As Melburnians collectively pull towards their local every Friday evening for the ultimate weekend-starting cocktail, it's hard to believe the Espresso Martini has only been on the menu for a couple of decades. Such is the drink's modern classic status that most city bars worth their beans offer at least a basic version; whether they are in possession of an espresso machine or not. Here's where to find some of the best espresso martinis in Melbourne this weekend (or indeed right now if your boss is super lenient with their concept of the "office coffee run").
(Psstt: Looking to make your own? Make sure you check out our recipe for the best espresso martini ever!)
Espresso Martinis In The North
For a cosy date place in Melbourne’s north, we recommend LongPlay, as their charming booths and Mediterranean-inspired shared plates encourage a little closeness. Their espresso martini stays largely true to the classic, with Russian Standard Vodka, Kahlua, and espresso, but they’ve added Frangelico in the mix to give it a hazelnut tinge. Listen to records in the front bar, or venture further in to their cinema that seats 30 guests.
We’re not sure why, but every time we wind up at this North Melbourne establishment, a round of these coffee-fuelled cocktails is inevitable and we proceed to take the night by storm. While they stay pretty true to the traditional recipe at Prudence, there is something about the awesome bar staff and vinyl spin that creates optimal espresso martini drinking conditions. In winter, the fire is lit and in summer, their back courtyard beckons, making this venue the perfect spot for downing a beverage or two all year round.
The Noble Experiment
So Linus Schaxmann of The Noble Experiment doesn't promise drinkers much; he's only gone and dubbed their coffee cocktail the "Outrageously Good Espresso Martini". What makes it so? The man himself explains, "We've use a top notch base spirit, an extra aged tequila called Herradura Anejo and a shot of premium coffee straight from the coffee machine. We've stripped back this cocktail, to let these quality ingredients shine through."
Mr Wow's Emporium
Some say the earthiness of tequila improves upon the vodka-soused original. The bar crew at Mr Wow's runs with this theory to create their chilli-infused "Side Show Benny". You can and probably should order this espresso martini with a serve of blazed pineapple from the Voodoo jerk truck out the back of the Emporium from late July, for a fusion of chilli, coffee, caramelised, tropical goodness.
Espresso Martinis In The South
If grazing on some Japanese fare, zesty cocktails and general good times are high on your agenda, drop into Mr Miyagi. Their Cold Drip Martini has taken a classic and really shaken things up, with shochu and sake taking the place of the traditional Kahlua and vodka double whammy. Coffee is still at the heart of this cocktail, but it is the white chocolate foam that will leave patrons pleasantly surprised.
St Kilda East
Looks can be deceiving at newcomer Mototaxi. Their Blanco Long Cô looks like a regular cafe latte. In reality it's a tequila-soused take on Vietnamese iced coffee. The drink is made rich with infusions of vanilla and chocolate plus a dollop of condensed milk. It goes down like a dream but be warned; the El Jimador makes this one potent pick-me-up.
Pablo Honey continues to mix things up with its take on an espresso martini. With a hint of chocolate and a zing of chilli that stays with you, it’s aptly named the Speedy Gonzales. It’s an espresso martini, but better.
Charlie Dumpling's barman Paul Kopec believes "the biggest mistake people make is the addition of sugar" when mixing an espresso martini. Instead the award-winning dumpling house's "After Midday Espresso" gets its hint of sweetness from white chocolate cream liqueur to balance Sensory Lab's coffee. Despite the name, I recommend drinking it anytime of day (perhaps not just right before bedtime).
South Yarra is known for its latte-sipping culture but sometimes you just crave something with a bit more kick. Pull up a stool at The Botanical's glossy marble bar and indulge in their "Deluxe Espresso Martini". The deluxe improves upon their garden variety espresso martini by featuring 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum, chocolate liqueur, brown sugar syrup and a double ristretto. I'm buzzing just thinking about it. Order with a plate of The Botanical's chicken liver parfait, toasted brioche and cornichons for a very happy start to the evening (or day; I won't judge).
Oscar Cooper does one of the best espresso martinis in town, boasting a double shot of Candyman Espresso from Small Batch, a good slug of Vodka, the Tia Maria/Kahlua duo plus a dash of Licor 43. This is especially brilliant at only $10! "We think it's paired best with another Espresso Martini," explains founder Paul. He's joking but I'm not in disagreement.
