Infusion's Espresso and Orange Juice: How Does It Taste?

Espresso and OJ at Infusion in Tempe.
Robert Isenberg
Espresso and OJ at Infusion in Tempe.

Normal people would never think to mix espresso and orange juice. In polite society, we keep our pulpy citrus in a glass, and we put powerful coffee extract in a tiny cup. These containers stay a safe distance away from each other, preferably on opposite sides of a breakfast plate.

But when the folks at Infusion Coffee & Tea decide to do something, you trust their judgment. To the casual visitor, Infusion is a quirky café in Tempe, with refurbished wood tables and a wall decorated with coffee cups. Yet the business doubles as a laboratory for high-caliber baristas, and the menu may intimidate regular Joes looking for jo. You can purchase a Chemex Coffeemaker, which looks like an oversized chemistry beaker, and if you don't know the difference between Bolivian and Burundian beans, prepare to learn all about it.

This is the atmosphere that owner Patrick O'Malley has fostered since the café opened in 2015: You can sit in a cushioned seat, pull out a laptop, and sip a Ceylon New Vithankanda Long Leaf tea, or you can actively debate the merits of Javanese Garut on a nearly molecular level.

So when O'Malley and his cohort say O.J. works with espresso, it's probably worth a try.

Infusion isn't the first to try this odd concoction. Jobot calls it the "Sunrise." Vovomeeno calls it "Good Morning, Vietnam." The website Extra Crispy went so far as to call Phoenix "obsessed" with the idea, although I think that might be a little hysterical. If Phoenix obsesses over anything, it's pork belly.

The Infusion version is called "SprOJ," and on paper, there are plenty of reasons to like this combo. The drink is served in a pint glass, it's full of Vitamin C, and it pummels you with caffeine. Meanwhile, if your over-the-counter laxative isn't cutting it, this beverage should cleanse your bowels in no time. Espresso is a dense form of coffee, and O.J. is an even denser juice, so the drink is both filling and time-consuming to finish, allowing you to relish Infusion's ultra-hip environment.

But what does it taste like? Is the mix as disgusting as it sounds, or have the Infusion staff produced another alchemical masterpiece?

Many critics have described the juice-espresso drink as "interesting." I think this is the perfect word, because the SprOJ's flavor is strangely neutral. The drink doesn't taste quite like espresso or orange juice, but something in between. I was reminded of wheat grass shots, or vegan smoothies, drinks that are neither grotesque nor memorable. The orange juice doesn't sweeten the mix the way sugar does, but it tempers the bitterness of espresso. The result is earthy and subtle. The blending whips up a foam on top, so for the first few sips, SprOJ tastes like acidic froth.

Customers may order the drink for its novelty value, and they will probably ponder its taste for a while. SprOJ is practically designed to share with others. I predict most people will furrow their brows and say, "Huh." It's hard to imagine anyone ordering it twice, the way chai drinkers can't wait for their next spiced latte.

But like its predecessors, Infusion has proven that such at a refreshment is drinkable. Another thing has been tried. And sometimes its existence is enough, whether anyone appreciates it or not.