Ah, the big, bad Espresso Martini. Though originally created in the ‘80s — and sometimes referred to as the “Grown-up Red Bull Vodka” — this caffeinated kick in the the ass has dominated at bars and restaurants around the globe in the last few years, cementing itself as one of the top five most popular cocktails in the world.
But with such an omnipresence come the inevitable riffs, resulting in a cocktail that tastes different at every bar you visit. And with such a simple build — a shaken combination of vodka, coffee liqueur, and fresh espresso — the Espresso Martini demands first-rate ingredients. As such, using coffee liqueurs sourced from real, high-quality coffee beans is imperative to making the best interpretation you can. The following bottles don’t just deliver on flavor, but also provide a robust and weighted mouthfeel that is essential for achieving the modern classic’s beloved frothy consistency.
Check out the best coffee liqueurs for Espresso Martinis below.
Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur has developed a reputation as the gold standard of coffee liqueurs, and we’re inclined to agree. Wonderfully rich and bold in its fresh coffee flavor thanks to 100 percent arabica beans, Mr Black imbues Espresso Martinis with a luscious head without overtaking the flavors imparted by the espresso itself. This liqueur doesn’t offer any sweetness — making it incredibly versatile — but if you like your cocktails with some softness, feel free to add some simple syrup to your build. In short: Mr Black is the golden thread that ties together the ideal Espresso Martini.
St. George Spirits NOLA Coffee Liqueur
The NOLA Coffee Liqueur from California distiller St. George Spirits is, as the name suggests, inspired by New Orleans-style coffee and delivers woody notes of chicory root and hazelnut. With an enticing, bittersweet profile, this liqueur truly tastes like freshly brewed cold brew with a hint of vanilla lingering on the back palate. If you fancy yourself a coffee purist, this is the bottle for you.
Relatively syrupy in its consistency, when shaken up with vodka and fresh espresso, Caffè Borghetti produces exactly the body you may imagine when you start craving an Espresso Martini. Made with real Italian espresso, the liqueur is relatively saccharine but remains a no-frills pick: With a succulent mouthfeel and lingering sweetness, it’ll welcome you back to your glass for another sip.
Cantera Negra Café
Distilled from 100 percent Blue Weber agave blended with real coffee, Cantera Negra Café is an ideal choice for those who prefer their Espresso Martinis tequila-based. Alongside its rich espresso notes, the liqueur delivers hints of dried stone fruit that impart your drink with some brightness. When shaken vigorously, Cantera Negra Café provides Espresso Martinis with the ideal foam head one is looking for when crafting the libation.
Tequila Cazadores Café
Bursting with notes of verdant agave, Tequila Cazadores Café — which launched just last month — is another ideal choice for Tequila Espresso Martinis. And with unexpected green notes like jalapeño up front, Cazadores Café makes for an incredibly nuanced Martini, even if vodka remains the base spirit. With a thick mouthfeel, sweet foamy head, and bottled at 33 percent ABV, this is a great bottle to grab to bolster your boozed-up coffee cocktail.
Grand Brulot VSOP Cognac Café
Produced using Cognac as its base spirit, Grand Brulot’s VSOP Cognac Café is non-traditional but certainly delicious. Following whiffs of caramelized sugar and crème brûlée, its tannin-heavy palate carries similar flavors like baking spices and vanilla. Whereas most coffee liqueurs are bottled between 20 and 30 percent alcohol by volume, Grand Brulot taps in at 40 percent ABV, so be sure to proceed with caution when adding it to your cocktail shaker. With such high alcohol content, we’d recommend an extra quarter ounce of simple syrup to dissolve some of the booze’s bite.
Kahlúa Coffee Liqueur
As one of the most common back bar bottles in the category, Kahlúa is likely the coffee liqueur present in most of the Espresso Martinis you’ve ordered at bars and restaurants. Milky and saccharine on the nose and the palate, each sip delivers syrupy notes of bittersweet coffee and vanilla. While not the most luxurious offering on the market, Kahlúa is classic and versatile, and certainly gets the job done in the cocktail’s classic build.
Amarula Ethiopian Coffee
While the original Espresso Martini recipe doesn’t include cream liqueur, many prefer theirs to be shaken up with a splash of Baileys to sweeten things up. If you’re one of those people, consider trying Amarula Ethiopian Coffee, which does double duty in an Espresso Martini build. Drinking more like a cappuccino than straight joe, Amarula Ethiopian Coffee maintains the bittersweet notes desired in a coffee liqueur with an added layer of sweetness that livens up the concoction. And with some hints of red berry, the liqueur adds an almost dessert-like quality to the cocktail.
Don Ciccio & Figli Concerto Coffee Liqueur
Sambuca coffee, or sambuca espresso, is a popular drink in Italy that combines the anise spirit with three coffee beans or a splash of espresso. For those who fancy this flavor combination, boy, is this the bottle for you. Blooming with licorice and dark chocolate notes, this liqueur adds a complexity to the Espresso Martini you’d be hard pressed to find on a cocktail list. However, if you don’t fancy yourself a Sambuca lover and tend to shy away from black Twizzlers, you may want to pass on this one.