Lately, the bulk of drink orders are for espresso martinis. While everything that was once in vogue comes back around, I believe there’s more to this trend.
This drink came about during the ‘darker days’ of bartending—the ’80s—and was further popularized in the ’90s. Personally, I love all things ’80s, especially the ‘easy-make’ cocktails. And I love the alleged origin story of the espresso martini: An up-and-coming supermodel walked into a London bar and asked British bartender Dick Bradsell to make her a cocktail that would wake her up. Bradsell pulled a fresh shot of espresso from a side station, mixed it with vodka, sugar and coffee liqueur, and just like that, the espresso martini was born.
Aside from its quirky origin story, I believe three main factors contribute to the popularity and revival of this drink:
1. The Glass
A martini, by its original definition, must contain gin and vermouth. However, bartenders are known to throw any mix of spirits and modifiers into a martini glass and call it a martini. Let’s unpack why.
The martini glass is so iconic that whatever you put in it instantly becomes more interesting. Simply by holding this glass, one exudes agent 007 class. If the espresso martini were presented in any other way, I guarantee it would not be as well-received.
2. The Mix of Alcohol and Caffeine
Remember when Red Bull and vodka was at its peak? The espresso martini offers the same effect—minus the questionable ingredients.
Combining alcohol and caffeine is super appealing, especially to those between the ages of 40 and 60. Why? Because we’re tired.
3. Our Taste Buds
Over the past two decades, we have become very familiar with the taste of coffee. We frequent Starbucks, Wawa and Dunkin’ multiple times a day. We love spending money on coffee, even more so during the pandemic. It was an excuse to venture out.
Coffee has become more than a drink; it’s a ritual and a savior. The espresso martini is like an old friend, with coffee as a familiar start, middle and end to our day.
Variations on the Classic
What I like the most about the espresso martini is its versatility. I am embracing it, perfecting it—and creating riff after riff. My two most successful takes are a chai-tea espresso martini (recipe here) and an iced-cocoa style (recipe here).
The chai espresso martini steeps chai in decaf espresso—with a splash of RumChata for added spice and a bit of creaminess. The cocoa espresso martini features a housemade cocoa simple syrup and creme de cacao in addition to the coffee liqueur. The drink is then finished with a brownie crisp garnish that floats perfectly on the signature tan, frothy cap.
A few elements are crucial in crafting an excellent espresso martini, and there are some great products on the market.
First, an exceptional espresso martini requires a freshly pulled shot of espresso. The oils from the espresso beans react in the drink to produce that signature froth that supports the three-bean garnish.
The second is the coffee liqueur. Kahlúa is a solid choice, but I’ve found a few other amazing products—if you can acquire them. St. George Nola Coffee Liqueur is a homage to New Orleans-style coffee. This liqueur offers all the important notes of vanilla, chicory and brown sugar but is less sweet and syrupy than the standard. The second is Mr Black Cold Coffee Liqueur. Mr Black is roasted and distilled in Australia, focusing on using only the best ingredients. It’s made with wheat vodka and contains about half the sugar of Kahlúa.
An After-Dinner Experience
I think we should ride the espresso martini trend into an after-dinner experience. At my club, we call it a ‘CNGC Nightcap.’ Once a month, we offer a complimentary after-dinner drink selected from a specially crafted menu. Each cocktail is paired with a gourmet dessert bite. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your espresso martini while inviting your members to stay a bit longer.
If space allows, invite your members to enjoy their nightcap in a different room from which they dine. Create a lounge with soft seating, music and twilight-style lighting—ideal for conversation with other members and the perfect ending to your dining experience.
This is an easy and affordable way to engage your membership while showing appreciation for their patronage. I learned from a brilliant mentor that the last sweet bite sticks in your mind most about a dining experience. Why not pair it with a delicious espresso martini?