So, the story goes something like this…
A gorgeous model walks into a London bar and orders the bartender to make something that will “wake me up and fuck me up.”
Now there is speculation on who the model was, either Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, but whoever it was, we do know that they were lucky enough to find themselves in front of famed barman Dick Bradsell. Bradsell immediately gets to work by building a coffee cocktail that has lots of kick with Vodka, that requested burst of energy from a great espresso, and a kiss of sugar. The birth of the Espresso Martini is like most cocktails fueled by a storm of controversy as to who the model was that inspired Bradsell. The fact that both Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss were both fourteen years old or younger at the time make this story even more wild! I can only imagine the way Dick would have reacted to a fourteen year old girl strutting up to his bar and declaring that immortal phrase. This cocktail became a London phenomenon in no time and infected the rest of the world just as fast. Think of an early version of the vodka redbull but with a bit more expertise and cocktail craft.
Espresso Martinis are a personal favorite of mine especially on those late nights after a long travel day when I just need a pick-me-up, but trust me I have had my fair share of poorly built ones. Now, you might ask “Rob, what is it that makes or breaks a good Espresso Martini?” That’s a great question, and I would love to tell you!
A great Espresso Martini is defined by the espresso you use. If you’re just using coffee liqueurs it’s going to be too sweet and lack the “oomph” that only comes with bitter caffeine. You can use a store bought cold brew or espresso product like I do in my Virtual Cocktail Experience kits, and that will taste really good, but if you want your cocktail to be exceptional, use fresh espresso. For bonus points, you can even ground the beans yourself! I keep a little coffee grinder near my home bar for this very reason. The fresher the espresso, the more balanced and flavorful the cocktail. In addition to that rounded flavor, using fresh espresso is how you get that beautiful creme on top. The foam in an Espresso Martini comes from the espressos natural oils combining with the temperature of the ice and an aggressive shake which introduces air to the beverage. For this cocktail I like to shake extremely hard for at least 15 seconds. Sometimes I may even dump the ice out of the shaker and give it a nice dry shake, too, which adds even more air into the cocktail. This ensures that the crema on top of the martini will be beautifully frothy.
Fun fact – many times you have traditional cocktails which have a specific garnish that truly means something. If you were to have a shot of Sambuca, it may be served with 7 coffee beans to represent the seven hills that surround Rome. In the Espresso Martini, we have a tradition of 3 espresso beans. They represent friends drinking this cocktail to health, wealth, and happiness.
It is amazing to see this beverage making such a big comeback and cracking the top 5 in cocktails that are being requested around the nation. In my own bars and Cocktail Experiences Espresso Martinis are the top requested cocktail. This high-volume request rate has given me the opportunity to really play with the flavor profile possibilities for this cocktail and I encourage you to try the same! For example, you can add a nice smoked-cocktail sensation by substituting Vodka for Sotol (my personal favorite on the market today is Los Magos). Another fun twist is adding a dash of chocolate syrup or liqueur and just a kiss of mint for that peppermint mocha feel. The options with this cocktail are endless! To get you started, check out my Classic Espresso Martini recipe below and maybe even test out a few substitutions for your friends. I’d love to hear what you think, so tag me on Instagram with your results!
Classic Espresso Martini
2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Espresso
.75 oz. Kahlua
.25 oz. Simple Syrup (optional)
Garnish: 3 coffee beans
In a mixing tin add Vodka, Espresso and Kahlua and fresh ice. If you like a kiss of sweetness add a tiny bit of simple syrup here. Shake with ice for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled Martini glass.