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London’s Icon of Cocktail Culture – The Espresso Martini
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London’s Icon of Cocktail Culture – The Espresso Martini

A stroll along the streets of London in the early 1980s was not today’s dizzying maze of cool and cultured restaurants, clubs and bars. Even in its trendiest neighbourhoods, the English capital was in need of some energy. Then, just like all the heroes in all the best legends, the city’s saviour arrived perfectly on time: Enter the seductive pick-me-up, the Espresso Martini. 

Sharp, indulgent, and crowned with a rich and ravishing crema, the Espresso Martini spurred the cocktail culture of London and the club scene of now-iconic Soho, the drink in the hand of every budding British artist and eye-catching star out for a buzz. Frivolous yet sophisticated, boozy yet sweet, the combination of caffeine and cocktail proved a match properly made in heaven, and since its inception, the Espresso Martini has been a must on the list of every top mixologist.

So where did this creation come from, right when London needed it the most? Read on for the full history and a recipe for you to make your very own. 

Soho, London: The place where the Espresso Martini was born.

A History of the Espresso Martini

The origin story of the Espresso Martini comes straight from the mouth of its creator, London bartender Dick Bradsell, known today by devoted followers as ‘The King of Cocktails’. One night in 1983, Dick was working the bar at London’s Soho Brasserie, when a soon-to-be-famous model came up and requested a drink that would “wake her up”.

Next to the bar was an espresso machine. Even though caffeine was an obvious solution to a guest’s lack of energy, the machine according to Dick was in a state of disarray, its messy overflow of coffee grounds putting coffee constantly at the forefront of his mind. As vodka was the liquor of choice at the time, the pairing came quite naturally, and the original iteration of the Espresso Martini took form: vodka, sugar syrup, two types of coffee liqueur, and freshly-poured espresso.

Espresso Martini

Dick dubbed his novel drink the Vodka Espresso, and it wasn’t until the following decade that the Espresso Martini name we know today took off. As Dick was already a celebrity in the cocktail scene, in the eighties his invention gained quick popularity, but the nineties ushered in a new era. Suddenly all the rave was any vodka-based cocktail in that signature V-shaped glass with a fresh-fruit flavour of your choosing – watermelon, apple, take your pick. Despite lacking the essential ingredients of gin or vermouth, these all fell rather haphazardly into the ‘Martini’ category, and so Dick renamed his creation to stay ahead of the times, the Espresso Martini.

When Dick moved over to the Pharmacy Bar in Notting Hill in 1998, the famous cocktail was given a new name once more, the Pharmaceutical Stimulant, this time served on the rocks and with a slight variation in ingredients to adapt to modern tastes. By this time, however, the original recipe had taken on a life of its own, as the Espresso Martini had taken hold of London and its nightlife was in full swing. Having ignited the city’s spirit with cocktails, Dick Bradsell went on to mentor and influence a number of London’s leading bartenders at his own establishment, Dick’s Bar.

Today, the Espresso Martini has inspired countless renditions and Dick’s story has moved into the realm of legends, with the identity of the ‘top model’ in the centre of the story remaining a mystery – was it Naomi Campbell? Maybe Kate Moss? While maintaining its popularity throughout Europe, it exceeds as the highest-selling cocktail in the speciality coffee-loving land of Australia, and in London, an annual five-day Espresso Martini festival is held to commemorate its homegrown icon.

Soho, London

A Classic Espresso Martini Recipe

What you’ll need to recreate Dick Bradsell’s classic: 

  • 40ml Vodka
  • 20ml Coffee liqueur 
  • 25ml Fresh espresso
  • 5ml Sugar syrup (this one’s optional, depending on your personal preference of sweetness)

When it comes to making your own Espresso Martini, there’s one golden rule: crema, crema, crema! Make sure your shot of espresso is well-made, freshly poured and well-shaken in the blender to create that silky consistency.

Add all your ingredients to a shaker, fill it with ice cubes and give it a good shake until properly chilled. Strain the mixture out into your best cocktail glass. To garnish, you can go traditional with three espresso beans (originally meant to represent health, wealth, and happiness) or “shake” things up a bit with some coconut, cherries, or zest of lemon.

Now go mix up your drink, put on that vinyl you love, and enjoy your very own homemade Espresso Martini. Cheers! 

 

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