Espresso Tonic: Who Said Coffee Can’t Be Bubbly?

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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My typical coffee shop order really changes with the seasons. During winter I like a warm cappuccino, but when it’s hot out all I want is a nice, crisp espresso tonic.

My typical coffee shop order really changes with the seasons. During winter I like a warm cappuccino, but when it’s hot out all I want is a nice, crisp espresso tonic.

I know what you’re thinking. Is the tonic trend actually worth the hype? Don’t espresso and black coffee purists abhor this bubbly concoction?

My answers to those questions are yes and no, respectively. This may surprise you, but I am a big espresso tonic fan. Before you judge me, read on to see why.

What Is an Espresso Tonic?

The name “espresso tonic” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s espresso and tonic water mixed together, sometimes with a sweetener and typically served over ice.

Still, allow me to break it down further. Espresso is a small, concentrated coffee beverage that is brewed with hot water, fine coffee grounds and pressure. Generally the coffee to water ratio is about 1:2.

Breville Barista Touch Pulling Shot of Espresso

Incidentally, the flavor profile of espresso can be pretty intense. That said, the particular flavors of espresso depend on the coffee beans you choose. This can range from a deep, velvety and chocolatey dark roast espresso from Brazil to a light, citrusy and fruity light roast espresso from Colombia.

Often, roasters will combine a chocolatey coffee and a fruity coffee to make a complex and balanced espresso blend.

A Note on Tonic Water

So, in an espresso tonic you mix espresso with tonic. But what is tonic, anyway?

Well, tonic is a carbonated beverage that usually contains carbonated water, quinine, citric acid and some sort of sweetener. Though all the ingredients are important, quinine is the star; it’s what makes tonic water distinct from seltzer and other carbonated water.

Quinine is a chemical that is naturally derived from the bark of Cinchona trees, which are native to the Andes region of South America. Historically, the Quechua people, who are indigenous to that region, used ground Cinchona bark for medicinal purposes. They often mixed the bitter bark with sweet water to balance the flavor.

By the 17th century, Cinchona bark was also used in Europe as a means to treat malaria. In the early 1800s, French scientists developed a method to isolate the medicinal chemical from the bark, consequently naming it quinine.

Meanwhile, artificially carbonated water was invented in the mid 1700s. By the late 1800s, manufacturers started adding quinine to bubbly water as an effective anti-malaria treatment. Thus, tonic was born.

What Does Espresso Tonic Taste Like?

Espresso Tonic Taste

The flavor of espresso with tonic is heavily affected by the bitter, bubbly and citrusy flavor of tonic water. Sometimes espresso tonic tastes sharp and almost metallic or medicinal. That’s why buying good tonic water is key.

What’s more, even the most devoted tonic lovers will often add a dash of sweetener to offset the bitterness. Effective examples include maple syrup, agave and simple syrup. Plus, pairing the tonic water with the ideal espresso flavor profile helps balance out the tonic’s bitter and sharp flavors.

In my opinion, a good espresso with tonic has a bubbly and full mouthfeel. The flavors are fruity with punchy citrus notes. What’s more, the sweetness and tartness balance each other out to produce a complex and round flavor profile.

It’s true, some coffee varieties have this flavor profile all on their own. But when they are mixed with fizzy tonic water, a truly magical combination comes to life.

Best Espresso Beans for Espresso Tonic

In order to make a delicious espresso tonic recipe, you need to start out with the best espresso beans.

Technically, any coffee can be used for an espresso tonic. That said, the particular coffee and flavor profile that you choose will have a big impact on the flavor and balance of your espresso tonic.

While many folks prefer a very chocolatey medium or dark roast for espresso, I wouldn’t recommend that flavor profile for an espresso tonic. When you’re combining espresso with creamy milk, sure – dark chocolate and nuts may be the way to go.

But tonic water is effervescent, sweet, citrusy and bitter. For an espresso tonic, I would go with a fruity and naturally sweet coffee that enhances those flavors while balancing the bitterness of tonic water.

In my opinion, a light roast would be ideal if you have an espresso grinder and espresso machine that can dial one in. If not, a medium roast would be a safer bet, and it would still taste delicious.

Let me give you an example of my ideal espresso tonic. For reference, I want my espresso tonics to taste like lemonade or soda.

