The undisputed drink of summer 2022 was espresso and orange juice—or the Espresso Sunrise as I coined it before every Gen X coffee shop owner came out of the woodwork to tell me that, actually, they already did it over a decade ago. It was fresh, zippy, and had that thirst-quenchability you crave when the temperature approaches triple digits. But here in 2023, the Drink of Summer had yet to reveal itself to the thirst-crazed masses. Until now anyway. This summer, it’s all about watermelon iced coffee. It sounds a little weird, but it’s wildly delicious.
The origins of this summer sipper are a bit… unceremonious. It all began with the release of a limited-edition Nespresso pod, the Juicy Watermelon Over Ice. The new pod is a mix of light-roasted Arabica and “watermelon flavor with other natural flavors,” per the brand’s website. One intrepid reporter for The Takeout tried it, and described it as a “Jolly Ranchers-esque Nespresso pod,” noting bluntly that “it was bad.”
And while this expression doesn’t sound great, there is nonetheless a nugget of a good idea in there. The Takeout even notes that Roots, a coffee chain in Bangkok, put out a cold brew and watermelon drink back in 2019, providing at least some evidence that the pairing works for someone, somewhere.
So the question is: can the mixture of coffee and watermelon be good? The answer we found, after some experimentation, is a resounding yes. And we’ve got just the recipe to help get you started on your own personal watermelon coffee journey.
First things first: the coffee. We followed the Nespresso recommendation and went with a light roast coffee, specifically the washed Demeka Becha Ethiopia from Junto Coffee. The delicate, fruitier flavors seemed more suited to pairing with the watermelon and a heavier, chocolatey coffee. The Ethiopia fits the bill nicely, but other African coffees—a juicy Kenya perhaps or a Rwanda or Burundi even—would seemingly work just as well. And because we are going for a lighter body, we are using iced coffee as opposed to cold brew. The heavier body of the cold brew can weigh the drink down a bit, and this is a refreshing summer drink we are after here. But experiment and see what works best for you!
For the watermelon juice, we fresh squeezed it ourselves. Now, this can be tricky business, especially if you don’t have a juicer. But if you are juicing it yourself, make sure to strain out all the pulpy bits; the texture they add to the drink is maybe a little unsettling. If juicing the watermelon yourself is out of the question, store-bought will work just fine, the fresher the better.
After tasting through a few different blends, the ratio that sat the best for us was a 3:2 mix of iced coffee to watermelon juice. Below that, at a 2:1 ratio, the coffee was a touch too prominent, and any higher, 1:1 say, the watermelon juice overpowered the coffee. At 3:2, the two married to become greater than their parts. You get the fresh watermelon flavor while still leaving room for the subtler coffee flavors to still come through (not just the “coffee” flavor). Pour over ice and serve. Voila! Conversely, you could do whatever the hell this is, concocted by Sprudge co-founder Zachary Carlsen.
There is, of course, no definitive recipe, so use this as a mere starting point. Maybe you want a little more low end, so you add more coffee or opt for a more developed roast or cold brew even. Perhaps you’re more of a fan of Central and South American coffees and want to use a juicy Colombia. All great options. You brew you. Just remember: you don’t always have to take coffee so seriously. Let it be fun, coffee can be fun! And watermelon coffee is, without question, a fun drink.