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How the espresso martini exploded into the bar scene

Love it or hate it, the Espresso Martini is a force to be reckoned with in the Australian bar industry, an insanely popular cocktail choice for multiple occasions and demographics.

Personally I fall into the ‘love’ camp of the drink, as someone who enjoys the caffeine, the alcohol and the general experience the cocktail provides. And after catching up with Natasha Capol, Bar Manager at Merivale’s Mr. Wong, and hearing about the history of the cocktail, turns out I have that in common with the customer who inspired the drink’s creation.

Capol said in 1983, the Espresso Martini was: “Apparently made by a bartender called Dick. There was a model who showed up at the bar and asked for something that would, in her words, ‘pick her up and fuck her up.’

“So he came up with a cocktail, where he put equal measures of vodka, coffee liqueur and a fresh shot of espresso with some sugar, and basically shook it up and served it in a martini glass.”

From this point, it didn’t have the name Espresso Martini – that was something that developed over time due to the glass it was known for. Over time its popularity and reputation also developed, until it became a huge cocktail trend in Australian bars.

“I’m not from Australia and so I had never really made an Espresso Martini until I came to this country. It’s definitely a very iconic drink to Australia – everyone drinks it here. It’s something they can have not just post dinner, but they have it before dinner or before they go out or in between meals… I think it’s going to be Australia’s iconic drink cocktail for as long as I can see,” Capol said.

The evolution of the Espresso Martini over the years also helps predict the future of the drink and where it will be taken. Outside of the bar, it’s been reformatted into canned and bottled formats for at home consumption, while at the bar there have been many twists or different takes on it. But Capol sees its future as being linked back to that original classic idea.

She said: “People just keep going back to the original because it’s simple, like all those classic drinks… it will never die because it just hits the spot.”

The complimentary nature of combining alcohol and coffee is something that Merivale is celebrating at some of their venues over the long weekend around International Coffee Day (October 1). For the weekend, select bars will be serving up $10 Espresso Martinis, paying homage to the iconic combination.

Demand is so high for Espresso Martinis at bars across the country, that Capol and the Mr. Wong team will be preparing for an onslaught of orders over the long weekend, despite the cocktail not even being on their menu.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t make one – and probably not one but 10 or more, especially on the weekend. It’s something that you literally need to get your guns ready for,” Capol said.

“It’s just something that people drink, it’s their go to. If they don’t know what to drink or they don’t like something on the menu, they just say ‘oh I’ll get an Espresso Martini.”

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