I’m a coffee addict. I know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, and a cortado from an espresso con panna. And nothing will ever get in the way of my love affair with the ever reliable, always there for me, black coffee.
I try to quash my impatience when I order at coffee shops and the barista always tries to make sure I want a “traditional” macchiato. Yes, I want a traditional macchiato; and yes, I know that comes in a smaller size; and yes, I know that it’s just espresso with a tiny bit of milk foam. Here, take my money and make my drink (please and thank you).
So I was quite taken aback when I lazily skimmed the menu at a coffee shop recently and noticed, off to the side under Seasonal Specials, something called the “Espresso and Tonic.”
“What is this monstrosity?” I thought. “You want to dilute a perfectly respectable double shot of espresso with bubbly water and ice and try to sell it to me for the price of a specialty drink?”
Of course I had to order it.
I watched, fascinated, as the barista behind the counter proceeded to grind the beans and pull a double shot of espresso, expertly swirling to allow the crema to settle on top of the pure black liquid. He then opened a bottle of tonic water, poured it over a glass of ice, and dumped in the espresso in swift movement. No mixing. No superfluous flourishes.
I was faced with a strangely beautiful creation. The espresso had yet to settle and distribute into the tonic water, and the fizz from the carbonation was pushing bubbles from the bottom of the glass up through the crema. Clouds of swirling espresso were extending down into the icy layer.
Hesitantly, I took a sip.
I was astonished. The bitter, acidic bite of the espresso was mellowed by the bubbly and lightly sweetened tonic water. The carbonation cut through the crema, simultaneously highlighting the espresso and acting as a refreshing palate cleanser. I went back for another sip, then another, until I ended up chugging the rest of my drink in record time.
After a cursory bit of research, I discovered that the espresso tonic is a rather new creation hailing from the West Coast. It is widely regarded as a seasonal and refreshing summer drink. Unfortunately, its sightings appear to be limited by geography.
Since then, I have been on the lookout for the espresso tonic. I scour the menu at every coffee shop, paying extra attention to the specials, in hopes of finding the elusive elixir. “Perhaps it hasn’t caught on everywhere yet,” I console myself, “Maybe it just needs some time.”
I will admit to caving into acts of desperation. A bottle of sparkling mineral water and a shot of sweetened espresso, assembled at the table? Not even close. Off menu, sparkling water from tap with espresso mixed in, courtesy of a friendly barista and a big fat tip? Still not quite the same.
I look forward to the day that the espresso tonic becomes a standard drink. Until then, if you ever find yourself at a coffee shop faced with this strange, dubious sounding drink, do not hesitate to order it.
And let me know where you found it. (Pretty please?)