18 Ingredients To Elevate Your Next Espresso Martini

Calling all dessert lovers — an espresso martini is one of the most popular coffee-based cocktails you'll find on any menu. Its bold combination of eye-opening espresso, coffee liqueur, and vodka is a decadent alternative to the traditional martini. It's made for those of us who might prefer dessert to dinner yet it still packs a punch. An espresso martini is also the perfect jumping-off point to get creative in ways you may not have imagined. It's super fun to open up your cabinets and raid your home bar to change one or more ingredients in your next espresso martini.

While seeking to elevate an espresso martini, you'll draw from things normally used for baking, like chocolate, citrus, or honey. Swap out the vodka for rum or whiskey or change up the flavor of your coffee liqueur. You can use everything from vanilla and cinnamon spice to the viral Parmesan cheese trend used for espresso martinis. You'll have a ball playing with textures, especially when it comes to garnishing the rim of the martini glass. There are so many ways to elevate espresso martinis that you may end up discovering the next flavor sensation yourself.

Let vanilla surprise you

When you begin to explore espresso martini flavors, vanilla is an easy place to start. Despite its reputation, vanilla is anything but bland. Vanilla mingles beautifully with espresso martinis, but also fits in nicely with other coffee cocktails, from a white Russian to a revolver. The simplest way to incorporate vanilla is using a vanilla-flavored simple syrup to liven things up. When your recipe already includes a sweetened coffee liqueur like Kahlua, you can prevent a sugar overload with a vanilla-flavored vodka.

If you love making homemade liqueurs, infuse vodka with vanilla pods, but make sure to let the vanilla steep for at least two weeks so the flavor develops. Another method is to cut up vanilla pods and grind them into your coffee beans before making espresso. Once brewed, you'll be left with natural vanilla-flavored espresso that should make your martini one you won't want to put down.

Substitute Baileys for Kahlua

Kahlua might be the most luxurious part of an espresso martini. It contains coffee, along with sugar and Caribbean rum. Just what would happen if you swapped out the Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur) for Bailey's Irish cream? Baileys is also made up of liquor (Irish whiskey), sugar, and a strong flavor (cocoa). It's known for making Irish coffee more sweet and creamy, so is well-equipped to make an espresso martini more Irish.

It's even possible to make homemade Irish cream yourself using sweetened condensed milk and chocolate syrup. If you're also tempted to substitute whiskey for vodka, be aware that you're pretty much drinking Irish coffee now. Understand that Baileys has cocoa instead of coffee flavor, so the resulting cocktail may not be quite as caffeinated as before. With notes of cream, cocoa, and whiskey, an espresso martini made with Baileys is sure to please anyone who tries it.

Pinch of salt

Adding a pinch of salt to your espresso martini might seem minor, but can make a huge difference in the taste. Salt not only cuts the sweetness inherent in an espresso martini but alters the way you experience the flavors. Whether making a traditional recipe or adding chocolate or citrus, salt will make all the parts come alive. Espresso can be robust to the point of bitter, which salt can temper while elevating other elements.

A little salt goes a long way, so a pinch is just that — a pinch. Instead of adding salt to the mix being shaken, you can use a saline solution. A 20% saline solution simply means 20 grams of salt in 80 grams of water. Adding five drops of salt water with an eyedropper allows the salt to dissolve more evenly than with salt crystals. It may feel as if you're tasting an espresso martini for the very first time.

Get figgy with it

Figs are one of the most versatile fruits around and are best known for complementing things like prosciutto, walnuts, red wine, and goat cheese. Your espresso martini won't know what hit it once you add some fig. Figs have a sweet honey-like taste that's enhanced by their chewy texture and seeds popping with flavor. You can infuse your espresso with dried figs before grinding the beans for a fragrant cup of Joe.

If you'd rather go the traditional route, use fresh fig syrup instead of simple syrup in your espresso martini. If not inspired to make fresh fig syrup, swap out the vodka for a fig liqueur, also made using vodka. Other ways include muddling fresh figs before shaking the espresso martini or adding fig extract during the preparation. The earthy, rich flavors will remind your taste buds why Mediterranean cultures have valued figs for many centuries.

Peanut butter brings decadence

One of the most comforting additions to the traditional espresso martini is to invite peanut butter to the cocktail party. Though most people wouldn't put peanut butter together with coffee, they both have nutty undertones that pair nicely. Unlike other flavor enhancers, there's no easy way to add peanut butter to an espresso martini. It's simply too sticky and thick to break down.

Luckily, some geniuses decided to make the world a better place by creating peanut butter whiskey. Peanut butter whiskey is made by infusing the whiskey prior to distilling or adding in peanut flavor afterward. All you need to do for a peanut butter espresso martini is substitute the vodka with peanut butter whiskey. It might be fun to dip your martini glass into crushed peanuts for some added nutty crunch. A peanut butter espresso martini is the ultimate crossroads of an adult beverage that's a kid at heart.

