The goods and bads in -tini innovations

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The goods and bads in -tini innovations

There was a time when anything served in a martini glass was labeled a “something-or-other martini,” or, even worse, a “something-tini.” I have in mind those dissolute days in the ‘90s when people actually drank things called appletinis and saketinis and the dreaded flirtini. This later one “was the ‘it’ drink for a minute in the 1990s,” according to bar-savant Dale DeGroff.

Those were my salad days, and I learned quickly to steer clear of sweet any-tinis made by tossing together vodka and some liqueur in a giant — those were, if one can remember, the days of giant cocktails — vortically shaped glass. It has been a long-standing prejudice of mine and, for the most part, has served me well.

But it has also left me rather late to the espresso martini party. If only I had known that the bartender who invented the drink was opposed to the lazy Whatever-Martini cocktail-naming convention, I might have given this superb winter drink a try years ago.

The bartender in question was the late Dick Bradsell, who mixed drinks at London’s Brasserie Soho. He rejected a -tini title when in 1983 he invented the cocktail. He preferred to call it a Vodka Espresso on Ice. There is a certain descriptive soundness to that title, but I can understand why others should choose to give it a less mundane moniker.

Washington is enjoying an espresso martini moment, with various variations to be found at restaurants all over town, which has given me the chance to catch up to the trend. My favorite is the one made at Residents Cafe near Dupont Circle, where the secret (well, not too secret) ingredient is ghee, which gives the drink a creamy viscosity. The frothy top is dusted with finely grated bitter dark chocolate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself by talking of permutations. First, the basic drink: vodka, fresh espresso, and coffee liqueur, shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass. Bradsell also initiated the garnish that still distinguishes the drink: three dark-roasted coffee beans.

To make the Vodka Espresso on Ice, first start up your espresso maker and start making a few shots of fresh hot espresso. In a metal shaker with ice, combine an ounce of vodka with half an ounce each of coffee liqueurs Kahlua and Tia Maria and then an ounce or two of espresso. Shake and then shake some more so that it’s nice and cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and decorate the foam with the obligatory trio of dark beans.

There is a drink, I should point out, called a Coffee Cocktail. It’s been around for about a century and a half, if not exactly in demand. And yet, should you find yourself at a bar with vintage aspirations and ask for a Coffee Cocktail, you just might end up with a mixture of egg, port wine, brandy, and sugar, shaken with ice and strained into a large cocktail glass and served with a little nutmeg grated on top. It’s not exactly a crowd-pleaser, but those with steampunk sensibilities may find the drink strangely palatable.

If you’re trying to remember what the ‘90s tasted like, there’s always the flirtini. And having mentioned the drink above, it’s only fair I should share the recipe. Take a few pieces of pineapple and smush them in a mixing glass with a little Cointreau. Put that in a shaker and add an ounce each of vodka and pineapple juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Gently add a few ounces of champagne.

Taste the flirtini, and you will see why it fell into rather rapid obscurity. Taste the espresso martini, and you will discover (if, like me, you are a newbie to the drink) why it is a cocktail one will be able to order at any decent bar for decades to come.

Eric Felten is the James Beard Award-winning author of How’s Your Drink?

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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