When it comes to cocktails, few elicit more eye rolls from “bartenders” than the espresso martini. That’s sort of bullshit. I’ve worked in plenty of high-end cocktail bars and, trust me, this is not a hard cocktail to make. Nor is it insufferably loaded with ingredients or intent on masking the flavor of booze with sugar.
Sure, it takes longer than, say, a daiquiri but it’s really not any more difficult. And while there’s some sweetness, this is no appletini.
The crux of this drink is in the shot of espresso that goes into the mix. Some bars will have a bottle of pre-chilled espresso at the ready or they’ll make their own cold brew. Others will pull a shot of espresso for each espresso martini they shake (which is really what you want to do).
What you can’t do is cut a corner by using drip coffee or, gasp, instant coffee. If you don’t have an espresso machine on your counter, better grab some high-quality espresso cold brew from the supermarket — it’s a great fix in a pinch.
Okay, let’s get shaking!
- 2-oz. vodka
- 1-oz. espresso
- 0.75-oz. coffee liqueur
- 0.25-oz. simple syrup
- Coffee beans
As for the coffee liqueur, Kahlua is going to be your best bet. Sure, you can find some bespoke local distillery craft versions if you like. But there’s rarely been a coffee liqueur as good or reliable as Kahlua.
The last element is the espresso. I have an espresso machine on my counter. So I’m using that with a strong “creme” espresso bean from Italy. You can use a thicker cold brew or cold espresso but you won’t get quite the same textural experience. Drip coffee isn’t going to cut it. It’ll be too thin and not bring the depth you need for this cocktail.
But just to be clear: To get that really nice “cocktail bar” vibe to this cocktail, you need to pull a fresh shot of espresso. The creaminess on the top of that shot is a crucial textural element to this drink. Take a look at the espresso shot in the image below. Ideally, that’s what you want to start with.
What You’ll Need:
- Coupe, martini, or Nick and Nora glass
- Cocktail shaker
- Cocktail strainer
- Fine-mesh strainer
- Pre-chill your glass (preferably overnight).
- Make a shot of espresso.
- Pour the vodka, coffee liqueur, simple, and espresso into the cocktail shaker.
- Add about two handfuls of ice, affix the lid, and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds.
- Remove the glass from the freezer.
- Remove the lid from the shaker and double strain it into the waiting glass.
- Let the drink rest for at least 30 seconds, allowing the cocktail to settle and the foam to thicken on the top.
- Gently place a coffee bean in the center of the drink. It should float.
There’s no underselling how good one of these is after a long week, weekend, or just day. The coffee liqueur creates this almost creamy and nutty underbelly to the rich and equally creamy espresso.
The vodka works more as a thinner to cut through the thicker ingredients while adding a touch of minerality and maybe orange citrus. The simple syrup adds a slightly sweet edge. I like mine less sweet (or more sweetened from the Kahlua), so I dial it back. A lot of recipes call for equal parts simple and coffee liqueur and I think that’s just too sweet. But that’s just me.
Overall, this goes down very easily. It’s also pretty simple to make. Aside from making your own coffee (which, again, you don’t have to do… but should), this takes about 90 seconds to make from start to finish. That stretches out to just over two minutes when you add in pulling a shot of espresso.
So if a bartender ever rolls their eyes at you when you order this, know they’re full of shit. This is an easy, delicious, and relatively fast drink to master. Press them to try it or tell them you (and your date?) will just make your own back at your spot.