Milk the Cow
Coffee and cheese don't seem like perfect partners but Milk the Cow has found a way to ensure they live in harmony (in our bellies at least). Their "Espresso Flip" comes with a hunk of Beehive Cheese Co.'s "Barely Buzzed" fromage as a garnish. The cheese is hand-rubbed with a custom-roasted coffee blend and lavender and boasts butterscotch and caramel notes to complement the martini.
Brodie Moore at The Smith thinks Melburnians' inherent sophistication is one of the causes for this cocktail's popularity in our city; "an espresso martini is a lot more elegant to let's say something like a Red Bull vodka, but has the same affect." The Smith always uses freshly brewed coffee shots in their espresso martini and patrons have a choice of their house vodka or premium Belvedere for just a few pennies more. Brodie's tip is to order your martini with "Blood Orange Souffle and Dark Chocolate Sorbet" for dessert bonus points.
Barista Matt Perger recently took out the World Coffee In Good Spirits championship with his creation the "Christmas Cake". His espresso martini-inspired drop is all about butter-washed Kraken Rum, Sensory Lab's Steadfast double espresso, muscat, Grand Marnier and a cinnamon iced rim. It beat stiff competition from such far flung places as Slovakia, South Korea and Norway, so you can bet it's a worthwhile tipple to seek out. You can find the "Christmas Cake" served warm on weekends only at St Ali South.
Espresso Martinis In The East
Fresh and exotic dishes and drinks are what you’ll find in the heart of the Richmond jungle. With a cool fit-out and hot and spicy South East Asian hawker-style food, this is an excellent place to start your weekend right and we have just the drink to match. As part of their Classic Cocktails list, Botherambo combines Wyborowa Vodka, Mr Black cold drip coffee liqueur, palm sugar, and espresso. Perfection.
Espresso Martinis In The CBD
Arbory Bar & Eatery
This is not a drill, people: The Arbory has installed an espresso martini tap just in time for peak cocktail-slinging season. Made using all of the usual suspects, the cocktail is poured into a keg chilled, and pumped with nitrogen to achieve the foam on top we know and love from the traditional cocktail. Best of all, it takes less than a minute to serve, so you can get back to enjoying the riverside views along the Yarra.
Yes, the Speakeasy Group’s second successful bar venture may lend itself to beers and whisky, but we’ve found that they do anything they set their mind to very well indeed. Their Inherent Vice cocktail produces espresso, chocolate malt and pistachio flavours, with your choice of either vodka, rum or whisky to give it a kick. Sidle up to a Boilermaker booth, share a charcuterie board amongst pals, and while away some glorious hours here.
Celebrating two of Melbourne’s greatest loves, coffee and cocktails, Lui Bar has taken the espresso martini to the next level. The Vodka Pour Over features Belvedere vodka as it filters through single estate coffee and ice. As well as the coffee hit, you get hints of white and dark chocolate, making this one a smooth experience. Add to that the incredible view of the city from the Rialto, and you’re in for quite an evening.
Polēpolē Bar & Kitchen
While it’s usually all about the beers, ribs and beats at East African-influenced Polēpolē, you can’t go past their Mzungu Martini if you’re looking for a beverage to put a little pep in your step. Green Island spiced rum meets Amarula, crème de mure and, of course, espresso. Polēpolē is the Swahili expression for ‘go slowly’, and we couldn’t encourage you more to take your time with this concoction to make it last as long as possible.
Saké Restaurant & Bar
There’s no denying that the Japanese know how to create a cocktail and Saké delivers in spades, bringing contemporary Japanese cuisine to the banks of the Yarra River. Aptly named Fukkastu (Japanese for ‘resurrection’), this baby will put some spring in your step. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum teams up with Frangelico, Kahlua and Asahi Black, shaken with fresh espresso and vanilla.
This inner-city basement bar has gone through a name-change or two in its time and has settled on Peruvian cuisine, with a drink list to cater all cocktail enthusiasts, from the classic to the adventurous. The Harley House take on the espresso martini is the Episcotini, made with house-infused coffee Campo de Encanto pisco, sugar, coffee liquor, cold drip coffee. Grab one of these and take in the glorious Vincent Fantauzzo artwork adorning the walls.
