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

Name: The espresso martini.

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?”

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Elegantly wasted: has lockdown made booze dangerously aspirational?
Drinking at home was once a guilty pleasure. Now everyone from bored homeworkers to professional influencers is swapping cocktail recipes and photos of colourful aperitifs. Is gin o’clock turning into unhappy hour?

Gaby Hinsliff

10, Aug, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
'Non-drinkers deserve a great adult cocktail': how alcohol-free spirits became a stealth hit
The number of British adults who consume alcohol is at its lowest since 2005, and a new generation of booze-free spirits offer a welcome alternative to lemonade. But which is better, a strawberry sour or an old fashioned made with ‘Whissin’?

Rebecca Nicholson

10, Sep, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
The proffee principle: is it really a good idea to add protein to your morning coffee?
Caffeine is a stimulant, protein helps muscle recovery, and thousands of people are posting online about combining the two for a sludgy beige take on breakfast

29, Mar, 2021 @2:58 PM

Article image
M&S has renamed its porn star martini. What next for sex on the beach?
Complaints of glorifying the sex industry have led the company to rebrand it the passion star martini. Are other risque cocktails at risk?

28, Aug, 2019 @12:02 PM

Article image
Session cocktail? How Americans got 'the sesh' completely wrong
The US is falling for low-alcohol cocktails designed for all-day drinking, but British millennials still embrace the impromptu bender known as ‘the sesh’

Gavin Haynes

22, May, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Gen Z v the brussels sprout: are these the dying days of the world’s most divisive vegetable?
People have hated sprouts for centuries, but we still ate them. That may be about to change – and Christmas pudding should watch out, too

03, Nov, 2021 @2:18 PM

Article image
Canned cocktail extravaganza! Critics rate 100 summer drinks – from piña colada to merlot
Over the past few years, canned cocktails, wines and seltzers have become incredibly popular. But which ones are genuinely good? Four experts give their verdicts

Felicity Cloake, Rhik Samadder, Fiona Beckett and Richard Godwin

07, Apr, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rhik Samadder tries … cocktail making: ‘I make a naked and famous – and feel stirred, not shaken’
I’m not sure I’ll ever look cool behind a bar, but can I learn how to mix a killer cocktail?

Rhik Samadder

20, Sep, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
What a Croc! Why has Balenciaga ruined the world’s most practical shoes?
It’s not just plastic clogs that are being elevated right now – flip-flops, trainers and hiking boots all have heels right now. And just when we were all yearning for comfort

09, Jun, 2021 @3:12 PM

Article image
Greatest spritz: how a Venetian aperitif became the drink of the summer
The tipple most commonly made with Aperol or Campari has gone from obscurity to ubiquity – thanks to its low alcohol content and endless variations

Mina Holland

26, Jul, 2018 @6:00 AM