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The espresso martini is an iconic drink that has grown in popularity among coffee, cocktail, and everything in between enthusiasts.
The espresso martini, allegedly conceived in 1983 by a bartender at London’s Soho Brasserie, had a tremendous increase in popularity throughout the 1990s in the UK and internationally. While it eventually faded, it is now witnessing a rebirth almost three decades later.
Today, there are almost 450,000 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #espressomartini alone. I chatted with two Coffee In Good Spirits champions to discover more about this legendary drink and why it’s having such a rebirth. Continue reading to find out what they said.
Understanding the Espresso Martini
The espresso martini is a chilled coffee cocktail composed of espresso, vodka, sugar, and coffee liqueur that is shaken.
Michalis Dimitrakopoulos is a Greek native. He won the World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship in 2016 and finished second in the World Barista Championship in 2019. He claims that the drink is offered in pubs all around the world and calls it “one of the best choices after a long day.”
“Typically, espresso martini consumers are coffee and espresso enthusiasts,” he explains. Furthermore, he claims that the careful balance of the components used to manufacture the drink makes it particularly “moreish,” and as a result, clients frequently order more than one.
An Nguyen lives in New Zealand. He won the country’s 2018 AeroPress Championship as well as the 2020 Barista League. He credits its sudden appeal to the fact that “nothing beats coffee and [alcohol] mixed… it’s creamy, sweet, and rich.”
The espresso martini is a shaken cold coffee cocktail, made with espresso, vodka, sugar, and coffee liqueur.
A Brief History
The espresso martini dates back to 1983, when it was invented in London’s Soho Brasserie by a British bartender named Dick Bradsell. Initially known as the “vodka espresso,” it was renamed the espresso martini in the 1990s.
V-shaped glasses (like those used for a conventional vodka martini) were very popular at cocktail establishments at the time. However, when the espresso martini became more popular, Bradsell modified the presentation to a martini glass in the 1990s while keeping the formula the same.
Bradsell told Difford’s Guide (a resource for bartenders and mixologists worldwide) that the espresso martini was inspired by a customer who asked for a cocktail that would “wake her up.”
“The Soho Brasseries’ coffee machine was directly next to the station where I served drinks,” Bradsell explained in the interview. “It was a nightmare since there were coffee grounds everywhere, so coffee was on my mind a lot.” And it was all about vodka back then; that’s all people drank.”
Despite the fact that Bradsell died in 2016, he is now regarded as one of the most prominent bartenders of the last few decades; given that the beverage was perhaps his most significant creation, this perception reflects just how popular it has become.
Making Your Espresso Martini
An claims that his espresso martini preparation always begins with the espresso.
An employs coffees cultivated in Papua New Guinea for the recipe in this article (which can be found below), which often have fruity, herbal, and spicy aromas.
An makes his espresso martini with an inverted AeroPress brewing method and a 1:5 coffee-to-water ratio to generate a concentrated “shot” evocative of espresso. He brews two shots using 30g of coffee at a medium grind and 150ml of water. “Brew for up to 2 minutes, then flip and plunge for 30 seconds.”
Michalis, on the other hand, prefers the traditional technique. He recommends brewing espresso and following a standard recipe. As a result, he prefers a cup profile with nutty and chocolatey flavours, but adds that fruity or flowery taste notes are also acceptable. “It all comes down to personal preference,” he explains.
Recipe #1: Michalis’ Classic Espresso Martini
- 50ml vodka
- 30ml coffee liqueur (Michalis suggests Kahlúa or Tia Maria, a coffee liqueur made with Jamaican beans)
- 10ml sugar syrup
- 1 single espresso shot, brewed with a dark or intense coffee (Check out our guide on how to make perfect espresso at home)
Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake thoroughly before straining into a chilled cocktail glass with no garnish. To finish, sprinkle some coffee beans on top.
Michalis’ famous recipe adheres to the International Bartenders Association’s rules (IBA). However, he claims that it’s enjoyable to be creative and experiment with the ingredients, even if the procedure remains the same.
“My favourite variant is to substitute a handmade black stout beer syrup and an orange liqueur such as Cointreau for the coffee liqueur and sugar,” he explains.
Another interesting variant would be to infuse the vodka with coffee beans while making a syrup using cascara and cocoa beans to replace the coffee liqueur.
Finally, Michalis advises trying the same recipe several times, altering one variable at a time. This, he claims, will assist the drinker in determining what they prefer.
Recipe #2: An’s Alternative Espresso Martini
- 40ml coffee (brewed using AeroPress inverted method with a 1:5 coffee-water ratio)
- 10ml grilled pineapple syrup (recipe below)
- 20ml cranberry vodka (recipe below)
- 30ml spiced rum
- Orange peel
- Coffee beans to garnish
Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, then strain into a coupe glass. Mix in the orange peel. Garnish with coffee beans if desired.
Grilled Pineapple Syrup
- 100g grilled chopped pineapple
- 100g brown sugar
- Two cinnamon sticks
- One star anise
In a mixing dish, combine all of the ingredients. Cover and set alone for an hour, stirring once an hour, until the pineapple has completely dissolved. Remove large chunks of fruit, star anise, and cinnamon stick with a strainer.
- 100g dried cranberries
- 300ml vodka
Shake well and leave to soak overnight. Strain to remove fruit.
An believes in adjusting mixology recipes; the key, he adds, is to preserve a comparable recipe structure while constantly adding or tweaking flavours.
“I enjoy infusing spirits because it provides extra flavour to vodka or coffee liqueur, for example, when coupled with dried fruit or spice.”
His Papua New Guinea coffee, he says, is a “wonderful mix” with cranberry-infused vodka because it emphasises the natural acidity in the coffee.
An adds that the grilled pineapple syrup complements the spicy flavour characteristics in the Papuan coffee.
The espresso martini, invented in the 1980s, popularised in the 1990s, and revived in the twenty-first century, is perhaps one of the most iconic coffee cocktails in the world right now.
Its ease of preparation, flavour balance, and moreish taste make it a favourite among cocktail bars, hotels, and nightclubs all over the world. Ask a bartender or mixologist how their espresso martini differs the next time you see one on the menu; they may vary with their recipe or ingredients in a way that shocks you.