The Debated “Caffè Romano,” Or Espresso Served With Lemon

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A few of my coffee books contain recipes for a drink named Caffè Romano, which is basically a shot of espresso served with a slice of lemon or lemon peel. They all describe it as a classic drink commonly served in Italian households, made refreshing and less bitter thanks to the extra addition of citric acid. I was a bit surprised to see this lemon-espresso drink introduced as such a standard way of drinking espresso, namely because during the year I lived in Italy, I never once came across this particular combination.

There are cafes in America that serve their espressos with lemon, although it seems like the unexpected presence of the sour fruit leaves many of their customers more confounded than pleasantly surprised. Most coffee aficionados choose to ignore it altogether, which is a fully valid choice — after all, if the espresso has been extracted to perfection, there is no fathomable reason to go out of your way to alter its already flawless chemical balance.

Regardless, it’s a coffee thing that exists, and can be easily tried at home.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of espresso
  • 1/2 slice of lemon

Recipe:

  1. Add a squirt of lemon to your espresso, or simply rub the lemon around the rim of your cup.

Still, if it’s not such a great addition to espresso, why does it even exist? It turns out that there are a number of possible background stories of its origin, such as that due to the water shortage during World War II, the lemon was used to sanitize cups and other utensils.

A quick look through various Italian websites and forums also reveals that in Italy, espresso with lemon is widely known as a natural remedy for headaches.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan; it doesn’t taste horrible, but it doesn’t enhance the flavor of the espresso, either. But I’m curious to see if it will work for me as a headache remedy in the future, so I can’t say I’ve seen the last of this lemony espresso drink just yet.

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