You’d be hard pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have an Espresso Martini on its menu nowadays, and rightly so, but coffee has a lot more to offer when it comes to cocktails.
Elegant in its simplicity, fun yet sophisticated, the Espresso Martini – created by legendary London bartender Dick Bradsell in the 1980s – is quite deservedly having a moment, and long may that last. But coffee is a versatile cocktail ingredient, and bartenders have recently been finding new and inventive ways to mix with it, in all its forms.
The most natural approach, avoiding the reinvention of any wheels, is to remix the ubiquitous classic. The Espresso Martini lends itself well to being modified, whether it’s swapping the vodka out for tequila or rum, or pretty much anything else, revisiting the coffee component, or even the sweetener.
At Christina’s at The Mondrian in London’s Shoreditch, their version makes use of a rum infused with banana peels, by sustainable spirits brand Discarded, sweetened with just a touch of honey syrup. Meanwhile at the new Daroco Soho, their take is made with cold brew coffee and a brown-butter vodka, sweetened with both tonka syrup and a clarified banana syrup.
The Espresso Martini isn’t the only classic coffee cocktail that bartenders are taking inspiration from. There’s the timeless Irish Coffee, which tends to be modified and improved, rather than entirely overhauled. At Schofield’s in Manchester, the usual sugar is replaced by a honey syrup, and their cream is infused with vanilla.
The Carajillo, a Spanish invention, has its devotees around the world, but nowhere more than in Mexico City. Simplicity in itself, this is a combination of espresso and Spanish liqueur Licor 43, served over ice. At Viajante87 in London’s Notting Hill, their shaken version adds a little Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur to the mix.
Meanwhile, some bartenders are taking things further, beyond the classics, and exploring coffee’s full potential as a cocktail ingredient. Take the Guns of Brixton, a drink from London’s Hacha, which focuses instead on green coffee beans, and then introduces coffee flavour via a caffeine-free chicory cold brew.
Flavour and balance
‘Coffee has a stigma of being the highlight of a drink instead of being complementary,’ says Tristan Carvalho of The Cocktail Trading Co (see below). ‘I’ve always preferred to approach it as a flavour enhancer, or something to balance a drink, the way bitters are used.’
Coffee and cocktail consultant Dan Fellows, agrees. ‘Coffee can be used as a supporting or secondary flavour to bring new levels of complexity and balance to drinks, either complementing or contrasting the other ingredients in the drink.’
There’s also more to coffee than the bean, according to Fellows. ‘Cascara, a byproduct of coffee production that can show flavours of dried fruit and Port, is now being used to bring natural sweetness to drinks, and even coffee leaf is becoming an ingredient to explore, with a flavour profile closer to tea.’
Coffee cocktails to try at home
If you want to venture beyond the Espresso Martini, these recipes are arranged in order of complexity, from easy-to-make to cocktails that require more preparation with homemade syrups for example.
Recipe from Viajante87, London
‘We wanted to showcase a Carajillo because of the ritual it holds in everyday life in Mexico City,’ says Pietro Collina of Viajante87. ‘It’s a treat people indulge in at any point of the day, and you won’t find anyone in a group having one by themselves. It’s a reason to pause and slow down for a beat, similar to the coveted espresso break in Italy.’
Ingredients: 45ml espresso, 30ml Licor 43, 15ml Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
Method: Put all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled tumbler.
Banana Espresso Martini
Recipe from Christina’s, London
‘There are too many variables when pouring a shot of espresso, so we opted for Climpson & Sons Coffee Concentrate,’ says Sam Russell at Christina’s in London’s Shoreditch. ‘The coffee spray from Linden Leaf gives the top a glossy, Guinness-like finish.’
Ingredients: 35ml Discarded Banana Rum, 35ml Climpson & Sons Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, 20ml Tempus Fugit Crème de Banane, 15ml Climpson & Sons Midnight Oil Coffee Liqueur, 5ml honey syrup
Garnish: Linden Leaf Cocktail Elements 06 Coffee spray
Method: Put all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe.
Recipe from Schofield’s Bar, Manchester
The Irish Coffee at Schofield’s doesn’t stray too far from the original, but elevates things with the addition of a honey syrup (three parts honey to one part water), as well as vanilla-infused cream made with good-quality vanilla extract – and some grated tonka bean to finish.
Ingredients: 100ml hot water, 35ml Redbreast 12 Whiskey, 25ml fresh espresso, 20ml honey syrup* Vanilla-infused cream**
Garnish: Grated tonka bean
Method: Combine ingredients in the glass and top with slightly whipped cream.
Recipe by Tristan Carvalho, The Cocktail Trading Co (above)
This cocktail was created for the 10th anniversary celebrations of drinks brand accelerator Distill Ventures. ‘I decided to combine coffee with another breakfast staple in Singapore, where I’m from, which is kaya, a coconut pandan jam that you’d spread on toast to have with your coffee,’ says Carvalho.
Ingredients: 30ml Vodka, 30ml Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, 30ml Sesh Mix*
Garnish: Pandan leaf
Method: Put all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and double strain into a chilled coupe.
*To make the Sesh Mix combine 500ml Rooibos Tea (five bags in 500ml hot water for 15 minutes), 165g table sugar, 50g golden syrup, 100g kaya (coconut pandan jam, available from Amazon or Asian markets), 4g salt and 20g Nescafé Gold. This makes enough mix for 18 cocktails; the mix can be kept in a sealed jar or bottle in the fridge for a month.
Guns of Brixton
Recipe from Hacha, London
‘The concept was to work around the idea of coffee, without having any traditional coffee taste,’ says Hacha Brixton’s Ben Guillou. ‘Sweet green notes from green coffee go well with agave and tonka beans, and we balanced that with the bitterness of chicory and the dry, spicy notes of our vermouth.’ You can use tequila or mezcal, infused with tonka beans: place three tonka beans in your chosen bottle for three hours and strain. To make the chicory cold brew, place 5g of chicory roots in 250ml of water and infuse for 24 hours. To make the green coffee bean syrup combine 250g caster sugar, 250g water and 50g green coffee beans in a saucepan and bring to a light boil. Remove from stove and infuse for an extra 24 hours. To make your own sea moss solution steep 10g of sea moss in 100g of water for a couple of hours and strain. But you can use saline solution instead: dissolve 2g salt in 10ml water.
Ingredients: 35ml tequila or mezcal infused with tonka beans, 15ml chicory cold brew, 15ml Hacha Dry Vermouth, 10ml green coffee bean syrup, 3 dashes of sea moss solution
Garnish: Three green coffee beans
Method: Put all of the ingredients in a mixing jug and stir for 30 seconds. Strain over a big ice cube in a tumbler.