The Espresso Martini: A Cocktail With a Story

Coffee has firmly entrenched itself as the drink of choice, with 75% of Americans drinking a daily cup of coffee—or for 49% of people, three to five cups a day. For some, coffee is primarily a morning beverage: a jolt of energy to get the day started. But for many coffee lovers, there’s room for coffee around the clock—an afternoon latte, a small espresso with dessert, or an indulgent alcoholic drink with an extra coffee liqueur kick in the evenings. While there’s room on the menu for an Irish coffee or egg nog spiked with a bit of coffee, there’s no more sophisticated coffee drink than the espresso martini.

An iconic mix of coffee, vodka, and coffee liqueur, this drink is well-known for delivering the perfect burst of energy for anything from a late-morning brunch to a late-night soiree. But, like other specialty coffee drinks that rely on a well-made shot of espresso, it can be hard to get the perfect one that suits your palette—without first finding a bar, a full espresso setup, and a talented barista. 

Keep reading to unlock the secret to a perfect vodka espresso anywhere. First, we’ll cover the origins of the drink and the details of the classic recipe. Then we’ll explore some perfect opportunities to make an espresso martini simple by choosing the classic taste in a convenient can—including tasty variations that can make your next martini even better.

The Origin of the Espresso Martini: A Well-Crafted Story for a Well-Crafted Drink

Good drinks don’t just have a great recipe. They have a great history. The classic Manhattan, for example, was said to be invented at New York City’s Manhattan Club for a banquet in 1874. Dr. Ian Marshall may have invented it, but hostess Jennie Jerome might deserve the credit. Other reports put the origin in Broadway, and the timeline varies. But the storytelling isn’t in getting the details just right—it’s in the fun mystery of everyone having their own retelling and narrative flourishes.

The espresso martini is similarly shrouded in equal parts mystery, storytelling flair, and known facts. The location: Fred’s Club in London. The inventor: Dick Bradsell. The story? A woman (often purported to be a model) came into Fred’s Club after a long transatlantic flight. She requested a brand new drink— something that would “wake me up, and then f**k me up.”

Related: 6 Benefits of Choosing a Ready-to-Drink Espresso Martini

The drink itself came from creative coincidence. Dick Bradsell—iconic creator of the Bramble and the Treacle cocktails—was bartending and saw a coffee machine at the Soho Brasseries out of the corner of his eye. There were plenty of coffee beans, and vodka was en vogue and in demand in the 1980s, so he put the two together, added coffee liqueur, and made history.

From start to finish, the day the espresso martini was made is a great story. It’s full of chance encounters, timely trends, and bartending expertise meeting up to create a seemingly simple but endlessly delicious beverage. Over time, the details of the story changed, people have guessed at the missing details, and lots of bartenders and foodies around the world have experimented with variations, so it’s a drink and a cultural moment that won’t drift away any time soon.

Today, it’s made even better in a can. An espresso martini that’s made with strong cold brew and high-quality liqueurs pack all the flavor of a freshly mixed vodka espresso without the hassle and time commitment. With the growing popularity of canned coffees ready to drink straight from the can or brew into a chilled glass, why not include espresso martinis on the list?

The Recipe: Simple But Delightful

The exact recipe varies based on who you ask. But if you’re looking for the traditional ingredients established by Difford’s Guide—a global publication that publishes the guidelines for cocktails and spirits—there are four ingredients:

  1. One shot of espresso
  2. 50 ml vodka
  3. 30 ml coffee liqueur (typically Kahlua)
  4. 10 ml sugar syrup

Just these four ingredients allow for endless variation. Any espresso drinker knows how different notes and mouth feels can be concocted from the same bag of beans. Different vodka purities and brands can completely transform the drink. 

The other critical supplies for crafting your own espresso martini are a cocktail shaker, ice, and a chilled glass. You pour all four ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake until the drink is completely chilled, and then serve it in an equally cold glass. The beverage is designed to be a cold, refreshing coffee brew, not hot or lukewarm.

But who has time for that? Making an espresso martini from scratch involves lots of steps, lots of bottles, and an espresso machine. Even professional bartenders are wary of making the drink because of the time commitment and required precision at every step. That’s where a modern canned espresso martini comes in. You can whip up a tasty espresso martini in moments by pulling out a refrigerated canned cocktail with just the right premixed ingredients.

Mixologists, professional bartenders, and hobbyists around the world all add their own choice ingredients, change the composition of the core components, and serve it differently. Difford’s Guide also goes on to explore tasty options for the drink. Some of the most common variations you might see at your local bar or next cocktail hour include:

  • Serving it with cocktail beans as a garnish
  • Adding a twist of lemon 
  • Switching out the coffee liqueur for a chocolate or mocha liqueur
  • Topping it with a light dusting of spices for flavor and garnish

You might even switch the espresso for cold brew. Many bartenders also prefer a ‘cold brew martini’ because they can make cold brew drinks faster and more consistently on busy nights. Cold brew is consistently tasty and has a signature sweetness. When you indulge in a canned espresso martini, the switch from espresso to cold brew captures all the signature notes and java you’re looking for.

