How the espresso martini became the world’s most notorious cocktail


Show caption The espresso martini cocktail has recently gone through a period of rehabilitation and refinement.
Photograph: Gaelle Beller Studio/Getty Images Pass notes How the espresso martini became the world’s most notorious cocktail It can now be found everywhere – in cans at Asda and in cakes on The Great British Bake Off. But the caffeinated classic certainly isn’t popular with everyone Mon 11 Oct 2021 17.01 BST Share on Facebook

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Age: 38.

Appearance: Dark brown, V-shaped, ubiquitous.

What’s in it? Vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur, sugar syrup, coffee beans to garnish.

Sounds potent. That’s the idea. According to legend, the espresso martini was invented by the bartender Dick Bradsell at the Soho Brasserie in 1983, allegedly at the behest of a model who wanted a drink that would “wake me up and fuck me up”.

A true product of its era, then. If only: espresso martinis are wildly, cursedly fashionable.

Where? London, New York, Washington, Sydney – you name it.

Why has something so old and naff suddenly become so hot? That’s slightly unclear – but it seems that this once frivolous novelty drink went through a period of rehabilitation and refinement about five years ago, turning it into a thing of sophistication.

A thing of sophistication that messes you up good. The classic combination of depressant and stimulant has a reliably disruptive effect, yes.

It’s like the vodka Red Bull of today. Perhaps, but the ubiquity of the espresso martini may also be its downfall. You can buy canned espresso martinis in Asda. They are making espresso martini cakes on The Great British Bake Off and selling espresso martini scented candles on Etsy.

Those cash-in knock-offs have nothing to do with the classic cocktail. There’s another thing: bartenders hate making espresso martinis. Doing it properly requires fresh, hot espresso, a serious amount of shaking and a lot of time.

It reminds me of that craze for mojitos – and the queues that built up while bar staff were muddling leaves. The espresso martini has the same copycat effect – when people realise they are available, everyone wants one.

And you’ve got to give drunk people what they want, I suppose. Not any more. According to New York magazine, watering holes in the city have started to drop the drink. “I don’t keep the ingredients on the bar, specifically so that we can’t make them,” said Orlando Franklin McCray, a bartender in Williamsburg.

They are killing off the planet’s most popular cocktail on purpose? They think it’s time everyone moved on. “It just feels like the Aperol spritz of 2021,” said Ella Downs, another bartender.

OK, but you know what I really feel like now? An espresso martini?

Yes! Sorry. Time’s up.

Do say: “Just give me a regular latte – I brought my own vodka.”

Don’t say: “Whatever happened to cocaine?”