Tonic Water Chinarinde | Mixology — Magazin für Barkultur

Seven Facts about Tonic Water

What is tonic water? Here are seven facts about this bitter thirst-quencher that’s mixed most often with gin. Cheers! 

Even Oasis sang, “I’m feeling supersonic, give me a gin and tonic”. It’s a well-known fact that gin has enjoyed a major comeback in recent years rivaling John Travolta’s reemergence after Pulp Fiction. And some of this renewed acclaim has rightly rubbed off on gin’s own partner-in-crime, tonic water. But what is tonic water exactly? Where does it come from, and what makes it what it is? Here are seven facts on what’s probably the most popular mixer behind the bar.

1) What is tonic water made of?

In simple terms, classic tonic water is carbonated water infused with quinine. For added taste sometimes sugar or fruit acids are mixed in. The higher the level of quinine in the water, the more bitter it tastes. Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, which despite its Asian sounding name is actually found in South America. “Tonic” is synonymous with “refresher” or “energizer”, and the Greek root word “tonikos” means “invigorating.”

2) Why quinine, and where did it come from?

The quinine we get at the local pharmacy today has a long history, shrouded in mystery and bordering at times on the absurd. The indigenous peoples of South America already knew about the healing properties of cinchona bark, but it was their European conquerors who first used the bark to treat malaria.

It is said that while suffering an attack of malaria a Spanish soldier fell unconscious into a pond lined by cinchona trees. Having managed not to drown, when he awoke he was healthy again. Another persistent legend claims that in 1638 the Countess of Chinchón was saved by the daughter of a local tribal chief. Despite a lack of historical proof for this, it seems the tree was named after the countess anyway. What is verified is that quinine was the only effective treatment for malaria until the middle of the last century.

3) Who ultimately invented tonic water?

Even today we still don’t know precisely who first extracted quinine from the tree bark, but the first virtually pure quinine was most likely extracted based on the formula created by the two French pharmacists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou in 1820.

The first patent for tonic water was awarded in 1858 to Erasmus Bond from London. Johann Jacob Schweppe’s company, the royal purveyor to the British court since 1831, first introduced its own quinine-and-lime-infused mineral water onto the market in a big way in 1870. Schweppe himself never lived to see the day, having already passed away in 1821.

4) Is there a maximum limit to the amount of quinine in tonic water?

In Germany, the addition of quinine is regulated by the German Flavorings Directive, which prohibits adding quinine to any other beverages and all foods. Spirits are permitted to contain a maximum of 300mg/l, while the upper limit for tonic water (and Bitter Lemon) is 85mg/l. Most European countries have similar restrictions. Ultimately though, the limits basically take care of themselves: anything above the approved quantity makes the water too bitter to drink.

5) Why does tonic water glow under UV rays?

Quinine is the most important alkaloid among the 25 others found in cinchona bark. As a white powder it actually has no odor, but it does indeed seem to have an enhanced sense of its own mission: it fluoresces, or glows, even at ratios of 1:100,000. Its taste can still be noticed at a ratio of 1:50,000.

6) Can quinine also be harmful?

The amount of quinine in today’s tonic water is a mere pittance compared to when this beverage was used to prevent malaria. Generally speaking, there is no danger in consuming quinine, but caution is still advised in some situations. For instance, people suffering from tinnitus should avoid higher doses.

It’s also recommended that pregnant women avoid quinine due to its muscle stimulating qualities. In earlier times it was even used to trigger labor contractions leading to birth. Of even greater concern is the presumed addictive nature of quinine for the unborn child. But here again, the decisive factor is the amount.

7) Can I make tonic water myself?

With time and a little patience, absolutely. Here’s the recipe from acclaimed American bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler: 4 cups of water, 1 good handful of coarsely chopped lemongrass, 1 bowl each of the juice of 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime, 1 teaspoon of allspice berries, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of powdered cinchona. Boil it all up and then let it simmer in a closed pot for 20 minutes. Strain it through a sieve and then boil it again with 3/4 cup of agave syrup. Pour it into a bottle, cool and store it in dry conditions. Add soda water to this syrup to stretch it into tonic water.

Is there really a truly “special” tonic?

Naturally. It’s called Bolian tonic water, and it comes from the planet Bolarus IX, whose bluish-skinned inhabitants are known for their selflessness. The effect of Bolian tonic water is said to be thoroughly relaxing. You can get it at the bar called Quark’s on the Deep Space Nine space station.

Original article by Stefan Adrian, translation by Jeff J. Collier.


