What is Espresso Romano?

I can’t get out of bed without my morning cup of joe. There’s nothing better than that rich brown java to get rid of that brain fog and bleary-eyed feeling we all know too well. As much as I love that strong black filter coffee first thing in the day, I also love a creamy caffe latte in the afternoon. It’s delicious, indulgent, and just the perfect pick-me-up.

Like most coffee lovers, I thought I really understood all the different kinds of coffee out there. From a cappuccino to a macchiato, I really thought I had heard it all.

They say every day is a school day and this was certainly the case the first time I encountered Espresso Romano on a coffee shop menu. At first, it seemed quite intuitive. I figured it must be espresso brewed in the traditional way, as you would find in Rome.

How wrong I was.

Espresso Romano, despite its name, has nothing to do with the Italian city of Rome. It’s actually coffee served with a lemon wedge to give a citrus burst to the bold dark flavor. Its origins are uncertain but appear more American than Italian.

So where did this drink come from and what are its benefits? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Espresso Romano.

Coffee with lemon zest

What Is Espresso Romano?

Espresso Romano is essentially a shot of espresso served with either lemon juice added, lemon zest, or a slice of lemon on the side. The idea is that the fresh, citrusy flavor of the lemon helps balance out any unpleasant flavors found in coffee drinks, and a lemon twist forms a nice garnish.

The barista may brew the coffee with lemon zest so the flavors infuse from the start or they may add a squeeze of lemon juice afterward. Sometimes they will take a piece of lemon to the rim of the espresso cup as well so the first flavor you taste is the bright, lemon freshness followed by the rich, bold espresso taste.

Origins of the Espresso Romano

When you break down the phrase, espresso is a very dark, concentrated kind of coffee, and Romano means relating to the city of Rome, Italy. Although this would appear to indicate that the Espresso Romano or Roman Espresso coffee is Italian in origin, there’s actually no evidence that it comes from here.

sipping an espresso

Espresso in Italy is served in single or double shots, black with the option of adding sugar. Most coffee shops and restaurants will offer cappuccino as well which is espresso topped up with steamed milk and milk foam.

These are the standard options you’ll find all over Italy and although various coffee shops may offer a range of variations on the espresso, you’d be hard pushed to find espresso romano on any menu. The only drink that’s somewhat similar to it is the drink Moretta Fanese which is made from espresso and lemon and served with an anise liqueur.

The actual origin of this drink appears to be American where some say lemon was added to balance out the flavors of a poorly brewed espresso. The bold citrus flavors supposedly help balance out bitter coffee notes and cut through any acidity. The lemon juice adds to the flavor of the coffee and lemon peel is a very attractive garnish, making the resulting cup of coffee appear exotic and sophisticated.

Benefits of Espresso Romano

Combining coffee and lemon brings together a few health benefits. Coffee beans have lots of antioxidants that help protect your cells from damage. Coffee may also help protect against liver cirrhosis and cancer.

The caffeine found in coffee has been linked to increased physical performance, improved mood and alertness, weight loss, and lower risks of certain illnesses like diabetes.

Lemons have been linked to helping weight loss and due to their high vitamin C content, help your body absorb iron, as well as protect your heart. Their dietary fiber content also helps contribute to a healthy gut.

Potential Side Effects

Whilst espresso romano has lots of potential benefits, we had to add this disclaimer. There are several side effects that you should be aware of before you indulge in this coffee-based treat. Coffee has natural oils in it that can act to raise cholesterol so if you have a history of heart disease in your family then it’s worth discussing this with your doctor.

Caffeine can be problematic for some individuals and leads to symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, rapid heart rate, digestive issues, and increased frequency of urination. If this sounds like you then it’s best to opt for decaf.

Finally, the acidity of lemons can be bad for the enamel on your teeth alongside the risk of coffee causing stains. Avoid issues by limiting the amount of Espresso Romano you drink and rinse your mouth out with fresh water afterward.

Acidic drinks are known to aggravate digestive issues like IBS, acid reflux, and colitis. If you suffer from these issues or anything similar then Espresso Romano is probably not the best choice for you.

Two espresso shots being pulled

How To Make Espresso Romano

The only way to make true espresso is by using a high-pressure espresso machine like the ones found in coffee houses. If you don’t have one of these at home then a really good compromise is the use of a Moka pot (also known as stovetop espresso maker). These little devices are an Italian classic and work by using steam pressure to brew a strong, espresso-like cup of coffee.

The best lemons you can choose are Sorrento lemons which are a high-quality fruit from the Sorrento region of Italy, just south of Naples. The thick peel of these lemons is bursting with fragrant essential oils so is perfect to pair with a dark espresso.

You can make Espresso Romano by brewing your coffee and finishing it off with a slice of fresh lemon. This gives the coffee that lemon flavor without overpowering it and is easy to do. You can serve it with a twist of lemon peel for garnish as well.

Another way to make this drink is to brew the coffee with a slice of lemon peel in the Moka pot. If you prefer a stronger, bitter lemon flavor then you can even scrape some lemon zest into the coffee grounds before you brew or directly into the cup and add the coffee on top. The downside with using zest or peel is that it’s heavy in bitter flavors so it’s often balanced with some sugar.

Adding lemon to coffee will increase its acidity so it’s better to pair it with darker roasted coffee beans as light roasts are already quite high in acid. Just ask your local coffee roasters for a dark roast or French roast coffee.

Try It Over Ice

A jar of cold coffee on ice

If it’s a hot summer’s day you can also enjoy this espresso drink as a cooling treat. Simply serve over ice and add your lemon wedge or zest to the glass. If you hate watered-down coffee then why not brew some coffee in advance, let it cool down and add to ice cube trays. Pop it in the freezer and there you have coffee ice cubes. This means that even as they melt you only end up with more delicious coffee to enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Espresso Romano is a unique and sophisticated way to enjoy your espresso. It’s easy to make but may not be the best drink for everyone so it’s worth weighing up whether it’s the best choice for you.

If you love the taste of citrus and you love a cup of coffee then it’s absolutely worth trying at least once! Whether it’s served hot with a lemon wedge or on the rocks with a twist, an espresso romano brings a little splash of sunshine to your morning java.

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