When I first encountered the espresso tonic on a coffee bar menu I’ll admit that I gave it my best side-eye. Combining flavors from opposing sides of the beverage world isn’t always successful. But my curiosity got the best of me and I’m here to tell you that espresso and tonic belong together.
This curious, bubbly beverage gained popularity in New York, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco several years ago, and as trends are wont to do, made its way to Richmond only recently.
The version at Lamplighter Coffee Roasters, created by bar manager Eric Mason, features Navy Hill’s soda-and-tonic blend with two shots of espresso over ice, garnished with a twist of orange. The resulting concoction is complex: Be sure to skip the straw and sip it straight from the cup so you get the aroma and essence of the citrus. Sharp coffee hits the palate first, followed immediately by the distinctly botanical flavors of the tonic, rounded out with the sweetness of the orange.
Mason explains via email that he decided to use this drink in the seasonal menu because “it’s a fun and refreshing crossover” between two worlds and it made sense because Lamplighter’s clientele is pretty adventurous. When head roaster Alan Smith told him he had a batch of amazing fresh Ethiopian coffee on its way, Mason says he couldn’t resist.
“The drink does seem like a weird pairing right?” he says. “I knew the floral, citrus and tealike characteristics inherent in this coffee would pair well with the bitter, herbal, citric qualities of the tonic. Then we add a little orange peel for flare-aromatics.”
It’s refreshing and a little peculiar, and it works.
“It’s pretty, has orange zest aromatics, is crisp, herbal, fruity, bubbly and is surprisingly thirst-quenching,” he adds. “When you add the espresso atop the tonic it creates a foamy head that makes the drink stand out from other typical iced beverages.”
Mason notes that it’s been a fun talking point with customers.
“I love when customers ask ‘what is an espresso tonic?’ If they try it and end up loving it then I have created trust in our relationship and we build on that.”
If you want to make it at home, Mason says to use a coffee that is “fruity, bright and sweet,” like an Ethiopian or Kenyan, plus 4 ounces of Navy Hill Tonic — “the OG kind” — a 12-ounce rocks glass full of ice and an orange peel.
He says to “pull the shot first, let it rest and cool while you set up the rest of the drink, then add the espresso on top of the ice-cold tonic, garnish with orange peel and enjoy.”
Or you could just go to any Lamplighter cafe and “get a rad barista to do it for you.”Back to the Coffee Issue