A hint of citrus

When you add orange peel or orange zest to your coffee grounds, it counteracts the bitterness of coffee. Using orange peel or rind is also the first step to bumping up your espresso martini. If you want to go all out, substitute the coffee liqueur with an orange-based one like Grand Mariner or Cointreau. The orange syrup is a more flavorful version of sugar syrup for adding some sweetness bursting with citrus. Your own orange syrup can be made with orange juice, orange peel, and sugar.

Keep in mind you can accomplish the same goal with lemon peel, Limoncello, or lemon syrup. A Romano is a Neapolitan espresso made with a lemon slice and sugar. Shift your espresso martini's flavor profile further and use burnt orange peel, which deepens the taste even more. Citrus pairs well with flavors like caramel or chocolate, which will result in a dizzyingly good espresso martini happy hour.

Go absolutely nuts

The coffee flavor at the heart of an espresso martini has an inherent nuttiness to it. One of the less obvious ways to liven up your next cocktail is by employing a more nutty flavor. Don't worry — you won't be crushing up walnuts or almonds only to get them caught in your teeth later. Espresso martinis become super nutty with the help of various nut-based liqueurs. All you have to do is choose your nut of choice.

An espresso martini is the most obvious of many cocktails to mix with amaretto. Frangelico is for hazelnut lovers, while a less commonly found walnut liqueur is a natural mate for espresso flavor. The nuttiness of the liqueur stands out when using vodka and may be further enhanced with more rum or whiskey. It makes this already delicious dessert cocktail an equally tempting alternative to a big slice of coffee cake.

More rum, please

Replacing the vodka with rum in an espresso martini is a way to double down on rum if serving with Kahlua. Kahlua combines coffee and rum, so using rum as your liquor of choice is a safe bet. If you decide rum is the ultimate spirit for your personalized espresso martini, flavored rum is the next step. An already spiced rum like Kraken has a roast coffee version, so these two flavors can keep playing off each other. Coconut rum turns an espresso martini into the kind of coffee you might indulge in while island hopping in the Caribbean.

Other rum flavors include everything from butterscotch and cocoa to cherry vanilla. Yes, you could take it a step further and garnish it with crushed-up cocoa, butterscotch candies, or coconut shavings. Using rum will effortlessly alter the dynamic of your espresso martini with a big payoff for your taste buds.

Chocolate lovers cheer

Adding chocolate to your espresso martini is a real no-brainer. Almost everything you add chocolate to becomes that much more enticing. Plus, coffee is often added to chocolate cakes for additional depth of flavor. There's no shortage of chocolate martinis, so how do you best incorporate chocolate into an espresso martini? You have a lot of options with the form of chocolate you use.

Examples include Godiva chocolate (or white chocolate) liqueur, which offers a thick, creamy texture. Creme de cacao tastes very similar but is clear and thin, so will change the overall feel of your espresso martini. Whichever you choose, you'll end up with the ultimate mocha coffee beverage (with a kick). There are also plenty of chocolate-flavored coffees out there, some with subtle notes and others quite obviously for chocolate lovers. A shaved chocolate garnish or a sprinkle of cocoa will let everyone know exactly where your chocolate loyalties lie.

Cinnamon and spice

Cinnamon is the unsung hero of espresso martinis that are outside the box. It is often added to coffee when you first decide to experiment with flavors. In addition to using cinnamon liqueurs or adding a dash of it into your espresso grounds, you can also coat the espresso martini glass rim in cinnamon sugar. This is because straight cinnamon is too pungent to use as a garnish on its own, as you may remember from the cinnamon challenge back in the day.

You do not have to stop at cinnamon, though. Any spice mix containing nutmeg, allspice, clove, or cardamom will all reflect unique flavor combinations. You might be inspired to use a Mexican hot chocolate-inspired espresso martini with a pinch of cayenne pepper. If you're the sort of person who can't live without heat, a Mexican-style espresso martini will wake you up and keep you going all night long.

The magic of honey

It's no secret that the ancient Romans linked honey with the mythical nectar called ambrosia, or "food of the Gods." You too can feel as powerful as Jupiter just by adding honey to your espresso martini. While the viscous nature of honey may not dissolve well into your cocktail, it's quite easy to make a honey simple syrup at home. You simply reduce equal parts water and honey in a saucepan until it thickens up and cools down. Honey simple syrup keeps well for just about any cocktail recipe you can dream up.

You'll soon learn different kinds of honey affect the tasting notes of the espresso martini. A lighter honey may be more floral or fruity, while a dark honey like Manuka is known for its caramel, nutty flavor. You could make espresso martinis with a different honey each time and not experience the same taste for a long while.

Cherry on top

Fruits that pair with espresso martinis can be tricky when you're not sure where to start. Cherries are a way of getting to the front of the line when it comes to flavor enhancers. They pair well with coffee and often appear in cocktails from a Singapore sling to a cherry-lime rickey. When using cherry-focused liqueurs like Amaro or Kirsch, be careful to differentiate between the two. Amaro is a kind of cherry liqueur that's around 50 proof, while Kirsch is a liquor that's nearly 100 proof. You'd likely replace the vodka with Kirsch and the coffee liqueur with Amaro.

