The Espresso Martini, like many cocktails that rose to prominence during the 1980s and ’90s, gained a somewhat bad reputation after decades of abuse. It evolved from an elegant, upgraded coffee to something more akin to a milkshake, but the classic black Espresso Martini remains a delicious choice for those who seek a pick-me-up while they wind down.
It may be a surprise that the Espresso Martini didn’t originate from the menu of a fast-casual restaurant hidden away in a strip mall. Rather, it is the creation of the modern cocktail legend Dick Bradsell, a London-based bartender credited with numerous innovations from the 1980s through the 2000s. A handful of his more famous creations include the Bramble (gin, lemon, crème de mûre), the Treacle (dark rum, simple syrup, bitters, apple juice) and the Green Fairy (absinthe, lemon, bitters, egg white).
In an era when Tom Cruise earned fame as a bottle-flipping master of the Alabama Slammer, Bradsell was known for crafting tight, well-balanced drinks where every ingredient mattered—a precursor to today’s modern mixology scene.
The Espresso Martini is said to have been created in 1983 at the Soho Brasserie. A well-known actress was said to ask Bradsell to make a drink that would “wake me up, and fuck me up.”
With vodka as his canvas, Bradsell combined the spirit with two types of coffee liqueur, Kahlua and Tia Maria, and a strong, short-pull espresso, or ristretto. He called the finished drink a Vodka Espresso, before later changing the name to Espresso Martini to capitalize on the craze for drinks served in the popular V-shaped glass.
While Bradsell tweaked his recipe over the years, this version is close to the original. It’s a favorite for people who enjoy a drink with strong coffee flavors and a bit of sweetness. A short-pull espresso guarantees a concentrated shot, though any espresso can be used.
Likewise, any coffee liqueur will do, though Tia Maria tends to be less sweet and viscous than the more popular Kahlua. It creates a consistency more in line with a real espresso.
Bradsell died of brain cancer in 2016. While toasting his life at London bar Swift, Bradsell’s daughter, Bea, lead patrons in a call-and-response chant in honor of her late father: “Wake me up! Fuck me up!”
- 1½ ounces vodka
- ½ ounce coffee liqueur, like Tia Maria
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional, or to taste)
- 1 ounce espresso, short-pull preferred
- 3 coffee beans, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice, adding espresso last. Shake vigorously for 10–15 seconds, or until well-chilled. Strain into chilled martini glass, and garnish with 3 coffee beans in center of glass.