Is espresso and orange juice a summer drink?

Photo: Rachel Glassberg

My coffee maker swears it doesn’t use TikTok. “That’s, like, social media, right?” he asks when I asked him about the motivation behind his new special drink, Espresso Orange. Surely the fact that this seemingly bizarre mix-up on the app since March has something to do with its sudden appearance at the Polish-Italian café down my street? But no, if the bearded man behind the table is to be believed, his decision to have two favorite breakfast drinks together was made completely independently.

“I thought it sounded refreshing,” he said, dipping a pair of ice cubes into a glass. I watch with skepticism as he fills it partially with fresh orange juice and floats on top of a layer of mahogany-colored caffeine. While I love coffee and OJ on their own, the idea of ​​mixing the two brings me back to early childhood, when I would fill a cup with a little bit of each liquid in my dad’s fridge and dare my brother he-she to drink.

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However, every article I’ve read about the mixture tells me it’s “not as bad as it looks.” And the thousands of TikTok testimonials couldn’t be wrong…or could they?

The phenomenon of adding citrus to your morning drink is not new. Every few years, the internet rediscovers lemonade for coffee, also known as Mazagran, an Arnold Palmer-like mixture with roots in 19th century Algeria. It has since spread everywhere from Portugal to Sweden (where it’s called a kaffelemonad) to Starbucks in the US, where brave drinkers may order it as a special off the menu.

Meanwhile, espresso and straight lemonade have been touted as a miracle cure for everything from heavy alcoholism to obesity. While there’s some evidence that caffeine and citric acid can help relieve some headaches, the weight loss claim is, to be expected, nonsense, unless you’re so sick of the combination that you skip the rest of your meal.

As for coffee and orange juice? Anecdotally, creative breakfast owners have been mixing drinks for ages, but coffee shops have only begun to take notice in the past decade. In Phoenix, Arizona, the combination — called “OJ Express” or “Espresso Sunrise” — has enjoyed regional popularity since at least 2011, gaining steam with Instagram taking off and baristas realizing just how eye-catching brown and orange hues can be. But outside the Southwest, it’s remained a curiosity. Or at least until this spring.

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The current espresso and orange juice craze can be traced back to a post from @bundaddy, a TikToker with nearly 800,000 followers who use her channel as an outlet for her thoughts on everything from Raw vs. Wade Shoe lacing strategies.

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: put espresso in orange juice!” She was excited on March 1, 2022. “I haven’t seen a single person who loves espresso and orange juice who doesn’t love both. You think you won’t, but you will.”

App users have taken it from there, with coffee snobs, Italian nonnas and, inevitably, all representatives of orange juice brands making their own judgments on the beverage combination. Did everyone win, as Bondadi predicted? Of course not, but the sheer novelty and wide range of reactions sparked enough curiosity that TikTok user after TikTok user jumped on the bandwagon.

Coffee bloggers and Buzzfeed had no choice but to report on the trend, and since then, it was only a matter of time before the viral drink hit coffee shops — even those unfamiliar with social media. For now, the espresso orange seems to be going down the same path as the espresso tonic before it: from kooky-earned taste to a summertime staple.

Does it deserve this prestige though? Back in the Polish-Italian café, I photographed the gorgeous layers of my espresso orange before stirring them all up in the muddy sludge. “Tag us if you post the photo!” The barista calls me. I promise I will, but I change my mind when I take a sip.

Reader, mixing espresso and orange juice is a distasteful idea. To me, at least, it brings out the worst qualities in each ingredient, making the coffee unpalatably acidic and the juice unpalatably bitter. Add to the fact that this version is made from pulp, and honestly, if I vomited in my mouth while drinking it, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two liquids.

I’m sure there are ways to make the drink really good. Another coffee shop in my town that has its own version made with orange blossom syrup instead of juice, a so-called Spritzy Americano, espresso and soda water with a little orange juice, looks promising, but both require ingenuity on the part of the coffee maker. Just following TikTok’s lead and tossing a shot of espresso into a cup of OJ won’t cut it.

Unless, perhaps, it is? After all, when I told my friends about my espresso orange experience, everyone else wanted to try it for themselves, despite the vomiting comparisons. With soaring prices and COVID-induced staff shortages continuing to ravage the hospitality industry, you can’t go wrong with coffee shops for offering cheap, easy-to-make, and much-demanded summer specials. Even if, like me, most customers would probably only order it once before returning to sipping their coffee and orange juice as the breakfast gods wanted: individually.

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