Equal parts wakefulness and relaxation, the espresso martini is the sleepy person’s answer to a cocktail.
This drink, containing both coffee liqueur and fresh espresso, has enough caffeine to perk you up at any time, day or night. It’s also much sweeter than a typical martini. In addition to its vodka and espresso base, an espresso martini includes the addition of coffee liqueur and crème de cacao.
The History of an Espresso Martini
The espresso martini, originally called the vodka espresso, was invented in the early 1980s in London by Dick Bradsell at the Soho Brasserie. Supposedly Kate Moss, the fashion model, requested a drink that would both wake her up and give her the customary buzz, but her involvement in the drink’s invention is unverified.
It wasn't until the 1990s, when drinks served in martini glasses had become popular that the name was changed to an espresso martini. Years later, Bradsell would call the cocktail a “pharmaceutical stimulant” and served it on the rocks at a Notting Hill bar called Pharmacy.
Espresso Martinis have since become a staple in the cocktail world for anyone seeking a pick me up along with their alcoholic beverage. Other coffee filled alcohol beverages, such as an Irish coffee, have been around for longer, but hot drinks can be uncomfortable to consume while out at a bar or club. Conversely, the sleek presentation and smaller volume of an espresso martini makes it appealing for a night out.
So, There’s Actually Coffee in It?
An espresso martini does indeed contain actual coffee, not just coffee liqueur.
Ideally, you’ll want to use freshly brewed espresso for this martini. This can lead to some difficulties—not everyone has an espresso maker and even if you do, you’ll have to chill the freshly made espresso in advance. You don’t want the ice to melt when you’re shaking the cocktail.
To get around this, you can substitute freshly brewed espresso with cold brew concentrate instead. That will conveniently give you a similar taste and texture.
Equipment Needed for an Espresso Martini
To make an espresso martini, you’ll want to have several items on hand in addition to your drink ingredients.
- A cocktail shaker with strainer
- Martini or coupe glass
- You need a shaker not a mixing glass, because unlike other martinis this drink is always served shaken. That’s because the shaking action results in a foam layer on top, which gives the cocktail the vibe of a nonalcoholic espresso drink similar to a latte or cappuccino.
This cocktail, though highly flavored, has a lot of vodka in it and because of that, a top shelf choice is ideal. Some vodka brand to consider—Van Gogh, Chopin, Grey Goose, and Belvedere.
Kahlua is a readily available coffee liqueur that you can use for this cocktail, but there are other options. If you’re interested in a more artisanal brand, St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur is a brand that has chicory notes throughout. Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur is made from specialty grade beans. Both are available at higher end liquor stores, while Kahlua can be found at big box grocers and drugstores.
Simple syrup is sometimes used in place of the crème de cacao in an espresso martini if it isn’t available to you. I prefer to use crème de cacao over simple syrup though, because the liqueur adds just a hint of mocha flavor when combined with coffee, thanks to its natural chocolate flavor.
Dekuyper crème de cacao is the grocery store option, but there are higher quality choices available. Fair Cacao is fair trade and organic and Tempus Fugit’s crème de cacao is naturally colored with raw cacao and vanilla.
Tempus Fugit’s and Fair Cacao can be found at higher end liquor stores. Martinis are typically made with dark crème de cacao, but if you prefer you can use a white one. Note that a white liqueur will give the drink a milky appearance, rather than the customary translucent one.
The quantity of precisely three coffee beans atop the espresso martini may seem overly specific, but that’s the customary way of serving the drink. They should be spread out in a fan, to represent the look of several flower petals. The tradition of three fanned coffee beans stems from how sambuca is served in Italy. The three beans represent health, happiness, and wealth.
More Classic Vodka Cocktails
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 3/4 ounce coffee liqueur
- 1/2 ounce crème de cacao
- 1 ounce espresso, chilled
- 3 coffee beans, for garnish
Add ingredients to cocktail shaker:
Add the vodka, coffee liqueur, crème de cacao, and espresso to a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice.
Shake cocktail and pour into glass:
Shake the cocktail vigorously for 15-30 seconds, then strain into a martini or coupe glass.
Garnish and serve cocktail:
Garnish with the three coffee beans, placing them in a fan shape over the top of the drink. Serve.