The Real Reason You Might Get A Glass Of Sparkling Water With Your Espresso

Having a cup of coffee can mean different things to different people. It can be about mixing a cup of instant to kick start the day, driving over to a mass-market chain like Starbucks, or settling down for a shot of espresso — which in some coffee shops can be served with a glass of sparkling or still water on the side. Unless we asked, we probably wouldn't know that the glass of water is known as an espresso sidecar, which is not to be confused with the sidecar cocktail. 

Coffee shops don't just serve that glass of water because they're considerate. "Espresso is a really concentrated, intense beverage," Jason Reed Miller, director of coffee at San Francisco's Mazarine Coffee, told Edible San Francisco. "When it's a well-balanced shot, that intensity is unbelievable because it's a lot for your palate at once. It's nice to have something to prepare your palate, then cleanse it, possibly during and at the end of the cup. The sparkling water is basically a palate cleanser."

The espresso sidecar is American

While espressos are as Italian as it gets (Smithsonian traces the history of the espresso back to enterprising Italians Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni who began building espresso machines in the early 20th century), Miller tells Edible San Francisco that the espresso sidecar appears to be uniquely American, and is meant to be treated as the beverage's accessory. "They're about hospitality and service as much as they are about high-quality coffee and dialed-in shots," he explained.

While there is a recommended way of drinking the espresso side car (before, during, and after drinking your shot so you clean your palate), as with all things what you want to do with what you're served is entirely up to you. If you're at a glitzy coffee shop that serves up a sparkling espresso sidecar, you might want to ask for a bigger glass of water (and some ice on the side) so you have room to create a refreshing, sparkling Americano. In fact, if you want to go out on a limb and shock the baristas, you could even take a cue from Bon Appétit and add a splash of orange juice to create something completely different.