I Tried The Viral Parmesan Espresso Martini And It Was A Textural Nightmare

The espresso martini has been taking the cocktail world by storm in recent years with its alcohol-caffeine one-two punch and knockout classiness. The cocktail first took off during the '90s, an era often referred to as "the cocktail renaissance," and resurfaced in 2021 to begin its U.S. dominion.

I've tended bars across Cleveland, OH and Brooklyn, NY, and it isn't just the patrons of fancy cocktail joints who are ordering espresso martinis — it's neighborhood regulars at middle-of-the-road watering holes on Thursday nights. I also slung espresso for five years as a classically-trained barista and got Italian Espresso Certified, so I appreciate the espresso martini as a perfect marriage of both fields. 

But, if the espresso martini is a harmonious marriage, then Parmesan cheese is the mid-life crisis that clomps onto the scene like a feral wildebeest and prompts phrases like "I don't know who you are anymore." I tried the trendy, viral Parmesan espresso martini and despite my best efforts, it was a failure.

Choosing the right ingredients for the Parmesan espresso martini

The classic espresso martini is a combination of vodka, coffee liqueur, a shot of fresh espresso, and, sometimes, simple syrup. (The drink technically isn't a "real" martini since it contains neither gin nor vermouth.) Naturally, to create the viral Parmesan variety, the ingredients are much the same.

I opted for Absolut vodka because of its mild, largely undetectable profile. For my coffee liqueur, I used the highly-awarded Mr. Black cold brew liqueur made from 100% Arabica beans and Australian wheat vodka. At 25% ABV, it adds a powerful punch to this spirit-forward bevy. No shade to sweet cocktails (they have their time and place), but for this savory take on the espresso martini, it's probably best to opt for a less-sugary coffee liqueur here and skip the simple syrup, too. 

I got my fresh espresso shot from Honey Moon Coffee Shop in Ridgewood, N.Y. On this particular day, they were using a bean blend from Cusco, Peru with a full-bodied nutty profile. If you prefer a weaker coffee taste, some folks add a splash of cream to their espresso martini (which would technically make it a White Russian, but we won't go there right now). The finishing touches are a pinch of sea salt and (alas) some finely-grated Parmesan. I went with the 10-month-old BelGioioso.

How to make a Parmesan espresso martini

To give this viral creation a fair shot, I took a cue from cocktail TikToker @highproofpreacher, who shows viewers how to assemble the trendy Parmesan espresso martini. (Spoiler alert: It's a regular espresso martini garnished with Parmesan. Hooray for truth-in-advertising.) To start, chill a martini or coupe glass with ice, or simply stick it in the freezer for about an hour. 


I mean, you just have to try it 🧀 #cocktail #espressomartini #bartender #mixology

♬ Quirky Bossa – Kenny Moggio

Then, combine one ounce of coffee liqueur, two ounces of vodka, your fresh espresso shot, and a pinch of salt in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into the chilled glass. A pleasant froth will rise to the surface like the head on a draft beer. Espresso martinis are typically garnished with a few whole espresso beans, but today, we're swapping out the beans for a sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmesan. (Take care not to overdo it: if the cheese piles up into a small mound, you've gone too far.)

The supposed appeal here is the salty-sweet flavor combo. Indeed, many bartenders regularly salt their espresso martinis to achieve the complex profile. Using Parmesan, says the viral trend, brings saltiness and also adds an umami component to balance out the bitterness of the coffee, but, just because you can put parm on your espresso martini doesn't mean you necessarily should. This is one when-worlds-collide culinary moment that, frankly, we just don't need for one very off-putting reason.

The texture absolutely does not work

The reason this avant-garde cocktail fell on the proverbial sword came down to one thing: texture. Sprinkling the surface of your espresso martini with finely grated Parmesan cheese does two things: 1. It means there are little solid bits in your drink that you either have to physically chew or glug down, and 2. Until you're about halfway through the cocktail, you don't get cheese in your sips at all; by the end, all that piled-up cheese slams into each mouthful like a chewy, soggy tsunami. Flavor-wise, it was fine, but it was fine in the same way that smearing marinara sauce on an untoasted piece of white bread is "fine" — it didn't gag me or anything, but I was more confused about what the point was.

If you prefer a saltier espresso martini, add an extra pinch of sea salt to your regular recipe and save the parm for pasta. If umami is your thing, try a drop of soy sauce or oyster sauce, which will incorporate smoothly instead of creating a cocktail you have to chew. If you simply self-identify as an adventurous foodie and love don't-knock-it-till-you-try-it cocktails, skip this one and try something else, like the Jägerita or a zesty, radish-flavored Red King.

In summation: the Parmesan espresso martini feels like a bad decision because it is a bad decision. Everything about making — and drinking — it felt wrong and isn't worth the hype.