After more than a year of mixing our own quarantine cocktails at home, people are back in bars and leaving it to the professionals again. Exactly which drinks are they ordering? Espresso martinis, apparently.
The espresso martini has been named the “drink of the summer,” spawning countless funny memes and tweets about this caffeinated libation. Even the New York Times has declared, “The Espresso Martini Is Everywhere.”
How To Make The Best Espresso Martini
The cocktail is a fairly simple concoction. Liquor.com advises adding 2 ounces vodka, 1/2 ounce coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua), 1 ounce of espresso (freshly brewed or cold brew concentrate) and 1/2 ounce simple syrup to a shaker filled with ice, and to shake until well-chilled. Then strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a few coffee beans.
“A well-made espresso martini can be a thing of beauty. Lightly bitter, dark mocha, balanced sweetness, a little froth and a bit of booze with a pick-me-up ... what’s not to like?” mixologist and Crafthouse Cocktails co-founder Charles Joly told HuffPost.
He said he likes to play around with different coffee liqueurs but is quite partial to the Caffe Amaro from J. Rieger Co.
“St. George’s NOLA Coffee Liqueur and Mr. Black are both fantastic as well,” Joly added. “To boot, the world of coffee is ever-evolving. Both tea and coffee have been favorite ingredients since I opened my first cocktail bar in the 2000s. Cold brew is an everyday item in many people’s homes. I’ve certainly explored it for our bottled Crafthouse Cocktails. I’ve even seen Ketel One set up nitro-espresso martini machines at events, adding to the already fantastic texture.”
“If your goal is to stay up all night, that’s fine, but if you have a 9 a.m. meeting, I’d skip this one!”
In addition to St. George NOLA and Mr. Black, Cafecito Coffee Liqueur from Austin is a favorite of “Mommy Mixology” founder Rysse Goldfarb.
“I find all of those to taste more authentically like coffee. St. George NOLA is inspired by New Orleans-style coffee and the hints of chicory make it unique!” she explained, adding that Kahlua is made with rum and coffee beans, so it can taste sweeter than other liqueur options that are made with a neutral spirit as a base.
Rysse noted that earlier espresso martini recipes often included simple syrup, while more contemporary versions often omit that ingredient.
“The craft cocktail movement has evolved with our palettes, and more recent recipes reflect less overt and cloying sweetness,” she said. “Recipes used today will use less (or no) syrup since there is so much sweetness already in some of the coffee liqueurs.”
As the story goes, London bartender and “king of cocktails” Dick Bradsell invented the espresso martini at Fred’s Club in the late 1980s when “a young model who’s now famous came in and said, ‘Can you make me a drink that will wake me up and then f**k me up?’”
There are differing theories around the identity of this model or whether she was even a model at all, but Bradsell reportedly enjoyed the mystery element.
What we do know is that the creamy, velvety drink rose to popularity over the next decade to bonafide craze status in the late ’90s. And its initial name, “vodka espresso,” evolved into “espresso martini.”
“At a pretty flat time in the world of cocktails, Dick was creating simple, memorable serves,” Joly noted. “That’s not to say people weren’t making cocktails in one fashion or another. The ‘martini’ list was rampant in the ’80s and ’90s, although this drink’s had zero to do with a classic martini aside from a stemmed glass.”
When we entered the 21st century and the “tini” fad died down, so too did interest in the espresso martini.
“Our guests in the 2000s had a hangover (perhaps literally and figuratively) from the sickly sweet, neon-colored cocktail lists of the ’90s,” Joly said. “We were getting back to the roots and needed to create a clear definition of what a martini was. Bartenders were exalting the venerable combination of stirred gin, vermouth and bitters back to its rightful throne.”
As for the espresso martini’s revival in the 2020s, there are plenty of possible reasons, and the truth might just be a combination.
“Fast-forward two decades and the cocktail movement has grown lightyears,” Joly noted. “Our guests have an understanding and expectation for a proper cocktail, not that there isn’t plenty of work left to do. This allows for a more playful approach, exploration into nostalgia and revisiting some lovely cocktails that bridged a dark period in better drinking.”
Many point to the influence of reality shows like “Summer House” and “Below Deck,” in which cast members are often seen drinking espresso martinis.
Others believe the espresso martini is part of a general coffee drink trend, as evidenced by the dalgona coffee craze that took over TikTok not too long ago.
“Coffee everything is having a moment!” Rysse said. “Even Vietnamese coffee is sweeping the nation. The amount of coffee liqueurs on the shelf at our local liquor store increases dramatically each time I go back!”
And then, there is the ubiquitous influence of the pandemic. Susan Garcia, co-founder of Create-a-Cocktail, said she believes the exhaustion and burnout of life in the age of COVID-19 means people need a little boost.
“It’s the drink of the moment because of the pandemic,” Garcia said. “People are having to work so much and stay up and they need that extra caffeine, that energy to cope with everything.”
And during this “hot vax summer,” many of us are trying to hit the bars and stay out late again after quite some time out of practice. A brewed espresso drink can help with the sleep schedule transition.
Are Espresso Martinis Bad For You?
An espresso martini may provide a delicious energy boost, but how does it stack up healthwise? The answer isn’t terribly positive.
For starters, coffee and alcohol are two of the most dehydrating drinks out there, so you’ll definitely need to be mindful about consuming enough water. As you may become dehydrated more quickly, you also may wind up with a worse hangover after a night of drinking espresso martinis.
“Coffee is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, so your body is doing different actions simultaneously, which may not be ideal,” said Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family.”
She also pointed to sleep disturbance as a potential negative effect. After all, this cocktail contains caffeine from the espresso, as well as the coffee liqueurs.
“A shot of espresso contains 64mg of caffeine, which is far less than a grande coffee (about 200 mg), but depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine, it can still disturb your sleep at night,” she explained. “And for folks over 30, the combo of caffeine and alcohol can wreak some serious havoc on your sleep. If your goal is to stay up all night, that’s fine, but if you have a 9 a.m. meeting, I’d skip this one!”
Rysse noted that she enjoys an espresso martini in the evening in lieu of dessert and prefers it without the actual espresso. Instead, she includes only the coffee liqueur, which has significantly less caffeine. Limiting the number of espresso martinis will also prove to be better for your health (as does limiting the number of cocktails or coffee drinks you consume in general).
“I’d stick to one because any more than that will negatively affect your sleep,” Largeman-Roth said. “This might be the drink to enjoy at 5 p.m., but not at 9 p.m. It’s kind of like mixing Red Bull with vodka.”
Largeman-Roth is not the only one to draw the espresso martini-Vodka Red Bull comparison, but admittedly it’s not quite as bad as that energy drink cocktail.
“There was this huge phase of Vodka Red Bull, which ended up giving people heart issues, so I’m glad that went away,” Garcia said.
“I’m not saying that vodka and coffee together are a lot better for you, but it’s a little more natural since you don’t have all that extra junk they put in Red Bull. Still, I wouldn’t advise more than two in one sitting. It’s refreshing ― think of it as more of an aperitif.”
As with any cocktail or anything that isn’t considered healthy, the key to consuming espresso martinis is moderation. Joly noted that many people order an espresso at the end of a big restaurant meal before moving on to another location for drinks.
“Why not follow Mr. Bradsell’s lead and combine the two?” he said. “The long and short of it is that we should seek to consume responsibly and in moderation. Personally, I’m good for one espresso martini. While delicious, enjoying one after dinner does the trick for me. Know yourself, listen to your body and imbibe responsibly.”