The worst weekend of the year is upon us—the weekend when we set our clocks forward, which at 2 a.m. on Sunday will cost us either an extra hour of sleep or an extra hour of debauchery. (It all depends on where Saturday night goes.) Either way, the next morning is sure to be groggy. Wait? Is it 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.? Fuck, it’s 10 a.m. I needed to be up an hour ago.
Coffee, of course, is a must on such an awful day. But caffeine by itself isn’t nearly enough to snap out of the Daylight Saving Time haze. (At least not on Day One.) Coffee with vodka and Kahlua (i.e., the Espresso Martini), on the other hand…
My first experience with the Espresso Martini was more than a decade ago when I worked at a fine-dining restaurant in a small college town. Truth is, we didn’t really have a recipe. We just had an amorphous, ever-changing concoction—usually a combination of the aforementioned vodka and Kahlua with a splash of cream or Baileys that we served “up” in a cocktail glass.
Some customers quickly downed our crude Espresso Martini and immediately requested a second, while others were repulsed by the addition of cream. Nearly everyone was confused by the absence of a chocolate-coated rim.
At some point, I looked up the recipe in Dale DeGroff’s book The Craft of the Cocktail, and my God, were we off.
London bartender Dick Bradsell created the drink in the 1980s. He originally called it a Vodka Espresso and served it on the rocks. Over time, however, it began to be served straight up in a the iconic v-shaped “Martini” glass—hence, the name
The stemware notwithstanding, a proper Espresso Martini is the perfect union of coffee, coffee liqueur and vodka. With such a simple recipe, the coffee is key. (As is the vodka; to that end, I use a 100-proof version to boost the drink’s strength.) At my bar, Clyde Common in Portland, we used to pull a shot of espresso for each Espresso Martini. But that approach becomes labor intensive when making a large volume during a busy service. As a substitute, we experimented with Stumptown’s bottled cold brew coffee; the problem there was that shaking it with ice made the drink too watery. Since Stumptown is our neighbor, we requested a more concentrated version of its cold brew. That made the drink flawless.
Now, if you have an espresso machine at home, pulling a shot for a few drinks works great. For those who don’t, unfortunately, Stumptown’s cold brew concentrate isn’t on the market to buy. But there are plenty of recipes online that demonstrate how to make your own cold brew (e.g., this one from America’s Test Kitchen). Just be sure to increase the amount of coffee to make a strong batch. A watery Espresso Martini won’t be of much help on this discombobulated Sunday morning.
Adapted from a recipe by Dick Bradsell
1 oz. fresh espresso or strong cold-brew
3/4 oz. Kahlua
3/4 oz. overproof vodka, such as Absolut 100
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over the surface of the drink to express oils. Discard the peel.