Bartenderly

The Espresso Martini, Revisited

Try our simple take on a vodka + coffee cocktail classic, plus a rum-soaked variation!

Want a cocktail veganized? Bought a bottle of something and don’t know what to do with it? Need a cool mocktail? Want to make your own liqueur? We’ll drink to that. Bartenderly is here to make all your vegan drinking dreams come true. If you want to check on whether a specific brand of alcohol is vegan, I recommend Barnivore.

The widespread popularity of a drink can result in its being taken less seriously, but this hasn’t stopped the Espresso Martini remaining current since its inception in 1983 — when a customer infamously asked London bartender Dick Bradsell for something to “wake me up and fuck me up.” Bradsell had a knack for creating cocktails that instantly felt like they’d been around forever, and so a modern classic was born: smooth and boozy, with a welcome caffeine kick.

When made to the original recipe — vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso and sugar syrup — an Espresso Martini should be naturally vegan. But, as with any cocktail of its stature, infinite variations occur from bar to bar. A few places I worked at added Baileys, another bar topped theirs with meringue. However, even the original can be compromised, if the syrup uses bone char filtered white sugar. It’s absolutely up to you whether the filtration of sugar is something you’re willing to overlook or not when you’re out ordering drinks — the purpose of this column is not to continually present you with new things you can’t have! — but it’s worth keeping in mind.

There’s no reason why you can’t make an Espresso Martini for yourself though. The recipe I have for you is pared-back and simple, and uses raw sugar for sweetness. You can control exactly what goes into your drink, and as a bonus, with only one type of liquor, it’s a less expensive outlay. Despite having made this cocktail literally hundreds of times as a bartender, sometimes I’d end up with a thick layer of crema-like froth on top and sometimes it would be a thin skimming. Is it the humidity in the air? Distance above sea level? Mercury in retrograde? I don’t know! So don’t worry if your drink doesn’t have dramatic layers. The most important thing is that it tastes good — and this really does. Clean, balanced, and highly invigorating.

This variation on Bradsell’s original lets the espresso, vodka and sugar provide coffee, booze, and sweetness without the liqueur middleman. Demerara sugar’s depth of flavour works so well with the toasty, bitter notes of the coffee.

Simple Espresso Martini

  • 1oz freshly brewed espresso or cold brew
  • 1⅔oz vodka of your choice
  • ⅔ oz demerara sugar syrup

Chill a cocktail glass of your choice. Place all the ingredients in one cocktail shaker tin or glass, fill with fresh ice, and place a second tin on top, tapping to make sure it’s firmly in place. Shake the cocktail vigorously — about ten to fifteen seconds should do it — and then strain into the chilled glass through a sieve. The traditional garnish is a trio of coffee beans, but it’s up to you if you want them or not.

Spiced Rum Espresso Martini

Vodka was extremely fashionable in the eighties and has remained so, but I personally prefer spirits with a more robust flavour profile. If you feel the same, this variation might be for you. The sweet warmth of spiced rum pairs beautifully with the coffee’s intensity, with layers of caramelised sugar flavour emerging from each ingredient. Alternatively, this would be excellent with a rich dark rum.

Spiced Rum Espresso Martini

  • 1oz freshly brewed espresso or cold brew
  • 1⅔ oz spiced rum of your choice
  • ⅔ oz demerara sugar syrup
  • Cinnamon, to garnish

As before, place all ingredients in a shaker, secure a second tin on top, shake vigorously and strain through a sieve into a chilled glass. I chose to serve this one on the rocks in a tumbler. Sprinkle over ground cinnamon for garnish, if you like.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have a coffee machine, I recommend either buying espresso from a cafe and bringing it home in a to-go cup, or get bottled cold brew coffee which works beautifully.
  • If you don’t have cocktail shaker tins, a jar that you can tightly seal will do the trick.
  • To make the sugar syrup, stir together equal quantities of demerara sugar and boiling water till everything has dissolved and then allow it to cool.
  • Demerara sugar should always be vegan. If you can’t find it, turbinado sugar is a good substitute, or even regular brown sugar, but the latter is much more likely to be refined using animal products so it’s worth checking first.
  • You are welcome to play around with the recipe to suit your tastes in terms of how much sugar you add or which particular spirit you use!
  • 1oz = 30ml = 1 shot.

All photos taken at Laundry Bar in Wellington, New Zealand.

Food blogger and author from New Zealand. Writing at hungryandfrozen.com; Twitter at @hungryandfrozen; and exclusive stuff at Patreon.com/hungryandfrozen.

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