Flirt With the Zeitgeist Over Espresso Martinis


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Espresso Martinis are really having a moment right now. I know this not because I’m diligently on the pulse of cocktail culture, with my social media feeds filled with the Hear Ye Hear Ye of libation trends (as it probably should be), but because my gorgeous and affable editor, Claire, graciously enlightened me earlier this week and asked me if I had opinions on the matter.

Hmm, I thought, racking my brain a bit. It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with coffee flavor/liqueur in cocktails (umm, hi, the Irish Coffee is great), but what did I know specifically about Espresso Martinis?

I remembered hearing secondhand, from bartender friends, that it was something that Australian tourists seemed to order a lot, but I wasn’t sure what that observation was useful for. I guessed it would have vodka in it, under the assumption that it was a pre-craft-cocktail-revival drink where vodka reigned supreme. But, more practically speaking, coffee has such a strong flavor profile, it makes sense that unobtrusive vodka would serve best to provide the booze factor without stealing the spotlight. And now that I was thinking about it, hadn’t I recently(ish) seen an Espresso Martini riff on the menu of a much lauded bar in Manhattan?

Alas, I’m woefully oblivious to the zeitgeist. The first time I heard a Taylor Swift song was two years ago. I’m basically an alien (or just an Aquarius), but I do care deeply about drinks, and perhaps it’s not the worst idea for me to step up to the plate of cultural relevance, especially when Claire–in her infinite brain capacity to observe and absorb everything–has served me such a soft and enticing pitch.

First things first, I looked up a little bit of background: The Espresso Martini is, from what I can tell, globally considered a modern classic cocktail. It was invented sometime in the late 1980’s by a bartender named Dick Bradsell at the bequest of a supermodel who wanted something that would “wake me up, and then fuck me up.”

Bradsell never revealed the name of the supermodel, but whoever she is, I totally get the sentiment. I’ve often had to pregame a night of going out with the help of a short espresso—my own natural tempo being more sloth than party animal—then follow it with a slow-sipping, get-ready-to-go-out cocktail. Why hadn’t I ever thought to skip the extra step and combine the two?

Taking to the task like the ever consummate professional I am, I assembled a test group (my partner and my friend Maxx). First, I used the classic recipe, and then, because I can’t help myself, I made two more with different ingredients. The first one—the classic—everyone agreed was tasty and inoffensive, and reminded one of us of “coffee flavors that moms like,” whatever that means. The second one I tried with amaro and rum, but it was largely unremarkable and will have to go back to the drawing board for some other time. For the third and final, I used vodka, banana liqueur, and Cointreau—you know, classic breakfast flavors. This one was a hit.

If using espresso, let it cool completely so you don’t accidentally over-melt your ice and thus over-dilute your cocktail. We all agreed that cold brew would probably be the better substitute, but unfortunately I didn’t have any on hand.

How to make the standard “Wake Me Up, and Then Fuck Me Up” Espresso Martini

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce fresh espresso (I mean, I used a Nespresso machine so nothing precious here) or cold brew coffee.
  • 1/2 ounce coffee liqueur (I used Tia Maria, and I’ve seen Kahlua cited as well)
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup

Pour ingredients into a shaker, fill with ice, shake vigorously for about 12 seconds and strain into chilled martini glass or coupe. Extra credit: Garnish with 3 coffee beans (I had no such thing).

How to make “My Breakfast of Underachievers Who Overachieve With Booze”

  • 1.5 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce espresso or cold brew
  • ¾ banana liqueur (I must insist you use either Giffards Banane De Bresil or Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane)
  • ¼ ounce Cointreau or Triple sec
  • Orange twist

Pour ingredients into a shaker, fill with ice, shake vigorously for about 12 seconds and strain into chilled martini glass or coupe. Garnish with expressed orange twist.