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The Espresso-Vodka (Espresso Martini) - doing it better: the perfect Espresso Vodka

Look - there are a ton of recipes out there to make an Espresso-Vodka (aka Espresso Martini). It is a drink which gets into its 30's  but it is still very popular.

Why I do pick it up now? Because of the brilliant video below of "How to Drink". Even those folks are often a bit off - the videos are brilliantly entertaining - and more often than not inspirational.

What more to say?

First of all the elephant in the room (which more and more is accepted by a lot of bartenders - but it is and stays an elephant in the room): The Espresso-Vodka (the original name of the EM) is not a martini cocktail!
Please, please, please - stop to mix up and confuse categories of drinks with the glasses they are served in (or other common denominators). A warthog is not an elephant - only because of its tusks (and the fact that it is a mammal, has 4 legs, 2 eyes, a small tail - you get it). How stupid would it be to assume that one animal is another animal only because of its "teeth". Yet bartenders seem to just do that. An Espresso-Vodka is not a "Martini" only because it is made with vodka (...), and is served in a cocktail glass, which coincidentally used for Martinis (and often due to this reason is called martini glass).

Having this out of its way, there is another point: liqueurs. While spirits are regulated under laws what they are made from; other used ingredients etc. liqueurs are often a wild card. It seems that liqueurs are the least regulated edible item there is. Think about it, these are compound products - and the producer don't even have to add an ingredient list! The only law is, that they should not add any uncontrolled or prohibited compounds into it. That's it. Some liqueurs (like "crèmes) also include a minimum sugar level (but it doesn't mean, that the producer have to add real sugar - and not use HFCS). Hence most (volume) liqueurs are a playing field of the food-additive industry.

Should we be concerned? Well - I don't think that we have to (alcohol is a heck of a poison)... but the point is, if liqueurs are really bringing a lot to the party?!
Now think about it: most bars are taking pride in their espresso (I believe, that a good cocktail bar should have a decently good espresso - maybe even an excellent espresso). But a good espresso made with quality, freshly ground coffee beans would be far better than a liqueur which is made shelf stable and probably already made several month (or likely years) before it is used.

Vodka is vodka. But it is obvious that liqueur companies are not using refined neutral spirits but pretty basic neutral grain spirits.

And sugar? I spoke already of HFCS.

Now let's talk about what is coffee liqueur: in the best way possible it is sweetened neutral grain spirit which is flavored with coffee.

So in an Espresso Vodka you are using a mass-produced product (which also unnecessarily increases your cost) - and add the "crafty" produced coffee and some vodka?! Why?

I have "developed" my version of Espresso Vodka few years ago, because of exactly this considerations. Why should I diminish high quality products of a drink with a mass-produced mediocre product? And strangely, when I tested it, it made perfectly sense: there is no need for coffee liqueur.

Enter the Opinionated Espresso Vodka...

40 ml Vodka (decent brand - Russian Standard, Finlandia - nothing too fancy)
30 ml Espresso (this is just one properly dosed espresso)
12 g Baking sugar
Do the espresso - you can directly add the sugar into the espresso cup, so it partly dissolves without too much stirring. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolve - add vodka into the ice-cube filled Boston shaker. Add the sweetened espresso. Shake long - at least about 15 seconds. Half strain through a fine strainer. Garnish with 3 coffee beans*.
*I tried to use chocolate covered coffee beans, but they are too heavy and don't stay on top of the foam. I think the coffee beans are nasty, if you eat them... but at this point I haven't got any real substitute.
 It is a far superior version. It taste far cleaner - but it depends on your ingredients. By the way, you can use also normal sugar (or even brown sugar) - but it won't be as fast, as the sugar needs far longer to dissolve! Why not using simple syrup? Because you add water to the cocktail, which isn't a good thing.

This could be the end of the story. But you didn't accounted my "hatred" to vodka. Well - I don't really hate vodka, but I think it is utterly unnecessary when it comes to drinks. I also believe, that a drink should taste like its spirit - and in case of the Espresso Vodka, the cocktail taste like little boozy espresso. Not ideal.

So during the time I have been doing new cocktail menus, I came across the notion: why not using a different spirit? You could use bourbon (the typical vanilla notes would work especially well) - but I opted for aged rum. The recipe is really the same as the Espresso Vodka - just replaces the vodka with more expensive but also more tasty aged rum.

Honestly, it is a good drink - definitely better than the Espresso Vodka. In my eyes though, it is not idea, because the espresso is so dominant, that it mutes the slightly more delicate aromas of the rum (I used El Dorado 15 years old, Cartavio XO and so on). Maybe reducing the espresso ratio makes sense? More testing is needed to make it perfect!


  1. I once had a heated argument with my bar head who happened to learn his trade in Dubai working in Coya. We had a guest seated in a table here in a high end restaurant in Hong Kong. The servers rang 3 espresso martinis but 1 without Kahlua so i made it how he wanted it, then my bar head complained to me that we never take off ingredients from classic cocktails & remade another one with Kahlua and sent it to the guest. I explained to him thats how the guest requested the drink and Kahula in an espresso martini is not MUST have ingredient, it just like adding mint syrup to a mojito which already has fresh mint and sugar inside. I told him this guest has probably had 100s of espresso martnis (-Kahlua) in his lifetime, why are we forcing him to have it with Kahlua. Its not like he asked a Vesper without Lillet..


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