One of the few ersatz martinis to be worthy of the name, the espresso variety is perfection in a glass; simple, stimulating and utterly delicious, it’s as good after dinner as it is as a short, sharp pick-me-up before heading out for the evening. Perfect if you want to make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve.
As the name suggests, an espresso martini is designed to be made with espresso coffee, though I have high hopes for the recipe from a blog called I Need Coffee, which proclaims “instant coffee a great choice if you are in a hurry, or want to save some time”. But even “espresso powder” can’t compare to the real thing – like the cold-brew coffee suggested by New York bartender Meaghan Dorman, it just tastes insipid in comparison. If you don’t have a machine or a coffee bar within non-spill distance then I’d recommend using a stovetop Moka pot, or loading up your cafetiere within an inch of its life instead.
The recipe in Difford’s Guide’s 365 Days of Cocktails specifies the espresso must be “freshly made and hot” while Nigella Lawson cautions readers of her Christmas book that it should be prepared the night before “so it’s properly cold, chilled if possible, before you start”. I always think coffee tastes better fresh – and in any case, when shaken with enough ice, there’s no need to chill it first, though as Samuel and Samantha Clark advise in their book Morito, “it’s important that you add the coffee last when mixing the drink because if you add it first, it will melt the ice and dilute the drink”.
Many recipes use a coffee liqueur as a sweetener, though this isn’t mandatory; Chris Arnold, the author of the recipe on the I Need Coffee blog, eschews it altogether on the basis that he “prefers to let the real coffee provide that flavour element”, but without it the drink is a tad austere.
Kahlua is the most popular choice here, but testers prefer the less sweet flavour of Tia Maria, though feel free to substitute your favourite coffee liqueur.
Diffords are the only ones to add extra sweetener in the form of sugar syrup to the shaker. It does make for a richer, more well-rounded drink than the very serious version in Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail book, but I think I’d prefer to adjust the flavour with liqueur rather than complicating things with yet another ingredient.
The Clarks add Pedro Ximénez sherry to their espresso martini to give it a sweet, raisiny quality testers prefer to Dorman’s rather sickly vanilla liqueur or Darren West’s Baileys and sambuca, though it’s definitely gilding the lily in a classic version. The same goes for Dorman’s double cream, unless you’re serving this as pudding – if you’d like it to be a little richer, may I suggest a slug of Lawson’s toffee vodka.
Lawson, who makes up a large jug for a brunch party, and Arnold, who prefers stirring “mainly because it involves less work” both eschew the shaker, but if you want a decently chilled drink, and that all important crema on the top, then you’ll need to smash your cocktail with plenty of ice for at least 20 seconds.
Coffee beans are the most -popular choice, though Arnold prefers lemon peel and Dorman cocoa -powder, -neither of which provides the -necessary extra caffeine hit. If you’re going to do this, do it properly.
The perfect espresso martini