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A guide to the Espresso Martini & Coffee Cocktails

The Espresso Martini is a classic, modern cocktail with unique origins. A must-have in every UK bar and popular amongst coffee enthusiasts, the Espresso Martini is a unique combination of vodka, coffee liqueur, and espresso. But it's not as simple as it seems, this cocktail is incredibly versatile and offers the opportunity for bartenders to use their creativity with new flavour combinations. Here's our guide to the Espresso Martini and coffee cocktails.

The History of the Espresso Martini Cocktail

Before we dive into the actual recipe, let’s take a wander back in time to the invention of the Espresso Martini. The year is 1983 and your name is Richard Arthur “Dick” Bradsell.

Bradsell happened to be working the Soho Brasserie on Old Compton Street London when a well-known model approached him and requested that he concoct a cocktail that would wake her up. Bradsell was serving drinks in close proximity to the coffee machine at the time, giving him the stroke of genius that was mixing coffee with vodka.

He coined it the Vodka Espresso, but later decided to rename the drink ‘Espresso Martini’ because at the time the term "martini" referred to any mixed drink that was served in a V-shaped glass. The drink was then rebranded in 1998 to the lesser known Pharmaceutical Stimulant at the Pharmacy Bar in Notting Hill where Bradsell was then working.

Today people across the world refer to the cocktail by any one of these three names, although the ingredients may vary slightly depending on the region.

The traditional Espresso Martini

As with any cocktail, an Espresso Martini is only as good as the quality of the ingredients you have to hand. You’ll need a decent vodka and good quality, fresh coffee to ensure a delicious result. The creamy foam on top of the Espresso Martini is also essential for achieving a distinguishable finish; if you allow the coffee to cool before shaking it up then you won’t get the same foamy results.

Since its creation there have been numerous adaptations to the Espresso Martini recipe (keep reading for some ideas) however the true recipe, according to the mixologist mastermind Bradsell, uses “the ratio behind the Brandy Alexander as a template (espresso to vodka with 3 flavours in between).”

Bradsell later shared that the original Espresso Martini/Pharmaceutical Stimulant recipe requires an empty shaker glass, 50ml good vodka, 5ml cane sugar syrup, 5ml Tia Maria, 10ml Kahlua, 25ml double strength espresso, ice, and 3 coffee beans for a garnish. He elaborated that it's wrong if people can see through it or if it's brown instead of black – so take note if your Espresso Martinis are coming out a murky brown colour.

If you’re not confident about how to create the perfect espresso, check out our articles ‘Master the Basics of Making Coffee for CocktailsandHow to make Great Filter Coffee in a Busy Bar'.

An Espresso Martini recipe for beginners:

  • Ice cubes
  • 25ml vodka
  • 35ml Tia Maria/other coffee liqueur
  • 35ml espresso
  • Coffee beans as a garnish

   1. Place your martini glasses in the freezer for at least 20 minutes before serving.

   2. Pour the ice in a cocktail shaker.

   3. Add the vodka, then the liqueur, and finally the coffee.

   4. Taste, and if additional sweetness is desired, add more liqueur.

   5. Give it a good 20 second shake.

   6. Pour through a strainer into the cold glasses, and then top with coffee beans.

   7. Serve straight away.

Variations and new ideas

If you’re looking to mix things up and offer an alternative to the classic recipe, then the Espresso Martini really leads itself to adaptation with alternative spirit bases, coffee liqueurs and syrups.

Diffords Guide suggests a few great alternatives including ‘Chocolate Orange Espresso Martini’ using orange flavoured vodka; ‘Black Espresso’ with a spiced rum base, PX sherry and Japanese Kuromitsu sugar syrup; or even a ‘Hot Cross Bun Martini’ which incorporates vanilla vodka, calvados and cinnamon syrup.

Some more coffee cocktail flavour ideas:
If you're a seasoned bartender then you've probably already done a fair amount of experimentation on the traditional Espresso Martini recipe. Here are a few of our readers recommendations for things to try.
  • Black seal rum & monin chocolate syrup
  • Orange gin to replace the vodka, we recommend Tanqueray Sevilla
  • Jack Daniels no. 7 or white rum to replace the vodka
  • Bacardi coconut rum, cold brew coffee & vanilla spirit
  • Irish cream liqueur instead of Tia Maria
  • Gingerbread syrup instead of vanilla

Additional tips for best results

1.       Use fresh espresso – Quality is key, always ensure your espresso is fresh.

2.       Shake hard – Create a foamy layer on top of the cocktail by shaking the mixture vigorously.

3.       Cater to different taste preferences – Not all people have a sweet tooth so feel free to adjust the amount of sugar you add.

4.       Use a good brand of vodka – Vodka is the biggest part of this drink. We recommend opting for something a slightly more luxury for a clean taste that will bring out the other flavours.

5.       Presentation is key –  Whether you opt for the classic coffee beans or an alternative garnish, take the time to get creative and add appeal, see our expert tips.

Alcohol & coffee drinks innovation

Innovation from bartenders has been matched by drinks producers in recent years, with vast numbers of coffee-related drinks hitting the market.

Nowadays you can even get pre-mixed Espresso Martinis, ensuring you get the perfect cocktail every time. Brands like Tom Savano Cocktails, Tails Cocktails, Climpson & Sons and more all offer their own ready to drink (RTD) version of the Espresso Martini. The benefit of this of course is that it takes away the necessity for having all the ingredients to hand (great for if you don’t happen to have a coffee machine), and also means you get a smooth, balanced drink with the perfect proportions of vodka and espresso. 

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