Whether you love to hate it or hate to love it (or love to love it), it’s everywhere. And it’s mutating. Though at its core the Espresso Martini is little more than vodka-spiked coffee served in a V-shaped glass, today’s interpretations of the modern classic are pushing the blueprint in new directions, spawning enough riffs to give the Negroni a run for its money.
Even in its classic construction, there’s room for variation. For instance, Patrick Smith’s Espresso Martini blends equal parts fresh espresso and coffee liqueur to tick the coffee box, while vanilla liqueur works in tandem with Demerara syrup to add sweetness and body. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Espresso Martini, meanwhile, eschews espresso completely in his home bar–friendly variation, opting instead for cold-brew concentrate in his otherwise archetypal combo of vodka and Kahlúa.
Other modern recipes are ditching the signature Martini glass altogether, opting to serve their Espresso Martinis on the rocks instead. Such is the case with Tim Wiggins’ recipe, which not only shuns stemware, but espresso, too; like Morgenthaler, he relies on cold brew to bring the requisite coffee flavor to his rum- and orgeat-laced interpretation. Though Charity Johnston uses fresh espresso in her But First, Coffee, the inspiration to serve it tall and over ice paradoxically came from her love for cold brew. “I wanted this cocktail to taste as if you’d just had a cold-brew coffee from your favorite shop,” she says.
Others offer more radical departures, swapping out vodka for mezcal or rum, topping with a float of cream or even salted coconut foam, or giving the drink’s signature frothiness a boost with the help of an iSi siphon. Some forgo the alcohol altogether, in favor of zero-proof spirits or homemade nonalcoholic amaro, dubbed “Noverna.”
In other words, the modern classic just keeps modernizing, and for good reason. “It has a reputation as being a little bit trashy… an old, really sweet, really boozy drink that only novices order,” says Patrick Smith. “I don’t think it deserves that reputation.”