Is Espresso and Orange Juice the Drink of the Summer?

My barista swears he doesn’t use TikTok. When I inquire about the inspiration behind his new drink special, the Espresso Orange, he responds, “That’s the social media thing, right?” Surely the fact that the bizarre-sounding combination has been trending on the app since March influenced its sudden appearance at the Polish-Italian café on my street? However, if the bearded gentleman behind the counter is to be believed, he made the decision to combine everyone’s two favorite breakfast beverages on his own.

As he drops a few ice cubes into a glass, he explains, “I just thought it sounded refreshing.” I observe with skepticism as he partially fills it with fresh orange juice and floats a mahogany-colored layer of coffee on top. While I enjoy both coffee and orange juice on their own, the idea of combining them brings me back to my childhood, when I would dare my brother to drink a mixture of every liquid in my parents’ refrigerator.

Nonetheless, according to every article I’ve read about the mixture, it’s not as bad as it sounds. And thousands of TikTok reviews cannot be incorrect… or can they?

The historical development of coffee and orange juice
Adding citrus to one’s morning coffee is not a novel practice. Every few years, the internet rediscovers coffee lemonade, also known as mazagran, a 19th-century Algerian beverage similar to the Arnold Palmer. Since then, it has spread from Portugal to Sweden (where it is known as kaffelemonad) to Starbucks in the United States, where daring customers can order it off-menu.

The combination of espresso and lemon juice has long been touted as a panacea for everything from hangovers to obesity. While there is some evidence that caffeine and citric acid can alleviate certain types of headaches, the weight loss claim is predictably false, unless the combination makes you so queasy that you skip the rest of your meal.

What about espresso and orange juice? Anecdotally, inventive breakfasters have been blending the beverages for decades, but cafés have only recently taken notice. The combination, known as a “OJ Express” or “Espresso Sunrise” in Phoenix, Arizona, has enjoyed regional popularity since at least 2011, gaining steam as Instagram gained popularity and baristas realized how visually appealing the brown and orange color gradient could be. However, outside the Southwest, it remained a mere curiosity. At least until this spring, it did.

The current espresso-orange juice craze can be traced back to a tweet by @bundaddy, a TikToker with nearly 800,000 followers who uses her channel to express her opinions on everything from Roe v. Wade to shoe-tying techniques.

On March 1, 2022, she exclaimed, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Put espresso in your orange juice!” No one who enjoys espresso and orange juice separately dislikes them together. You believe you won’t succeed, but you will.”

Coffee connoisseurs, Italian nonnas, and, inevitably, orange juice brand representatives all offered their own opinions on the beverage combination. Did it win over everyone, as predicted by Bundaddy? Obviously not, but the sheer novelty and variety of responses aroused enough interest that TikTok user after TikTok user joined the trend.

Coffee blogs and Buzzfeed were compelled to report on the trend, and it was only a matter of time before social-media-agnostic cafés served the viral beverage. The espresso orange appears to be following the same trajectory as the espresso tonic: from quirky acquired taste to summer staple.

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