While purists may argue that the recipe shouldn’t be changed, the incredible flexibility of the drink allows everyone to find their particular espresso martini for brunches, cocktail hours, late-night gatherings, and any occasion in between.

Popular Variations So Every Espresso Martini Hits the Spot

Just like there are countless occasions for a tasty vodka espresso, there’s a variation for every occasion. Some variations you might try with your next espresso martini are:

  • Try the canned cocktail version: One of the big limitations of espresso martinis is the espresso. Mixologists at a packed bar can’t make delicious shots of espresso when they’re juggling twenty drinks—something is going to give. If you’re making cocktails at home, you might not want to power up the espresso machine or wait for cold brew. But espresso martinis are now available, pre-brewed and delicious, in cans that you can keep your fridge for your next night in. It cuts out the prep work and opens up the potential for new recipes.
  • Add a hint of other flavored liqueurs or syrups: Want to highlight the fruity notes in your coffee beans? Opt for a cherry liqueur. Looking for a fun holiday twist? Try peppermint, chocolate, or hazelnut liqueur. With a delicious canned espresso martini, you can easily become a mixologist at home without having to brew up your own espresso.
  • Use your espresso martini as a creamer: Want a hint of an espresso martini with a dinner coffee or dessert? Pour in a splash of canned martini espresso. Then you can get all of the refreshing taste as a light accent to your at-home cold brew.
  • Use the vodka espresso itself as an ingredient: Love cocktails but looking for something a little slower or that you can drink with a smaller buzz? Explore your options by making the martini an ingredient. For example, you can make an affogato where your martini is a chilly topping for a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The possibilities are endless, especially when you have easy access to espresso martinis at home.

When Is the Perfect Moment for an Espresso Martini?

Speaking of occasions, when is the right moment for a vodka espresso? It’s a heady brew of liqueur or liquor, but that shot of espresso means it’s certainly not a nightcap. Luckily, there are plenty of occasions, day or night, for ordering an espresso martini or mixing up your own. It’s a chilled drink that’s perfect for hot summers, the warming liqueur makes it a great choice for spring and fall, and it invites easy seasonal switches for holiday cocktail parties. Here are some ideas for where it naturally fits into the menu:

An Espresso Martini for an Indulgent Dessert Drink

Despite the caffeine surge, coffee in all formats and concentrations has been a popular dessert motif for centuries (for example, traditional coffee cake). But you don’t need to stick to coffee-flavored desserts for a post-dinner taste of espresso. 

Instead, you can order the real deal with a martini espresso. The slight hint of sugar syrup makes it a sweet indulgence. For celebratory dinners, you can also switch out the traditional espresso and cheesecake combination—a deliciously bitter shot of coffee to cut through the rich cake—for an espresso martini and slice of cheesecake.

When the Party Is Lasting Into the Early Morning Hours

Love having friends over for a long game night or dinner? Espresso martinis are the perfect choice for making the evening last, but the traditional drink can be time-consuming and tedious to make. Stock your fridge with some espresso martinis in a can. Then you can pour one into a chilled glass without missing a beat. Sipping an espresso martini can keep you energized and engaged as the clock ticks toward (or past) midnight. It’s also an excellent beverage for movie marathons or nights on the patio with a couple of friends.

When You Love Brunch but Not Mimosas

The brunch trend is as popular as ever, and it’s well known for having flavors for every palette. You can go the savory route with eggs benedict, bacon, and a bloody mary. You can go the sweet route with French toast and mimosas. You can also enjoy a mix of sweet, savory, and light to suit your particular preferences. 

Related: The Social Perks of Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

An espresso martini is an alternative to mimosas when you’re not in the mood for orange juice and champagne—or when you want that perfect something with an energizing jolt to cut through the syrup or hollandaise.

Find the Right Canned Cocktail to Get Your Espresso Martini Without the Full Bar Cart

Espresso martinis don’t naturally fit into a can. The drink requires precision cold brew technology to capture all the best flavors of coffee without the tinny flavors of cans, and it requires adherence to quality ingredients and best brewing practices to use vodkas and liqueurs that taste great without being hidden by artificial flavors. 

At Post Meridiem, a well-crafted espresso martini in a can is what we’re bringing to the table. Our drinks always feature 100% real ingredients without compromise, so you can enjoy your beverage of choice straight from the can, in a frosted cocktail glass, or as an easy ingredient for your own signature cocktail. Find local shops that sell our award-winning espresso martinis or order online.