual move for the coffee industry, espresso tonic is exactly what it sounds like:
It’s a shot of espresso poured into iced tonic water.
The sweet, botanical flavors in the tonic water complement the rich fruity, chocolatey tastes of espresso. The result is a delicious blend of flavors with surprising complexity.
It’s truly a drink that is greater than the sum of its parts.
For me, the pièce de résistance is adding thinly sliced citrus fruit like lemon or lime. The refreshing ‘zing’ makes it a 10/10 drink.
Espresso tonic originated in Sweden in the mid-to-late 2000s. Allegedly a barista at Koppi Roasters created the drink in 2007 with some leftover tonic water from a party, and it quickly spread across Scandinavia.
It was listed on their menu as Kaffe&Tonic and became widely popular. At one point, it accounted for 95% of all their iced coffee sales.
The founders of Koppi believe a large part of the success is down to how “Instagrammable” the espresso tonic is. It has the perfect combination of pretty, different, and cool that sends any new product viral.
Over time, it started to spread around the world thanks to International Barista competitions. We have seen it on menus in coffee shops as far-flung as Argentina, Malaysia, Japan, and Australia!
It’s incredibly refreshing
For any coffee to take off, it’s got to taste great.
And the espresso tonic definitely ticks that box.
On a hot day, it’s incredibly refreshing – much more than an iced Americano, milky latte, or a frappuccino/ frappe. That extra bitterness from the tonic’s quinine mixed with the acidity of the espresso is an absolute joy on a hot morning. I promise.
I’ve been fully converted. Now, anytime I’m somewhere hot and can get one, it’s the first thing I reach for. Espresso tonic is the ideal start to a warm summer day… or any day for that matter.
It feels sophisticated
The resurgence of the gin and tonic as a sophisticated and versatile drink for serious liquor enthusiasts will help bolster the popularity of this espresso variation.
If coffee shops can tap into this craze and brand the espresso tonic as the “G&T of the morning commute” then we’re going to see sales skyrocket.
It can avoid the sexist stereotypes associated with sweet and flavored coffee drinks
Despite 47% of pumpkin-spiced latte drinkers being men, it is commonly perceived as a drink for “basic” women. (Eugh, I know.)
But espresso tonic doesn’t include any sweet elements that can be seen to “ruin” the flavor of the coffee. Despite tonic water being sugary, no one would put it in the same category as sodas like Coke or Pepsi. It’s somehow separate and in a league of its own.
The nerds can get into the weeds on variations
What tonic water are you using? What beans? How about the roast?
There are a host of elements that can be tweaked for those who like to seriously get into it (read, obsessive) when it comes to their drinks, like me.
Maybe it’s the use of an artisanal tonic water to really show off the dark berry flavors of the coffee. Or using a slightly lighter roast to balance the acidity and bitterness with the unique flavors of the botanicals in the tonic water. Whatever you want to alter, it’s possible and welcomes in a new way for baristas and customers to scream at each other on the internet over the “best” combination for a “perfect” espresso tonic.
- 7-18g finely ground coffee
- 150ml high-quality tonic water
- Sliced citrus fruit e.g. lime, lemon, or orange
- Brew your espresso. We use 15g of finely ground coffee to yield 30ml of espresso
- Pour your tonic water into a glass with ice
- Add your espresso to the chilled tonic water and stir
- Garnish with lime
The tonic water quality is really important here. Using cheap tonic that is bitter and not very exciting flavor-wise will yield a drink that’s boring at best and horrible at worst.
The “fancy” tonics are ideal for this.
Don’t be scared to go a little wild and experiment with the various artisanal/ specialized tonic waters until you find your favorite. A flavored tonic water can add a tasty twist too.
Espresso tonic is currently still a niche drink but it’s slowly growing in popularity and is primed and ready to explode. We’re just waiting for a TikTok or Instagram post about it to go viral then watch it spread across the coffee world like wildfire.
As soon as Starbucks and the other big coffee chains start offering it on their standard menu then you know we’re fully in espresso tonic season. We think it’ll quickly become the “Boy Coffee” of TikTok.
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