The Best Extra-Modern Espresso Martinis

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 tequila-based 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. 

Indeed, the availability of bottled cold brew and cold brew concentrate has led to a widespread disavowal of fresh, hot espresso, which can be tricky to work with in a chilled cocktail. Bolstered by coffee liqueur, cold brew is the backbone of Kevin Baird’s When the Lights Go Out, an after-dinner Espresso Martini variation in which a half-ounce of Aperol adds “a subtle festive orange accent.” In a nod to the other coffee classic, the Irish Coffee, a float of cream finishes off the recipe. Justin Campbell’s recipe is a similarly indulgent, frothy affair; like Baird’s formula, it relies on cold brew to add that signature coffee flavor to his spin. With a tequila base, mole bitters and a half-ounce measure of Averna to round it out, The Benevolent might just be the most modern of the modern classic’s many riffs. 

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