CNN named 2022 as the year of the espresso martini—but the trend is far from over. In fact, it’s continuing to appear on more and more menus across the United States, online searches for the drink are continuing to increase through 2023, and consumers across multiple markets continue to share a craving for a delicious espresso martini.
So, what makes the espresso martini such a hit decades after it was first created? According to Distilled Spirits Council’s Lisa Hawkins, it’s because of “the convergence of two major US consumer trends: Americans’ affinity for high-end coffee and cocktail culture.” But there’s more to the story about why espresso martinis are back. Hawkins further explains: “The elegance of the espresso martini elevates your cocktail experience at a bar or restaurant, and it also serves as an impressive after-dinner cocktail when entertaining guests at home.”
So, while the taste is trending, what really matters is the versatility and availability. The cocktail is featured on 5% of menus (significantly more than double what it was just a few years ago), home mixologists can access the right quality of ingredients with more ease and speed than ever before, and—with the right brand—you can find a tasty, authentic canned expresso martini in stores or online.
But that widespread availability didn’t just happen overnight. Instead, professional mixologists and cocktail experts have spent years perfecting the science behind what makes espresso martinis work. Keep reading for a closer look at why achieving the perfect blend of this three-ingredient cocktail poses such a significant challenge. We’ll dive into the science of why espresso martinis can be so easy to get wrong and the science of how to do them right.
The Science Behind the Espresso Martini (And Why It’s So Hard for Bartenders to Make)
Espresso martinis are deceptively simple because they feature just three ingredients: espresso, vodka, and coffee liqueur. But getting the proportion of those ingredients right is a significant barrier to a great drink experience. Each ingredient can also be incredibly complex. Consider all these chemical complications (and by chemical, we mean chemistry, not shortcuts with artificial ingredients):
Behind Every Espresso Martini at the Bar, There’s an Espresso
If you are friends with a coffee person (or you are that coffee person), you know exactly how complex pouring the perfect shot can be:
- The grind matters. If the beans are ground too fine, the coffee will be over-extracted, resulting in a bitter taste. If the beans are too coarse, they’ll be under-extracted—and you’ll be left with thin, acidic coffee.
- The beans themselves matter. While there are endless varieties from different regions, even just selecting from the two main categories makes a major difference. Robusta beans (which are often cheaper) are harsh, grainy, and bitter even before you add in brewing. Arabica beans are sweeter, and the texture of the brewed coffee is better. If you’ve had black coffee that had a bit of sweetness or chocolate tones, that was Arabica.
- Temperature and pressure matter. When pulling an espresso shot, even atmospheric pressure can throw off an otherwise perfect dosing setup.
- Timing matters. You can’t leave fresh espresso out for long without significant taste and chemical changes. That’s why many mixologists are exploring cold brew instead. Cold brew extracts coffee from the bean without applying heat—the result is a sweeter liquid that doesn’t rapidly degrade or oscillate in taste.
The list of factors that impact the final taste of an espresso shot is nearly endless, and that creates a highly variable product in just the first step. If you love experimenting with your espresso machine as a hobbyist, that fiddly science can become a hobby. But if you’re a mixologist at work, it’s a nightmare. In fact, bartenders notably dislike making these cocktails because of the prep time, complications, and cleanup of the espresso step alone.
Getting the Composition and Concentration Exactly Right
Once you have your espresso shot prepped and poured, there’s still a lot of careful work to get done. Next, consider the vodka science.
Every vodka tastes different—or does it? Brands, distilleries, and mixology associations around the world have tried to study the taste of vodkas through surveys, laboratory studies, and experiments, but there’s no clear answer on what different vodkas taste like, let alone which one tastes best—or best with coffee. Add in the variability of espresso made with different beans, and vodka goes from just being a source of strong, clear alcohol to a complicated problem.
But what everyone agrees on is that espresso martinis should be around 45 proof. It should be a strong drink, especially for everyone who wants to taste the bite of the alcohol around the strong coffee.
