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. Whoever it was, we do know that they were lucky 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 espresso, and a kiss of sugar. The birth of the Espresso Martini is fueled by a storm of controversy about the model that inspired Bradsell. Of course, most cocktail stories are full of controversy. That’s what makes them so fun!

The fact that both Campbell and Moss were roughly fourteen years old at the time makes this story even wilder! I can only imagine the way Dick would have reacted to a young 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. 

Classic Espresso Martini Fancy

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. Trust me, though, 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!

Key to a Perfect Espresso Martini

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 as 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 crema on top.

The foam in an Espresso Martini comes from the espresso’s natural oils combined with the temperature of the ice and an aggressive shake that 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 to the cocktail. This ensures that the crema on top of the martini will be beautifully frothy.

A Drink for Friends

Fun fact – many times you have traditional cocktails which have a specific garnish that truly means something. A shot of Sambuca may be served with 7 coffee beans to represent the seven hills that surround Rome. The Espresso Martini has 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; 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 flavor profile possibilities. I encourage you to try the same! 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. If you’re feeling creative, 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)

Glass:  Martini 

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.