A lightbulb may go off if you're also a baker with the knowledge that Baileys makes a chocolate cherry Irish cream. Grab your whipped cream canister, a jar of maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings to touch all the bases. This way, your espresso martini becomes a fabulously drinkable version of a Black Forest cake.

A love for licorice

The espresso martini that we're concocting now is solely for the flavor thrill seekers among you. It uses the powerful, often derisive addition of licorice. Traditional licorice is something people love or hate. Unlike red "licorice" which is actually strawberry flavored, real licorice is more akin to an aged scotch. It's earthy yet sweet and leans towards notes of anise, fennel, or even tobacco. If you think you're ready, transform your already eye-opening espresso martini with Italian Sambuca or another unique licorice liqueur.

While licorice and anise aren't exactly the same, anisette liqueur is a milder version of a licorice-like flavor. It's popular in many Mediterranean cultures as a digestif used to settle the stomach. Some of us might like to take it a step further (and pretend we frequent the Moulin Rouge dance hall in Paris). In these cases, a touch of absinthe will make your espresso martini crackle with bohemian flavor.

Can you say Affogato

There is a tried and true Italian tradition of drinking your coffee over ice cream called an affogato. It sure beats power walking through traffic clutching a cup of sometimes bitter coffee you won't enjoy after a few sips. Giada De Laurentiis has a simplified version of an affogato-style espresso martini using a scoop of gelato. She forgoes a coffee liqueur, but you can serve your affogato espresso martini any way you like using ice cream or gelato.

Using vanilla and chocolate gelato is fine but go for the flavor that piques your interest most. It'll turn an otherwise yummy cocktail into nothing short of a decadent dessert you won't get enough of. You can also toss the espresso martini ingredients into a blender for the world's best-caffeinated adult milkshake ever. Use between one and two cups of ice in the mix for a frozen espresso martini with a drinkable yet non-watery consistency.

Smile and say cheese

The next time you check out social media, you're bound to hit some viral version of recipes you thought you knew. You might not believe your eyes when you stumble upon the TikTok creation of an espresso martini using Parmesan cheese. Yes — you heard right. Someone decided it'd be a good idea to add parmesan cheese to a cocktail containing coffee. Before judging, let's examine how these flavors interact.

First off, Parmesan puts sweet and salty into the mix. This cheesy addition also brings to mind the combination of a cream cheese-slathered bagel with coffee. We think this combination just works. The salty Parmesan flavor brings out the other elements of your espresso martini like salt does in baking. All it takes are a few bits of Parmesan grated over the finished cocktail, along with chocolate shavings. Between the savory notes and unique texture, it's pretty special.

Go frothy with condensed milk

After trying many unique espresso martini flavor variations, using condensed milk might seem boring. Condensed milk somehow became the chief ingredient in the Dalgona coffee we all became obsessed over during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though thought to originate in Asian cultures from Korean to Vietnamese, versions are also found in Pakistan, Greece, and Macau. While the original Dalgona recipe is made with coffee, sugar, water, and milk, many decided to use condensed milk instead.

This "whipped coffee" variation is tailor-made for plumping up the texture of your next espresso martini. Depending on how frothy you want your cocktail to be may affect the amount of condensed milk you use. It might be necessary to decrease the amount of coffee liqueur when using more condensed milk. This will help prevent you from losing the intense coffee flavor that we all know and love in our favorite espresso martinis.

Cold brew sensation

Many bars and restaurants have switched over to making espresso martinis using cold brew coffee instead of espresso. Should the cold brew popularity spike be enough to force you into this trend? Well, yes and no — because cold brew coffee is processed over a longer period of time, it's often less bitter or acidic than espresso. The subtle flavors in different blends of coffee, whether nutty, chocolatey, or fruity, are supposedly more accessible. It's also easier to have cold brew coffee ready for the cocktail shaker instead of waiting for freshly brewed espresso to cool.

Others feel that even the boldest cold brew coffee may not envelop the other flavors in the cocktail like a traditional espresso can. Cold brew is also thinner in texture, which might cause your espresso martini's overall appearance to change. It comes down to which source of caffeine you prefer and which serves your own personal espresso martini best.

Sip your s'mores

The most whimsical way of elevating an espresso martini is creating one that tastes like toasted s'mores. As a camping trip favorite, s'mores have basically not changed since their invention by a Girl Scout leader in 1927. You too can evoke your favorite campfire memories with products like Bailey's s'mores flavor and other brands of toasted marshmallow sugar syrups. There are even vodka flavors incorporating marshmallows into their line. It's become popular to elevate the classic s'more (peanut butter banana, anyone?) to help campfire parties become more interesting.

Here, it's best to stick to the traditional elements of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker for your own limited-edition espresso martini. Go the extra mile to make those you're serving smile with a graham cracker dust and chocolate syrup-coated rim. They won't believe their eyes when they see a toasted miniature marshmallow garnish over their espresso martini as an added bonus.