If You "Like" Espresso Martinis You'll Love The Black Russian

A minimalist coffee cocktail

Black Russian Cocktail with vodka and coffee liquor
On the Rocks

Out of deference to the hype, I recently ordered my first espresso martini. I usually avoid dessert cocktails when there’s something stronger on the list, but I love coffee so I was intrigued enough by the stimulant-depressant combo to head to Dante on MacDougal St. one sunny Friday afternoon to try one for myself.

The drink was fine, but not good enough to write about, even though I am writing about it now. The astringency from the freshly pulled shot of espresso seemed to fight with the overall texture of the cocktail (which was also $19). As a coffee drink, I appreciated the added alcohol because it was 5 p.m., but it wasn’t an improvement on my regular order, a short Americano.

One thing that has propelled the espresso martini back to ‘80s and ‘00s levels of relevance is the increased availability of higher-quality coffee liqueurs than Kahlua and Tia Maria, two old-school brands that taste great but are a little too basic to be featured in a drink at a buzzy bar that costs about 25 percent more than an hour of minimum-wage labor in New York City. Enter the new class of coffee spirits that prize bean quality and origin like Mr. Black from Australia, and small-batch takes from producers all over including Yonkers, which is where the bottle of Goofy Bandit Espressotini coffee liqueur that currently sits on my bar is produced.

But, despite all this, there’s an easier way to enjoy a strong coffee cocktail without having to add any coffee at all. It’s called a Black Russian — the less-famous predecessor to the comparably milquetoast White Russian.

A Black Russian is simply vodka and coffee liqueur, and the best part is it tastes great no matter how you make it: shaken or stirred in a martini glass, poured on the rocks in eyeballed proportions and mixed with your finger, or served as a shot. You could even batch a large mixture of one part coffee liqueur, one part water, and two parts vodka to freeze for a few hours to make perfectly diluted drinks that you can serve ice-cold from the freezer. I like to finish mine with a shake of orange bitters. It is the elemental coffee martini beneath the espresso martini, and is much more compatible with my do-less doctrine.

Black Russian


1 part coffee liqueur

2 parts vodka


Pour coffee liqueur and vodka over a glass of ice.