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Holiday Booze and Brew: Mixologist Offers Tips for Making the Best Espresso Martini

It's a strong but simple cocktail that's sure to wake you up.

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Enjoying a drink while wrapping gifts or watching a Christmas film is the perfect way to unwind and get into the holiday spirit — and it’s even better when the cocktail you’re sipping on is easy to make. Enter: the espresso martini. This strong, sweet, and bitter blend is the ideal mix of booze and coffee. It only requires four ingredients — and offers a nice jolt of caffeine to boot, which will no doubt come in handy when you’re staying up late to finish all your festive duties. As a bonus, there are lots of fun ways to garnish and serve this drink for extra holiday flair. Learn how to make an espresso martini at home, plus discover the history behind this classic cocktail below.

The History of Espresso Martinis

In a 2011 interview, bartender Dick Bradsell shared the story of how he invented this cocktail in the late 80’s, while working at Fred’s Club in London. A customer asked him to make a drink that would “wake her up, and then f–k her up.” So, Bradsell created what was then called the Vodka Espresso and is now known as the Espresso Martini — a cocktail consisting of espresso, vodka, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup (a sweetener made from sugar and water). These ingredients are shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice before being strained into a chilled martini glass. The drink is then garnished with three coffee beans and served. 

Andrew Nichols, head of mixology for the Atlas Restaurant Group, notes that it took several years for the cocktail to gain popularity. “The drink didn’t truly take off until the 1990s, when everything started being served in a stemmed glass,” he told Baltimore Magazine. Similar to other ’90s cocktails, like cosmopolitans (a Sex and the City staple), espresso martinis are still being enjoyed to this day.

“[It’s a] convergence of two major US consumer trends: Americans’ affinity for high-end coffee and cocktail culture,” Lisa Hawkins​, senior vice president for public affairs for the Distilled Spirits Council, explained to CNN Business. “The elegance of the espresso martini elevates your cocktail experience at a bar or restaurant, and it also serves as an impressive after-dinner cocktail when entertaining guests at home.”

How To Make an Espresso Martini

Having cocktail equipment handy — like a shaker and strainer — is one part of nailing this drink. Need more tips? Look no further: We asked Jane Danger, Pernod Ricard mixologist, five questions about how to make the perfect espresso martini at home.

What’s an espresso martini made of?

A classic espresso martini consists of one part Kahlúa, one part vodka like Absolut Vodka, one part brewed espresso, and three whole coffee beans for garnish.

Are there variations of this drink?

One of the reasons I love this cocktail is that it lends itself to creativity, and you can switch up the recipe with the seasons. In the fall, add a dash of pumpkin syrup and garnish with cinnamon. During the holiday season, I love serving drinks in unexpected ways to delight guests; Kahlúa recently partnered with Emmy Award-winning food expert Chef Gail Simmons, who developed a simplistic yet delicious Cocoa Cookie Cup recipe to serve as the perfect vessel for espresso martinis. (See how chef Simmons shakes up this cocktail in the video below.)

How do I make my espresso martini super frothy?

The key is making sure you add the proper amount of ice to the shaker, and shaking for a good 15 to 20 seconds to achieve that perfect, velvety foam. Use a lot of ice and make sure to shake really hard — it should be a work out!

How do you garnish an espresso martini?

The classic garnish is three espresso beans, but there are endless, delicious options when it comes to garnishes. Along with ground cinnamon, sprinkling the drink with coconut flakes, chocolate shavings, or crushed candy cane can add another layer of festive flavor.

Any final thoughts on making this drink?

If you don’t have espresso or instant espresso, use your favorite cold brew. Also, espresso martinis can be batched before a holiday gathering: Mix everything together and keep in a closed nonreactive container in the fridge for up to a week. Once you are ready to serve, the cocktails can quickly be shaken to order or poured into your favorite punch bowl (or fountain) over large ice to last the whole evening. Cheers!

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