Ahhh the espresso martini, the sig bev before there were sig bevs. There’s a good chance this little imbibement was your introduction into the world of coffee cocktails (and if it wasn’t the espresso martini, then it was certainly the Irish coffee). It is, in some cases, or at least as I have been told, a good drink. I strenuously object to such assertions, but millions of espresso martini lovers can’t be wrong—or so millions of likeminded wrong individuals would have you to believe. Regardless of how you personally feel in your heart about it, there is no doubt that the espresso martini is having a bit of a moment right now. But why tho?
Created in the 1980s by Dick Bradsell at Fred’s Club in London—who is said to have created the drink after “a ‘top model’ asked for a drink that would ‘wake me up and f**k me up’ at the same time”—the traditional espresso martini consists of vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur (usually Kahlua), and simple syrup shaken together with ice, strained into a chilled glass, and garnished with three coffee beans. Modern flourishes may include vanilla-flavored vodka or cream or substitute cold brew concentrate for the espresso; since it can be kept refrigerated, the cold brew won’t melt the ice in the shaker, diluting the drink. The proto-coffee cocktail enjoyed a bit of a moment through the 90s, until “the cocktail renaissance hit major American markets, and espresso martinis dropped off the radar, in favor of classic cocktails, fresh juices, and craft spirits,” per Forbes.
But time is a flat circle and what’s old is new again, including the popularity of the espresso martini. (One could cynically say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I am the one saying that.) Long been the drink of choice in the VIP lounge at the London Coffee Festival, the espresso martini—of the $18 variety—was recently spotted being enjoyed by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David at Sant Ambroeus in New York City with Timothée Chalamet, which is admittedly a very bizarre sentence. In the last month, publications in both Boston and Austin have put out listicles of the Best Espresso Martinis in their respective cities, with Austin’s KXAN noting that “Yelp is showing a 63% increase in review mentions of the frothy caffeinated twist on a classic martini.”
Not to be outdone, an espresso martini bar has opened up in Edinburgh called Insomnia. Per the Drinks Business, Insomnia will feature a espresso martini-heavy menu with something like 20 different takes on the cocktail, including the One O’Clock Gun, made with “Ketel One vodka, Edinburgh Castle rock, mixed berry infused vodka, Mr Black Coffee Liqueur, cold brew coffee and will be topped with a smoked cloud.” The bar hopes to have 50 different iterations by the end of the year. It’s all enough for Sauce Magazine to officially declare that the espresso martini is back.
And they’re right, the espresso martini is back. Should it be back? I dunno. The drink favored for its mix of boozy and buzzy is basically a hangover in a glass. And sure, espresso is great and vodka is perfectly fine, but do they really complement each other? This is perhaps too personal of a question to be asking in such an open forum as the internet. Suffice to say, if it works for you I won’t yuck your yum. If it’s good enough for Larry and Timothée, it’s good enough for the zeitgeist.