I Tried a Parmesan Espresso Martini & I’m So Confused

Will this strange drink work at an actual bar?

April 12, 2023
Photo by MJ Kroeger

Over the last few weeks, blogs, newspapers, and TikTok bartenders have endorsed grating Parmesan onto an espresso martini. While the sea of positive reviews grants this surprising partnership some culinary legitimacy, a key question remains: Would this work at a regular bar?

Theoretically, the drink makes sense. Adding Parmesan to this caffeinated cocktail aligns with the established practice of using umami to round out the bitter notes of espresso. Many popular espresso martini recipes accomplish this by using salt for a similar mellowing effect. For example, Balderdash, a critically acclaimed Copenhagen cocktail bar, has been adding bacon salt to its slushy espresso cocktail since 2016.

As anyone who’s ever consumed an interesting sounding, brightly-hued cocktail surely knows, at a regular bar, theoretical promise rarely translates to practical success. Of course, there are exceptions (like the “dirty” Shirley Temple), and those are the drinks we hold onto forever.

In hopes of evaluating the practical merit of this cheese-dusted cocktail, I went to the most regular bar in my neighborhood and ordered an espresso martini with a side of Parmesan. Within minutes, an espresso martini covered in thick, flavorless, pre-grated Parmesan sat before me.

Photo by Paul Hagopian

It was not good. The cheese—which looked more like potato sticks than grated Parm—didn’t dissolve into the foam. The intended bitterness-mellowing effects were nowhere to be found. And while they couldn’t have been nicer, the bartender probably thinks I’m both strange and annoying.

This leads me to two conclusions. First, even in the wild world of cheesy martinis, ingredients matter. Stale, lifeless cheese is bad on its own, but especially so when sprinkled on an already delicious cocktail. Second, if I was going to order this at a bar again, I might consider calling ahead and inquiring about the “bring your own cheese” (BYOC) policy—a higher quality Parmesan could make all the difference.

There’s no reason a bar has to be the first place you try this drink, either. You can easily make an espresso martini at home, and if you have a block of decent Parmesan in the fridge, you’ve got everything you need.

Will you be grating Parmesan over your espresso martini? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • T
  • sws
  • ReginaHalikas
  • Cheryl Kramer
    Cheryl Kramer
Paul Hagopian

Written by: Paul Hagopian

Content @ Food52


T May 4, 2023
Absolutely - if I was drunk!
sws May 3, 2023
I love a well made espresso martini and I love great quality Parm, but, just no.
ReginaHalikas May 3, 2023
Great article
Cheryl K. May 3, 2023
This drink does not sound good! I saw Hoda and Jenna try it on the Today show and they about spit it out. What a way to ruin a totally good drink!