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A Brief History Of The Espresso Martini (& How To Make A Perfect One)

espresso martini

As origin stories go, the Espresso Martini’s is one that rather matches the nature of the drink itself. Mysterious, complex, invigorating, cool — and full of dark glamour. The drink’s invention itself establishes it as one of the celebrities of the cocktail world, and the ripples it made went on to shape the London bar scene.

A Star Is Born

Sometime in the ‘90s, when mixologist Dick Bradsell was working at a SoHo, London, venue, he was approached by a model — some versions of this anecdote name two of the biggest supermodels the world has known, and claim it was one of them who was the accidental muse for the Espresso Martini. 

The model asked Bradsell to give her a drink that would “wake (her) up”, followed by a more R-rated instruction. Thinking on his feet, Bradsell combined some freshly brewed espresso with vodka, coffee liqueur and syrup to come up with a cocktail that matched his customer’s specifications.

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A Growing Fandom

While it’s tempting to think of such a successful drink emerging spontaneously, the truth perhaps is that Bradsell had been working on it for a while by that point, tweaking ingredients like coffee grounds and so on, until he achieved his Espresso Martini’s ultimate form on that day in SoHo. 

From the very beginning, the Espresso Martini has been a roaring crowd-pleaser. Its global conquest of the cocktail realm has established it as a go-to drink in places like New York, Paris, Tokyo and Mumbai. Even as in the West, the drink picked up momentum from the coffee movement — borrowing some of the buzz of flat white and its ilk — in India, it gained a decidedly desi touch with the finest filter kaapi taking the place of the regular espresso in the recipe, and ingredients like jaggery, cardamom, condensed milk and saffron enhancing this assimilation.

In The Glass, & Out Of It

In reel life, the Espresso Martini’s allure has made it the drink of choice for characters considered synonymous with sophistication. In real life, the cocktail led a wave of coffee and alcohol pairings, inspiring mixologists to create other crowd-pleasers like the Mocha Martini, White Russian, Mexican Coffee, and more. It also revived previous coffee-based cocktail trends (such as Irish Coffee), that had taken a back seat, but regained popularity. Creative collaborations between mixologists and coffee houses took off. And as Bradsell moved to a new gig, he rebranded his Espresso Martini as the ‘Pharmaceutical Stimulant’, which is quite a mouthful as cocktail names go, and not quite as catchy.

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Make Your Own

The Espresso Martini continues to be a popular cocktail at bars, and with good reason. However, while it isn’t the simplest of drinks, you can replicate the recipe at home, and get your own shot of SoHo’s culture and history in a glass. This recipe makes for a rich, indulgent and creamy drink, while the Ketel One vodka in it imparts a silky smooth finish that’s the icing — or do we mean foam? — on top. Now, you will need a cocktail shaker for this, so ensure you have one at the ready.

Ingredients:

Ketel One Vodka, 40 ml

Coffee liqueur, 20 ml

Espresso (freshly brewed), 30ml

Sugar syrup, 20 ml

Method: 

Add the Ketel One Vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso and simple syrup to a shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with coffee beans. Relish responsibly!