Mastering the Espresso Martini – with Martin Hudák

Words by Jane Ryan

Photography by Supplied

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Co-founder of Sydney bar Maybe Sammy and coffee ambassador for Mr Black Coffee Liqueur, Martin Hudák is the only person we’d ask to school us on how to make the best Espresso Martini. Listen up, because this could change your cocktail game entirely.

“The biggest issue for the Espresso Martini around the world is that people always think it’s this sweet, gluey, sticky after-dinner drink. I think that’s such a shame, but the reason why most Espresso Martinis are overly sweet and sticky is because coffee in the ‘80s was badly made,” says Martin.

“Back then, when the Espresso Martini was born, coffee was often over-roasted making it very bitter, burnt and dark. Because the quality of the raw ingredient wasn’t as good they had to mask those flavours by adding lots of sugar. Nowadays we are lucky to live in a world where coffee quality is higher, and we don’t have to mask those flavours anymore.”

Martin would know, he’s been in the business of making coffee cocktails for 12 years now, and has won a title at the World Coffee Championships purely for his skill of combing the world of mixed drinks and caffeine.

How to master the Espresso Martini

1. THE FRESHER THE COFFEE, THE FROTHIER THE COCKTAIL

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Martin recommends starting out by getting to know your coffee, just as you would when you mix with whisky, mezcal or wines. Try the coffee as an espresso, or, if you’re making it at home and don’t have a machine try it as a cold brew or filter coffee. Taste it and check it's not too aggressive, burnt or bitter.

Martin’s preferred Espresso Martini is just two ingredients in a 2:1 ratio of 60ml Mr Black to 30ml fresh espresso. “I know if I’m using two very good quality ingredients, our house-roasted espresso and Mr Black, there is nothing that I have to add into it,” he says.

Maybe Sammy used this recipe for over two years but they’ve recently changed it to something a little more conventional to cater to their guests. The modification is a spoon of sugar and a little additional vodka to bring up the ABV.

Fresh coffee is also the key to achieving that frothy cloud that sits atop any good Espresso Martini. “I’m a big believer in as fresh coffee as is possible, and the fresher the coffee means the better the foam will be on your drink,” says Martin.

At Maybe Sammy the team always use fresh hot espresso – they make a shot specifically for each Espresso Martini ordered so there’s always lots of head. “You need to be very quick and smart about working with hot coffee,” says Martin, “because you don’t want to get too much dilution from your ice by adding a hot ingredient. We use as much ice as possible and we pre-chill the shaker. We shake our Espresso Martinis in a Boston shaker, so tin on tin, because it’s a bigger vessel and you get more aeration and therefore more foam.

"Add everything else first, and the hot coffee last so you don’t create unnecessary dilution and water. Of course you can leave coffee on the side for an one hour, two hours or six hours, but you won’t get that froth so you’ll need to shake extra hard.”

2. SWEETENING YOUR ESPRESSO MARTINI

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Coffee liqueur is the main sweetener in an Espresso Martini and plenty of recipes just use this to counterbalance coffee’s natural bitterness. Martin and the team at Maybe Sammy use Mr Black Coffee Liqueur, which is an Aussie product, made just north of Sydney in Gosford. Its primary focus is on the coffee used, arabica beans from Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Columbia, making it a much drier, more coffee-forward liqueur than any others on the market.

“If you want a lower-abv, non-sweetened Espresso Martini use my 2:1 recipe with the liqueur and fresh coffee,” says Martin.

If you need additional sweetness in the drink, start with one teaspoon of sugar in your Espresso Martini and go from there. Martin advises either using a 2:1 sugar syrup, which you can buy, such as Monin, or using a spoon of refined sugar and diluting it in the hot espresso coffee with just a simple stir. Add this to your tin with 20ml vodka, 40ml Mr Black Coffee Liqueur and ice and give it a shake.

“If it’s too sweet just remove the sugar, if it’s not enough just put in more sugar. It’s a beautiful game because it’s a very simple drink, but you can make it very bad or very good depending on the ratio,” he says.

3. ICE IS IMPORTANT

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All cocktails need good ice. The Espresso Martini especially needs good because of the hot coffee element. If you buy cheap ice from the supermarket or the service station – small, tubular and with a hole down the centre – it’s going to crack and dilute in the shaker much more quickly than quality ice. “Dilution is going to be so bad,” warns Martin.

Instead, if you’re making this at home buy some silicon molds and make bigger, sturdier chunks of ice to shake with.

4. BASE SPIRITS - VODKA OR A TWIST?
Vodka is the obvious choice, it’s the classic recipe and it really lets the coffee shine. But if you want to experiment, here’s what Martin has to say:

“If you want to give another dimension to the Espresso Martini, I really like to work with dark spirits such as dark rums, cognacs and whiskies. These work perfectly with the coffee. It’s much harder to work with gin and tequila to be honest, as they are very, very aromatic and floral, that said I’ve tasted some nice tequila Espresso Martinis with agave syrup instead of normal sugar syrup and it can work, you just need to find the right ratio, but again I’ve found darker spirits fit better if you don’t want to use vodka.”

5. GLASSWARE – V-SHAPED, COUPE OR ROCKS

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When it was originally created, the Espresso Martini was known as a Vodka Espresso and was served on the rocks. “When it’s summer here, sometimes I’ll make an Espresso Martini on the rocks for myself, and I really like it, it’s like a hard iced coffee,” says Martin.

For the authentic look however, a coupe or a rounded martini glass will be the best choice, as the foam looks much better. “The classic V-shaped martini glass has such a wide top that the foam can get quite thin. I prefer coupes for this drink.”

MARTIN’S ESPRESSO MARTINI

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Glass: Coupe, chilled in the freezer before use.
Garnish: 3 coffee beans
How to make: Pre-chill your tin shaker by filling it with ice. Now make your espresso. Discard ice from shaker and pour in your vodka, coffee liqueur and sugar. Fill with fresh ice and add espresso. SHAKE vigorously to produce the frothy head and once done strain into your chilled coupe. Garnish.
20ml vodka
40ml Mr Black Coffee Liqueur
30ml fresh espresso
1 barspoon sugar syrup 2:1

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