27 February was the third anniversary of the death of British bar legend Dick Bradsell. So this week, as a belated tribute, we are looking at one of his most famous creations, the Espresso Martini.

The story goes that the Espresso Martini was invented by Bradsell in 1983 after a supermodel came into the Soho Brasserie and asked for a drink that would “wake me up, and then fuck me up” (responsibly, of course). He christened it the Vodka Espresso, but it soon became known as the Espresso Martini because of the shape of the glass. Despite being a recent invention, it’s a cocktail that has inspired much debate as to the proper way to make it. Should it just be coffee, sugar syrup and vodka, or should you use a coffee liqueur like Tia Maria or Kahlúa? Another problem is that it proved so popular that soon bars began cutting corners, using stale, bad-quality coffee, and even pre-making the whole thing and just shaking them to order. If you’re not careful with an Espresso Martini, you can end up with something perilously close to sweetened iced coffee.

Dick Bradsell

The late, great Dick Bradsell (credit: Diffordsguide.com)

What you want is a drink that looks like an espresso complete with crema on top. In order to achieve this, I spoke with Rod Eslamieh from Chapter 72 on Bermondsey Street, a coffee and cocktail bar which modestly claims to make “the best Espresso Martini in town”. He uses only three ingredients: coffee, vodka and Tia Maria in equal parts. So no sugar syrup. “One of the mistakes people make is that they think any vodka will do,” he said. “We use a really good premium vodka.” Next, don’t make your coffee too far in advance: “Once you extract the coffee, oxidation starts taking place and it’s very bitter.” I find that coffee from a stove-top mocha works well in place of an proper espresso; just be careful that you don’t over-boil it or the coffee will turn out bitter. And finally, shake with lots of ice like your life depended on it.

“You have to shake hard because you have to get that iconic cream at the top,” Eslamieh told me. “Sometimes we actually do a reverse shake. We would dry shake it first, then shake it with ice as well, and then pour it. So when you pour it, there’s just this nice caramel look.”

Espresso Martini

Now that’s a proper Espresso Martini

Thanks to people like Eslamieh, the Espresso Martini has been rescued from the bargain basement and is now extremely fashionable. Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can start playing around with it. Eslamieh likes to add Disaronno Amaretto to give it a nutty taste. You could try adding a little Sambuca as a nod to that Italian classic, the Caffè Corretto. And finally, I’ve been playing around with Asterley Bros London Fernet, which has a bitter chocolate flavour may as well be custom-made to go with coffee. Lots of fun to be had. Here’s the classic recipe:

30ml ice-cold Reyka Icelandic vodka
30ml freshly-made espresso
30ml Tia Maria

First make your espresso and let it cool. Fill the shaker with ice, add the vodka and Tia Maria, stir, and then add the coffee. Shake very hard and double strain into a frozen Martini glass. Garnish with a coffee bean or three.