I recently drank an espresso tonic made with a single origin Pink Bourbon espresso from Colombia. The coffee was a light roast with a fruity and citrusy character. I kid you not, this espresso tonic tasted like fizzy watermelon and lime juice. I couldn’t drink it fast enough!

Best Tonic

Tonic Water With Lime

If you’re making your espresso tonic with high quality coffee beans, it only makes sense to pair it with the best tonic water.

My personal favorite is the UK-based Fever Tree Premium Tonic Water. It’s light, clean and sweetened with cane sugar. Incidentally, this tonic water also pairs well with really good gin.

If you’d prefer a US company, Q Mixers Spectacular Tonic Water is great too. This company is unique because they use agave as a natural sweetener.

Of course, you can get any old tonic at the supermarket. However, the cheaper store brand tonic water, as well as the Schweppes and Canada Dry tonic waters, contain high fructose corn syrup and the preservative sodium benzoate.

Personally, I’d rather shell out a bit more to get a tonic water that tastes good on its own. That’ll help ensure that the espresso tonic will taste as good as possible.

How to Make an Espresso Tonic

Ingredients

  • High quality coffee beans

  • Tonic water

  • Sweetener of your choice: simple syrup, maple syrup, honey, agave, etc (Optional)

  • Lemon or orange wedge for serving (Optional)

  • Ice cubes

Materials

Instructions

  1. Prepare your espresso: Weigh out 18 grams of coffee (or your usual espresso prep), set your coffee grinder to espresso, grind into your portafilter, distribute and tamp.

  2. Pull your shot: Ideally a double shot of espresso, or a yield of 35-40 grams, depending on your coffee and preferences.

  3. Add optional sweetener to espresso and swirl/stir to mix: 5-15 grams should suffice; remember, the tonic water is sweetened already.

  4. Combine the ice, espresso and tonic water: Fill your glass with ice cubes, then slowly pour 200 grams of tonic water. Add the espresso on top, then gently swirl the cup to incorporate the ingredients.

  5. Add optional citrus wedge: Squeeze the lemon or orange slice into the beverage, then run the slice along the rim of the glass. Drop the slice into the glass if you like.

  6. Try not to drink the whole thing in one delicious gulp!

What About Cold Brew Tonic?

Espresso Tonic With Cold Brew

You may be wondering how to make this espresso tonic recipe if you don’t have an espresso machine. To make a summery and refreshing beverage at home, some turn to cold brew tonic instead.

I’d advise you to use a cold brew concentrate (homemade or store bought) for this recipe. Otherwise, you’d end up with a very watery and weak coffee beverage. Alternatively, you could brew a concentrated batch of iced coffee instead, and pour that over the tonic water.

In either case, make sure the cold brew or iced coffee is concentrated. Again, I’d recommend a light and fruity coffee for this recipe. A funky and juicy SL28 from Kenya could be particularly fun here. Plus, the characteristic heavy body of this variety could help make up for the lack of espresso.

What’s more, you may want to change up your coffee to tonic water ratio; perhaps 60 or so grams of coffee and 150 grams of tonic water. This is only because even cold brew concentrate won’t have the intense flavor profile of espresso. And you need that punchy coffee flavor to balance out the tonic. So, increasing your coffee dose will help with that. Naturally, as with the espresso tonic recipe, you can adjust this iced coffee and tonic recipe to your liking.

Final Thoughts

This article is short and sweet – kinda like how long it will take you to drink this espresso tonic recipe!

I love a regular shot of espresso as much as anyone, but there’s something so fun about a sweet and fizzy espresso tonic. In some ways, it’s like an iced americano with a dash of bubbles!

Do you like espresso tonics? Or are you more of an espresso purist? If you have thoughts on this subject or you happen to try this recipe, let me know in the comments section!

Espresso Tonic FAQ

Espresso tonic is a shot of espresso mixed with tonic water over ice.

You slowly pour tonic water first so the carbonation has time to fizz without making a mess. Then, top it with the espresso shot and swirl to combine.

Nope, I wouldn’t count on that. Quinine does have medicinal properties, but an espresso tonic is just a coffee beverage.

The sweet, citrusy and bitter flavor of tonic water mixes well with the similar flavor profile of fruity espresso.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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