Eau De Vie
A round up of Melbourne's best coffee cocktails is not complete without a nod to Eau De Vie. Seriously, Listers get out their pitchforks if we leave their Espresso Zabaione out. Choose between a tequila, vodka or rum version mixed with coffee and maple syrup under a mousse foam which is nitro-frozen theatrically at the table. We hear rumours that some people will order it, take a photo and leave. Yes, they have created a tourist attraction out of a single drink.
If you're serious about coffee you should skip the bartender and go straight to a barista. Operator 25 cafe's barista-invented cocktail is the Sprotini. It's a combination of Code Black coffee, Starward whisky, Mr Black and Amaro served in a champagne flute and sprinkled with zesty freeze-dried raspberries.
All your Frozen dreams have come true in cocktail form at Spice Market. If the Espress-Snow Martini's mixture of butter infused-vodka, Little Drippa coffee and Tia Maria wasn't heart-melting enough it also features a passionfruit marshmallow iceberg, a snowfall of Persian fairy floss and a dusting of white chocolate and shredded coconut.
What makes an espresso martini even better? Ice-cream! At Nieuw Amsterdam a spiced rum, double drip coffee liqueur and espresso base is laden with a scoop of dark chocolate and rose ice cream for a swoon-worthy dessert drink that tastes as naughty as it looks nice.
As one of Om Nom's newest creations, the Salted Caramel Cracking Espresso has the lot; vodka infused with vanilla, cold-press espresso, Kahlua and a caramel chocolate foam on top that is nitro-frozen upon serving. Why would we expect anything less from a kitchen that specialises in creating fantasy desserts? Om nom indeed.
The venue's "Aquarius" cocktail is "special to us as it represents exactly what Gazi is all about; a fun and delicious twist on a classic concept," reckons bar manager, Ryan Noreiks. They cap off a standard espresso martini recipe with amaretto and a scattering of house-made honeycomb and serve it a-typically in an ouzo glass as an after-Greek-feast digestif.
One of the best espresso martinis in Melbourne comes with a history lesson at classy CBD establishment, 1806. They tell me the purported creator of what we call the Espresso Martini and what most other nations know as the "Vodka Espresso" was bartender Dick Bradsell in the early nineties. 1806's homage to Dick's "Pharmaceutical Stimulant" - as the drink was called when it became truly iconic - is pretty faithful aside from the inclusion of honeyed 42 Below vodka.
It would be hard to be more "Melbourne" than sipping espresso martinis at our beloved Cookie. The bar's cocktail manager Nick Selvadurai also takes cues from Dick Bradsell's pioneering creation with a hearty dose of vodka but adds his own signature hint of Grand Marnier. The Cookie team are also happy to play with variations on the classic as per drinkers' desires. Nick thinks Melbourne's espresso martinis are world leaders because we are so accomplished at making good coffee, while many cocktail cultures around the globe lack this crucial element.
The talented folk at Maha think the key to a great espresso martini is, "good coffee and good crema, simple!" Their version of the drink, like Maha itself, takes a tour through the Middle East with cinnamon & clove infused Kracken rum, Illyquore coffee liqueur and Aztec chocolate bitters to result in the "Arabic Coffee Martini". Delish!
Legend has it that Double Happiness was among the first bars to introduce the Espresso Martini to Melbourne in the early naughties. Who am I to argue as long as they keep serving up the good stuff? Their martini sticks to the traditional combo of vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso, but also contains a secret ingredient they're not revealing. Time for guessing games over a few rounds!
Loch & Key
So this creation stretches the definition of what an espresso martini is, but it's so fun I couldn't resist suggesting it as an honourable mention to boozy coffee aficionados. Loch & Key's "Double Dutch Puff" contains the requisite vodka but also Lagavulin 16yo Whisky, sweetened milk and Reagan's orange bitters all served in a vintage-styled milk bottle to my childlike delight. The caffeine hit comes, not via a shot of espresso, but coffee soda. The venue's director Paul Scanlon credits coffee-infused cocktails' longevity to the "obsession with both coffee and booze here in Melbourne. Best of both worlds I guess!"
Want to make an espresso martini at home? Here's the only recipe you'll ever need.
Image credit: The Noble Experiment