Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Other Cocktails

Italian Espresso Martini

Italian Espresso Martini
Image: / Tim Nusog

Coffee cocktails aren’t just for brunch anymore. Besides being a conduit for caffeine, coffee is full of oils and rich flavors that pair nicely with a variety of spirits and liqueurs, from whiskey and rum to bittersweet amari. So, to explore the depths of coffee as a cocktail ingredient, bartenders across the country are reaching for drip coffee, espresso, cold-brew and even coffee syrups to enliven their drinks.

Head bartender Nicholas Boden is one such bartender. He invented this bittersweet, Italian take on the classic Espresso Martini for his bar at Tavernonna Italian Kitchen at the Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, Missouri. The most obvious change to the recipe is the omission of a base spirit—normally, the Espresso Martini is made with vodka, but Boden’s version is more like a slightly boozy espresso shot. In it, espresso is enhanced with an amaro and Kahlúa, making for a rich, botanical and dark drink with as much caffeine as it has alcohol, if not more.

For the amaro, Boden uses Amaro Averna, a century-plus-old liqueur from Sicily that is popular amongst cocktail bartenders for its use in drinks. Unlike some other amari, it’s gentle and reserved, good for sipping after dinner but also for mixing with ingredients like sherry, whiskey and rum. Its subtle but present citrus notes pair nicely with bittersweet espresso, especially when sweetened.

For the sweet element of the concoction, Boden uses Kahlúa liqueur. A natural fit for any coffee drink, given that it’s made with coffee itself, Kahlúa shows up in a number of well-known drinks including the White Russian and, most notably, the original recipe for an Espresso Martini. However, with only half an ounce used in the recipe, the amount of added caffeine is negligible, especially considering how much is already in the espresso.

The foamy digestif complements the Italian cuisine served at the restaurant, and the drink is topped with the traditional three coffee beans meant to represent health, happiness and prosperity.


  • 1 ounce chilled espresso
  • 1 1/2 ounces Amaro Averna
  • 1/2 ounce Kahlúa liqueur
  • Garnish: coffee beans


  1. Chill a Nick & Nora glass with ice and set aside.

  2. Brew a shot of espresso, and pour into a shaker over ice.

  3. Quickly strain the ice out to avoid dilution.

  4. Add the amaro and liqueur to the shaker, add fresh ice, and shake vigorously to foam the espresso.

  5. Strain into the chilled Nick & Nora glass.

  6. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.