Enjoyment of a delicious cup of coffee (well, espresso in this case) isn’t the sole preserve of early birds or Italians. The perfect evidence of this, arguably, is best served cold and complemented by other flavours and spirits in the form of a mouthwatering espresso martini.

Of course, some will say that an espresso martini isn’t a martini at all and they probably have a point when you think that it’s made with vodka rather than gin or vermouth. However, that little matter hasn’t put anyone off since the espresso martini was first created back in the 1980s. To learn more about the origins of this classic modern cocktail, we turn to the passionate mixologist and blogger Felicity Whorlow of the Ausbotanicals channel as she shares anecdotes and tips on how to concoct this tempting tipple and its equally delicious variations at home.

The Preference

Statistics show that around 30-40% of the world’s population won’t start off their day without their morning cup of joe – not to mention additional cups during the day, so why not toast with a more creative twist on the classic dark roast at night as well? Those who haven’t yet imbibed this stimulating ambrosia, might already be chafing at the idea and wondering why it took so long to take hold.

Others, however, might be more sceptical as Felicity reveals. Whenever she mixes the cocktail or features it on her Instagram page, she typically hears the same refrain: “I’ve never had an Espresso Martini, so how do I know if I’ll like it?” Her answer is a clear and simple one: “If you like your coffee dark, nutty and chocolatey, then you are going to love it.”

The Origins

This caffeine-fuelled cocktail can be traced back to 1983 and has made its name as a classic cocktail recipe thanks to the late bartender Dick Bradsell, who is said to have created the Espresso Martini for a top British model at an establishment in London as she asked for a pick-me-up that would “wake me up and then [mess] me up.” 

It seems that opportunity is the essential ingredient in the making of an acclaimed bartender. When asked how exactly he came up with it, Bradsell explained that at the time vodka was the top-selling spirit among his customers, and since his cocktail station was next to the coffee machine, it was only a matter of time before inspiration would strike. Regardless, after mixing both ingredients together with sugar syrup, the newborn ‘Vodka Espresso’ – as the Espresso Martini was originally called before the following decade, dictated that all the trendiest cocktails be ‘tinis in a V-shaped glass. The drink could only be deemed complete with the addition of two coffee liqueurs, one Mexican, one Jamaican: Kahlúa and Tia Maria.


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The Secret

As both the legend and the list of ingredients of this shaken concoction have been fully disclosed, you might be asking what is it that makes the Espresso Martini so special? The answer is attention to detail in picking the right ingredients and care – you might even call it love, to ensure that the blend is balanced to perfection. This is what makes this prized potion so delectable.

The Espresso

“Espresso is what, ultimately, gives this cocktail its richness and depth”, says Felicity. “It can’t be emphasised enough how crucial it is to pick a good quality, well-brewed shot of espresso for this cocktail.” Her hot tip is to steer clear of instant coffee: “I find espresso from a coffee machine and its crema work best. The coffee from a French Press or similar will not work the same way. Once brewed, I let mine cool down slightly to prevent too much ice dilution.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that coffee oxidises as soon as it is ground, so you want to make your espresso as fresh as possible, because the longer you leave your ground coffee the more bitter it may become.

The addition of the coffee liqueur is the touch of sugariness and ‘coffee’ intensity the cocktail needs to be truly memorable. If you like a bit more sweetness that could help mellow down the spirit and bind the ingredients better, add 5ml of simple syrup to the cocktail. There’s no set rule: in the end, it’s all about personal preference.

The Vodka

The vodka is finally what gives the cocktail its kick. To stick with the original recipe, you want to pick a non-flavoured vodka. This is critical, and Felicity confirms this, as there are a few flavour combinations that would render the cocktail almost undrinkable – not the reaction you’re looking for! That being stated, the next question is pretty straightforward: what’s the key to picking a good vodka?

“For me it’s simple”, says Felicity. “Like most spirits, you get what you pay for. Pick a vodka that doesn’t compromise on quality, especially because, as the main ingredient to this cocktail, the vodka has to stand up to the coffee and build on the flavour profile of the Espresso Martini. Renowned brands like Absolut or Grey Goose are failsafe options.”  Another key factor is the abv (alcohol by volume) of the vodka you select. “The higher it is, the harder it is to get a well-balanced cocktail”, warns Felicity, providing a useful tip and dispelling another myth.

The Method

Ingredients for your perfect Espresso Martini:

50ml vodka
35ml coffee liqueur
25ml shot of fresh hot espresso

Garnish – Roasted unground coffee beans
Glass choice – Cocktail Coupe or Martini Glass

Preparation Method:

1. Pour the vodka, coffee liqueur and the slightly-cooled espresso into a cocktail shaker. Fill cocktail coupe with ice to chill and then fill cocktail shaker with ice.

2. Secure the shaker lid of your cocktail shaker and give it a vigorous shake for a good 10-12 seconds. You want the ice

3. Discard the ice from the Martini glass, then double strain the cocktail (a.k.a. strain it through two strainers) into chilled glass to ensure a smooth, airy froth (Felicity uses a strainer set on top of the cocktail shaker and a sieve placed directly onto the glass).

4. Garnish with three coffee beans.

5. Sit back and enjoy!

The Twist

“I’ve had the pleasure of taste-testing some variations that I believe work very well”, says Felicity, when asked what variations on the theme she’d like to pass on to fellow cocktail lovers. One favourite is the Salted Caramel Salted Martini, a real “dessert in a glass”, as she calls it. Just add one tablespoon of caramel and a small pinch of salt to the original recipe, and the game is done. A second option that Felicity recommends is a Pumpkin Spice Espresso Martini made by adding a pinch of pumpkin spice or winter spice to the ingredients. A real winter warmer you would love to sip by the fire on a relaxing winter’s evening – and you’d know exactly how to beat out the rhythm of the night even with the storm raging outside.

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