Foto: Photo via Shutterstock. Post: Tim Klöcker.

Comments (14)

  • Hwain

    Please check on the history of Paso de Los Toros, the brand who invented the tonic water which is Uruguayan.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for the info on tonic. Just a heads-up, saying cinchona is “Asian sounding” is unnecessary and a little racist. It only sounds Asian because it sounds a little like “ching chong”, an offensive slang term. The article would be even better if it skipped the reference and just said the cinchona tree is from South America. Thanks.

    • Kevin

      Haha came here to say the same thing

    • Kay

      Saying it sounds like ching chong is not politically correct either.
      They did not say that there was any reference to that slang term.
      That is only your opinion that it sounds like it…but it doesnt.
      no G
      3 syllables
      you are forcing an issue that doesn’t exist.

      I was not thinking of those words, I was thinking ..Chinchona when said out loud resembles Asian languages. That isn’t negative. it is not malicious or hostile… It is beautiful.
      Fun fact –
      In India where Bangla is spoken (which IS in ASIA), Cīna cōnā means Chinese Lime. hmmm, Chinchona is bitter.
      Even that is not EXACT….but closer than ching chong

      But you immediately call out racism…call it Racist? Why?
      Do you know what being “Racist” is?

      Meriam Webster definition:
      having, reflecting, or fostering the belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities
      that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

      ***just pointing out a characteristic within a race doesn’t mean they use it to determine that ALL within that race have these characteristics. Like pointing out many Red heads are Irish is NOT saying that ALL redheads are Irish, nor that all Irish are redheads….. *and this does NOT in any way judges the races capacities. Pointing out a homonymic reference to a language is not racist either. It does not judge capacity or define that all Asians speak this way – if you’ve ever heard the difference between Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese you would know its not definitive.
      But most importantly…none of this meets the guidelines of racism by definition since it does NOT produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

      Google definition:
      ‘prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people’.
      Prejudiced, as a verb: is to injure or damage by some judgment or action.

      How is it ‘prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people’ ?? Because it sounds like a language, does not mean pointing that fact out is ‘antagonistic’. Acknowledging differences in people is not ‘prejudiced against’ and should not be wrongly assumed as ‘antagonistic’. We are all different with similarities clumped in area of our ancestral origins but not as definite identifier. You can’t just pretend differences don’t exist because you are afraid that if it is mentioned, then it is racist. Wrongfully throwing out racist accusations shows ignorance and this is the type of thing that people feed on to fuel hate speech. Differences are beautiful, don’t assume they are negative. Languages are beautiful. Colors are beautiful. How was any of that injuring or damaging by judgement…or antagonistic..
      Your statement was the only antagonist.

      You can’t cancel race. You just cannot be malicious in choices, nor should you assume that one has an inherit privilege over another. THAT IS RACISM. No race has a right to privilege, the right to discriminate, or reason to be made to feel insignificant or otherwise diminished.
      Racism is malicious.
      False accusations is creating hostility where it doesn’t belong and is the biggest problem in this country…
      *People throwing racial motive in where it doesn’t exist or belong…
      *People assuming and accusing racism and trying to create anger
      *People uneducated in racism and feeling entitled to some form of compensation for their hurt feelings because they have a wrong definition of racism.
      Just because you are different doesn’t mean people have to pretend you are not because you don’t accept yourself.
      You can identify as orange..but it doesn’t mean people have to assume you are.
      I hope people can read this and walk away with a new attitude to end this nonsensical behavior.

      • Autumn

        Wow. Kudos to you. You were respectful, but held your ground and explained so well. Wow again.

        • James

          Question- was the original tonic water uncarbonated, i.e. flat?

      • Autumn

        Kay- I copy and pasted what you wrote so I can reference it later. You answered questions I haven’t yet put into words.
        Thank you for taking the time to write that down.

      • Jan

        I totally agree.

    • Joe

      ching chong ding dong

    • Kim

      How very silly and over sensitive.

  • Justin Smith

    Nice response Kay!

  • Angel Cake 1950

    Tuesday September 28,2021:
    Why so many negative reactions to an article whose focus was on providing information about TONIC WATER?

    In so many instances people get side-tracked and read into a non-existent point that totally districts from the original intent, which is unfortunate.

    You need to NOT be SOOO sensitive and be more inclusive and let the content speak for itself.

  • Kimber

    I say, let’s all have a drink and toast to the delightful concoction that has made it’s way across generations and continents so we all can still enjoy today and our great great grandchildren will still be enjoying and toasting in heir day! Cheers!

  • hi


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