Lemon is a common accompaniment to espresso, which so many coffee drinkers are familiar with. But why is espresso usually served with a lemon peel? In this piece, I will tell you why baristas serve espresso with lemon or a twist of lemon. 

But first, does this coffee has a name? Yes, it is commonly known as espresso Romano. So, if you see this name appear in this piece several times, know that I’m talking about espresso paired with lemon. 

In fact, today, espresso Romano is served in numerous coffee houses across the globe. Variations of this drink include tangerines or oranges.  

Reason for serving espresso coffee with lemon

yellow lemon fruit on white surface

As it turns out, lemon is rubbed on the lips of the cup before the first sip. Some people claim this was meant to suppress illnesses and others believe the aromatic oil released by lemon masked poorly brewed coffee. 

There is even a myth that claims lemons were used to clean cups during World War II due to water scarcity. Another rumor alludes an Italian-American restaurateur just wanted to unite his passion for citrus and java, and the duo was born. Or maybe it was just a marketing gimmick—some further info in a jiffy.

Roots in Italy 

In America, espresso Romano is thought to be a traditional Italian invention, but that is not the case. In fact, this pairing is pretty much unheard in Italy and Rome. What is common here is mixing expresso with sugar, water, liquor, or milk. 

So, no matter how this pairing sounds Italian in origin, it has no roots in Italy. In fact, if you request espresso Romano in Italy, you would likely get some odd looks.

Now, if it didn’t originate in Rome or anywhere in Italy, how did this trend start?

In Europe during WW II

As mentioned earlier, there is a rumor that water scarcity during World War II resulted in lemon being used to clean coffee cups. 

The rumor goes further that coffee shops must have, in some way, had more lemons than water. And knowing lemon can be used to clean things. Running a coffee shop with water was rare, which meant it had to be used only for brewing coffee.

A garnish to mask a bad espresso

I also mentioned this earlier. Lemon was also paired with espresso to bring the cup of joe into balance if it was poorly brewed. Adding lemon helped eliminate or mask the bitterness or bad taste. 

The union of citrus and java origin 

Another origin story goes that an Italian-American restaurant owner loved both coffee and citrus. Feeling that both paired well together, the restauranteur served lemon beside espresso, and so the trend began.

Here are three variants of my citrus side:

  • Wedge: This is a full-on slice of lemon. Skin, rind, and juicy fruity inner.
  • Twist: This is all of the rinds, excluding the juicy lemon inner.
  • Zest: This is just the yellow skin of the lemon. Usually served as a long thing spiral of zingyness.

Ways to drink espresso Romano with lemon peel

Twist lemon peels on the coffee cup rim

Twist the lemon peel and apply the oil on the coffee cup edges or rims. This oil acts as a disinfectant and also reduces the bitter taste of your espresso. This method is best for you if you don’t want to put peels inside coffee directly.

Twist the lemon peels inside your espresso

Simply twist your lemon peel in your espresso when you feel that espresso’s taste is not good. For example, when it tastes bitter.

Chew lemon peels after drinking your espresso

If you like the bitterness of espresso but don’t like the drink’s aftertaste, then it ok chew your lemon peel once you finish sipping it.

Leave it as a non-consumable garnish

If your espresso’s overall flavor is great and not so bitter, then there is no need to use lemon peels at all. Just keep them aside as it is and consider them like a non-consumable garnish.

The coffee purist opinion

According to most coffee purists, espresso doesn’t need any accompaniment to taste good when brewed the right way. They maintain that if something is needed to offset the bitterness in espresso, then the cup has been over-extracted. In other words, if lemon has to be added to espresso to taste, then that brew is shoddily prepared. 

Iced lemon espresso recipe

What you need:

  • 1 cup lemon soda (such as San Pelligrino)
  • 1 or 2 lemon wheels, to serv
  • 1 1/2 ounces cold espresso

Steps:

  • Pour lemon soda over ice 
  • Top with espresso. 
  • Stir, add a lemon wheel (or two) 
  • Enjoy!