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Cleanse, Sip, Repeat – Understanding the Espresso Sidecar

At a local cafe, I overheard a customer asking why his espresso came with a glass of sparkling water, that he didn’t even ask for 🙂

That’s when I realized that the benefit of the fizzy drink isn’t common knowledge to people.

In this article, I’ll go in-depth on this subject – exploring the origins of this trend and the science behind it.

By the end of this guide, you’ll understand the benefits of serving espresso with bubbling mineral or soda water so you can appreciate your cup of joe like a pro.

But first, what is a sidecar?

A sidecar, in coffee terms, is a small glass of water served alongside an espresso or other coffee drink. It’s typically about 2-3 ounces and is meant to cleanse the palate before or after drinking the coffee.

Nowadays, the sidecar helps enhance the coffee-drinking experience by allowing you to fully appreciate the espresso’s flavors and aromas.

But it didn’t start like that…

A Brief History Of Water Served With Coffee

The tradition of serving water with coffee has interesting roots, dating back to the 18th century Austro-Hungarian empire.

At first, it was just a practical thing – a place for elegant folks to put their spoons after stirring, instead of just licking them off. But there was a problem.

Back then, tap water was not very clean. Water shortages were common, and many places only used well.

To improve the city’s water quality, Vienna completed the construction of the First Vienna Spring Watermain Pipeline in 1873, which supplied clean water to the city.

To show off their clean water, all quality coffee houses started serving the tap water sidecar with their coffee.

The Austrian World Exhibition was also held in 1873, where millions of other Europeans got to experience their coffee served with the sidecar of water, starting the spread of the tradition across Europe.

Vienna Coffee House

Espresso was invented at the turn of the 20th century in Italy, and the sidecar started being used in Italian coffee houses as well.

Fun fact: In the mid-20th century, coffee quality wasn’t always great. It was usually overly bitter, and people drank it more for the caffeine kick than the taste. During this period, the small glass of water was used to help rinse away that not-so-pleasant aftertaste.

By the 21st century, coffee etiquette has evolved. It’s sipped before the coffee to cleanse the palate, letting you fully appreciate those complex espresso flavors.

Let’s dig into this.

Benefits Of Sparkling Water With Espresso

Here are the reasons why drinking a fizzy (carbonated) glass of water alongside your coffee has spread to all quality cafés across the globe.

Palate Cleanser

First and foremost, sparkling water is used to cleanse the palate. When you take a sip of that fizzy goodness before diving into your rich and intense shot of espresso, it helps to remove any lingering tastes from your previous meals or drinks.

It gives your taste buds a fresh start so that you can truly appreciate the flavors of the espresso in its purest form.

Sense of Taste Enhancer

Sparkling water also enhances our perception of flavor. The carbonation in the water creates tiny bubbles that gently agitate your taste buds, making them more receptive to the complex notes and nuances present in the espresso. Almost like an espresso flavor explosion in your mouth.

Hydration & Refreshing Sensation

It also hydrates you while you’re enjoying your coffee, especially since caffeine can have a diuretic effect. So sipping on sparkling water helps you ensure that you replenish the water in your body.

Why not still water?

Baristas often serve sparkling water but some coffee shops may opt for still water instead. I also do this when I brew my own espresso at home, since we usually don’t have sodawater.

Sparkling Vs Still Water

Personally, I find that still water also provides a palate-cleansing effect without the need for fizziness.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about personal preference and finding what works best for you. Whether you choose sparkling water or still water, the goal is to enhance your espresso experience and cleanse your palate.

When to Drink the Coffee Sidecar?

If you’re a newcomer to the rich world of espresso, you might also wonder when to drink the water. The simple answer is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

Before Drinking Your Espresso

You definitely want to cleanse your palate right before taking a sip of your rich and intense espresso. This is especially important if you just consumed a flavorful dish or beverage beforehand.

Just take a small sip of sparkling water to clear away any lingering flavors so you can fully appreciate the complex taste profile without any interference.

After Drinking Your Espresso

In other cases, you might also want to save your sparkling water and drink it after you’ve had your dose of caffeine. You can use the water to fight off coffee breath and refresh your mouth after indulging in the bold flavors of espresso.

In Between Sips of Your Espresso

If you’re consuming something else alongside your espresso, such as a pastry, you might also want to drink small sips of water between eating your food and drinking your coffee. This helps you separate the two flavor profiles. Personally, I don’t do this because I often pair my espresso with foods that actually complement my drink so it interferes with that harmony in my mouth.

Instead, I find myself taking the first two approaches – drinking water before and after my espresso. Sometimes I crave that initial cleansing sensation before diving into my espresso shot, while other times I enjoy savoring every last drop before reaching for that bubbly companion.

Ultimately, this decision is up to you, but the important thing is that you can enjoy your espresso drink and go on with your day powered by that energizing caffeine kick.

Making Sparkling Water at Home

An environmentally friendly alternative to buying bottles of sparkling water to go with your espresso is making it at home.

The easiest way to do this is to buy a soda maker or sparkling water maker. This handy device comes with a CO2 tank or canister and a carbonating bottle, allowing you to fizz up your water.

You can also use a soda siphon or seltzer bottle which uses CO2 cartridges for water carbonation. It’s a classic way to make your espresso sidecar.

Wrapping It Up

So next time you see that little glass of water with your espresso, you’ll know there’s more to it than meets the eye.

The sidecar served with your coffee helps cleanse your palate and allows you to really appreciate the taste of that espresso shot.

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