Bold, smooth, and full of flavour, the espresso martini is one of the world’s most iconic cocktails.
Consisting primarily of espresso, coffee liqueur, and vodka, the espresso martini was born in the 1980s and skyrocketed in popularity. After a lively run throughout the 1990s, it faded into obscurity for most of the early 2000s.
That said, the business review app Yelp revealed the rate of mentions for espresso martini increased by 300% in the first six months of 2021. Additionally, according to a 2022 poll taken by bartenders, it is the second most requested cocktail in bars.
Specialty coffee shops and roasters have a unique opportunity to profit from the cocktails growing popularity.
In particular, they can offer roasted coffee that perfectly complements the smooth yet powerful flavours of an espresso martini.
To learn more about roasting coffee for espresso martinis, I spoke with MTPak ambassador and the founder of the Female Barista Society, Nicole Battefeld-Montgomery.
The rise of the espresso martini
London bartender Dick Bradsell supposedly made the first espresso martini in the 1980s.
It is said that a supermodel entered Dick’s bar and requested a drink that would “wake her up and mess her up” – although some reports indicate her request was far more explicit.
He served her the iconic espresso martini, which remained popular throughout the 1990s, as it was one of the few coffee-based cocktails on the market. It was hugely successful across Europe, America, and Australia.
However, by the 2000s, it had fallen out of favour. The espresso martini faded into obscurity for a few years as low-alcohol cocktails and natural wines took the spotlight.
That said, by 2010, it was back on cocktail menus and more popular than ever for a number of reasons.
For instance, there is the rise of the ready-to-drink (RTD) sector, which has made canned espresso martinis readily available and more convenient.
Additionally, 90s nostalgia is seeping into all industry trends: from fashion and film to food, 90s trends and the Y2K aesthetic is making an appearance.
It is highly likely this has helped fuel the return of the espresso martini.
Another key factor in its resurgence is specialty coffee itself. A growing number of consumers are becoming increasingly interested in specialty coffee, roast profiles, and the effect of terroir, which is driving the growth of the craft coffee culture.
More so, coffee is increasingly being used in mixology and bartender practices.
“Espresso martinis have become a huge deal in the cocktail world,” explains Nicole, who is also the 2018 German Barista Champion. “Now, it is being made with specialty coffee and high end ingredients such as a cold brew coffee liqueur and exquisite vodka or rye.
As a result, it has become a super complex cocktail, instead of a too-sweet drink with a stale coffee taste.”
What coffee is used in an espresso martini?
The espresso martini is the most searched cocktail in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Iceland.
“Australia and New Zealand are known for having an excellent coffee culture, so there’s no surprise there,” Nicole says.
A classic espresso martini is a three-ingredient cocktail made with freshly brewed espresso, coffee liqueur, and vodka. It is then decorated with three roasted coffee beans.
“The traditional recipe is incredibly easy,” Nicole explains. “It is one third vodka, one third coffee liqueur, and one third espresso.”
That said, roasters can, and often do, experiment with this core recipe. For instance, alternative espresso martinis can be made with chocolate, coconut, salted caramel, hazelnut, rum, and vanilla.
Alongside innovations in the cocktail’s flavour profiles, baristas also tap into their creativity when roasting the coffee.
The coffee used in espresso martinis can feature a wide range of roast profiles. Alternatively, some prefer to use instant coffee over ground coffee altogether.
This may be down to access to an espresso machine, or a desire to save on ingredient costs.
Nicole recommends using an espresso extracted from an espresso machine. However, she admits to having significant results when using coffee capsules or a stove-top Moka pot.
“I do feel that filter coffee may be too light for that iconic espresso martini flavour,” she adds.
Roasting coffee for espresso martinis
For many coffee shops and roasters, this is the ideal time to add espresso martini compatible coffee offerings to the menu.
To take full advantage of its resurgence, roasters should play into the specialty coffee scene.
For instance, roasters can offer best-fit roast profiles for the cocktail and explain this choice to customers and local bars, helping the product stand out.
This requires roasters to choose not only the best coffee to use in an espresso martini but also the flavour profiles and roast strengths that complement the alcohol.
Nicole recommends choosing strong coffees with pronounced flavours that have been roasted dark.
“I prefer heavily fermented coffees with extended fermentation techniques and high fruit sugar content,” she says. “Anaerobic or carbonic maceration coffees are great for this cocktail, and add complexity.
“Also, the roast shouldn’t be too light. Cocktails can take a darker roast, as this helps to counterbalance the strength of the alcohol and high sugar of the other ingredients.”
Strong, bold coffees can help ensure the flavour of the coffee is not overpowered by the alcohol or sugar.
Roasters can also choose a coffee with flavour notes that are the same as, or harmonise with, the rest of the flavours in the drink. For instance, notes of berries, toffee, caramel, and chocolate may be an ideal fit.
Above all, it is essential that roasters remember their brand and understand why customers return to their establishment.
Essentially, consumers will source espresso martini beans from specialty roasters because they want to showcase top quality coffee in a more experimental way.
More so, coffee-based cocktail offerings will open up an additional revenue stream for both roasters and coffee shops.
Additionally, by showing mixologists why specialty coffee creates a far superior drink, roasters can connect with an entirely new market. Then, in turn, bartenders and mixologists can communicate the coffee’s quality to their customers.
While specialty coffee may be a more expensive ingredient, it is a roaster’s job to convince mixologists that it is well worth the investment.
However, by roasting coffee for espresso martinis and talking customers through the flavour profiles that are present, it can be an easy sell.
At MTPak Coffee, we have a range of sustainable multilayer packaging options that will protect your coffee and highlight the fact that it perfectly complements an espresso martini.
Specialty roasters and coffee shops can choose from a range of materials, including kraft paper or rice paper, that have been reinforced with multiple layers that can be easily separated and recycled.
Additionally, we can help design coffee bags for espresso martini offerings and help you choose the right packaging shape and material. We are able to custom design and digitally print coffee packaging with just a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time.