You may have heard the origin story of the espresso martini. It’s the early 1980s. A young fashion model, not yet famous, approaches a quick-on-his-feet bartender in a posh London club. She wants a drink that will both give her a buzz and keep her night humming. (Her phrasing is much saltier.) In a spark of inspiration, the bartender shakes up a freshly pulled espresso shot, vodka, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup. A star is born.
The espresso martini and its tale belong to Dick Bradsell, a prolific drink inventor and maestro of the British capital’s cocktail scene. Though countries like Australia never fell out of love, it would surely have pleased Bradsell, who passed away in 2016, to witness America’s rediscovery of the drink after a couple of decades of diminished attention. Now it’s everywhere, getting riffed on, canned, nitro’ed, and reformulated in countless ways.
Some of this newfound adoration comes off as trend-chasing, but behind the hoopla is an actually great cocktail—a true modern classic that works perfectly well in its original formula, and as a platform for thoughtful adaptation. And it’s a drink you can absolutely make well at home; don’t dismiss the espresso martini as that party cocktail you would only order while out.
This version is closely modeled on Bradsell’s, with a twist…of the lemon variety. Espresso and lemon go nicely together (trust the Italians on this), and by shaking the traditional set of espresso martini ingredients along with a lemon peel, you release a subtle brightness that mellows some of the bitterness coming from the coffee. Freshly made espresso, allowed to cool, works best for this drink, but cold brew concentrate can stand in, just note that the flavor will be less robust. If you don’t have access to an espresso machine or stovetop moka pot, Cometeer’s frozen coffee capsules, thawed, make a great substitute. With a quarter-ounce of simple syrup this rendition leans dry, so if you like a sweeter coffee cocktail, consider bumping the dose of simple up to a half-ounce.
Combine 1 lemon twist, 2 oz. coffee liqueur, 1 oz. espresso, cooled, 1 oz. vodka, and ¼ oz. simple syrup (1:1) in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until exterior is chilled, about 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Float 3 coffee beans atop the foam head to garnish.