The artful addition of coffee liqueur has now become an advantageous ingredient. Sweet, well-crafted liqueurs from high-quality sources add mellowness, more alcohol, and a consistent coffee flavor. If your bartender chooses a good liqueur, it can smooth out any ragged edges from a hastily made brew.
Keeping It Cool Without Dilution
Deciding between shaken, stirred, and neat isn’t just a matter of taste and opinion. It’s a knotty scientific problem. After all, espresso martinis are designed to be a chilled drink. But espresso shots, by their very nature, are piping hot, and they can lose some of their magic if they cool down to a lukewarm coffee. So mixologists need to rapidly cool the liquid without watering it down or making the taste too harsh, and it needs to be cool before it mixes with any of the other ingredients.
The Equipment You and Certified Mixologists Need to Whip Up an Espresso Martini
Unfortunately, getting all the science right—behind the bar or at home—with traditional methods isn’t just a matter of knowledge. It’s a matter of equipment, too. You need an espresso machine and all the tools to get the shot done right (including a grinder). Alternatively, you need a cold brew coffee setup that mimics the strength and intensity of espresso. Depending on the aesthetic you’re going for, you even need specialty ice molds for ice that melts as slowly as possible.
Brewing an espresso martini by hand is a labor of love, and results can vary because every single variable is so significant.
The Art and Science of the Espresso Martini in a Can
Of course, brewing espresso martinis at scale is also a labor of love, and it’s one that has been explored for years. Taste, taste over time, the complexity of mixing and canning large batches of cocktails, and creating the perfect version of coffee are all hard to get right, and these elements require constant experimentation. Mixologists and manufacturing scientists have to weigh in in equal measure so consumers can open a can and get a drink that tastes exactly right.
If you’re shopping around for a canned espresso martini that captures all the art and science of an individually mixed drink, or if you just want to learn more about how it’s made, consider these core aspects:
A Cold Brew That Delivers without Bitterness or Sourness
Coffee and food processing experts are continually developing large-scale cold brewing technology that works better than the setup of previous generations. While the bean itself matters, choosing the right cold-brewing method can significantly alter the pH level of the ingredient so it’s not too acidic without significantly affecting the caffeine concentration.
So, cold brew coffee is the solution, but the process of making it is still under investigation. Cold extraction is slow extraction, and industrial companies need to trim down the time. Today, many companies use hyper-efficient systems that increase the exposed surface area of the extraction liquid to keep it cool while still optimizing extraction. Scientists are also developing laser synthesis and processing of colloids (LSPC) systems that may one day create a perfect cold brew in a matter of seconds.
Perfectly Balanced Ingredients
Once you pull back the curtain on science, you start to see math—and that’s the secret to a perfectly balanced espresso martini. Look for ratios like:
- 1 oz. cold brew coffee (Arabica preferably, for those sweeter and less bitter notes)
- 1 2/3 oz. vodka
- 3/4 oz. coffee liqueur
And just like math, look for canned espresso martini makers that show their work. The ingredients and proportions should be center-stage on the can.
You Can Still Pour and Serve Your Favorite Way
Now, more of the art comes in. When you have canned espresso martinis that taste consistently delicious every time you have one, you can experiment and add a little artistic flair. Pour them into a martini glass, doctor them up with a few holiday ingredients, or serve them next to your favorite coffee cake or coffee-themed dessert.
Order Up an Espresso Martini That’s Made Right Every Time
When you love mixing drinks and creating your own personal spin on cocktails, experimenting with the science behind espresso martinis is a lot of fun. But sometimes, you just want an authentic drink that tastes amazing—without all the work.
When you want to relax at home in the evening with an espresso martini, when you’re hosting guests, or when everyone has their favorite cocktail and you don’t want to play bartender, Post Meridiem offers the canned cocktails you’re looking for. We’ve created an award-winning espresso martini in a can that keeps getting gold medals. Put our drinks to the test. Find them at your local grocery store or order online—and explore our other award-winning ready-to-drink cocktails while you’re at it.