Editor's note: Since we published this review, we heard from Tip Top Cocktails that they've shaken up the recipe for a less bitter, more balanced cocktail. That means what Delta winds up selling onboard should taste drastically different from the espresso martinis we sampled.
Delta has been slinging excellent pre-packaged cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Negronis on board for a few years, but the airline practically broke the internet last month when they announced an upcoming addition: Espresso Martinis.
Yes, thanks to its partnership with Atlanta-based Tip Top Proper Cocktails, Delta flyers can soon sip on an espresso martini in the sky on select domestic and international flights. But Delta won't be selling these buzzy new canned cocktails onboard until sometime in March. Well, we're an impatient bunch here at Thrifty Traveler: We couldn't wait that long.
We had to get our hands on these cocktails earlier and try them ourselves – you know, for science. So we had a box of these new cocktails shipped early and rounded up several members of the Thrifty Traveler team for a taste test. We even enlisted a pair of self-proclaimed espresso martini aficionados (my wife and her friend) as well as an honest-to-god professional mixologist. Cheers!
The verdict was unanimous: We all really wanted to like it … but none of us did. Just one (maybe two, I can't decide) of the eight people involved in our taste test said they'd try one again on a Delta flight – a few glasses even went unfinished. And that was a disappointing shock, because many of us are big fans of the other Tip Top canned cocktails Delta has been selling on and off for a few years.
Let's be clear: Our taste buds are not yours. While we all found these espresso martinis far too strong and not sweet enough, you may feel differently – especially on a plane, where your sense of taste is dulled. So you should still try these cocktails for yourself once they're available on Delta flights.
The Taste Test
Tip Top Cocktails teamed up with the North Carolina coffee roaster Counter Culture to put together these canned Espresso Martinis.
All Delta has said is that these cocktails will go on sale on select flights sometime in March, along with the fan-favorite Old Fashioned. We'd expect Delta to sell these for around $12, as that's what they've charged for other canned cocktails in the past. Travelers in Delta Comfort Plus, first class, or Delta One business class can get them for free.
The packaging on the Espresso Martini is a 10 out of 10. What a classy looking cocktail, packaged in a black can with Tip Top's fun logo and simple list of ingredients on the side: Vodka, Espresso, and Vanilla. The can shows these clock in at 44 proof or 22% ABV, which struck us as on the stronger side for an espresso martini.
For our taste test, we did our best to mimic the typical inflight experience by drinking from plastic cups with ice. No cocktail shakers allowed – though shaking the can is highly encouraged.
Right from the first pour, it's clear this isn't a Kahlua- or Baileys-heavy espresso martini: It's dark, dark black in color. And no matter how hard you shake that can before cracking it open, you won't get that signature layer of foam on top.
But there's more to taste than just looks. Unfortunately, it tasted just like it looks: Incredibly strong on the coffee and vodka taste … to a fault.
“I like coffee and vodka. I do not like this,” our Thrifty Traveler Premium flight deal guru Jon Shallbetter said. “It’s better when the ice melts, though.”
Casey Linnell, a professional mixologist and owner of Casey's Cocktails, told me that good cocktails strike the right balance between sweet, sour, bitterness, depth of the flavor, and the presence of the alcohol. When a cocktail goes wrong, he said it's likely because it was too sour or too sweet for someone's palate.
In this case, the bitterness of the espresso was a bit overwhelming for many of us.
“It's not very sweet. The sweet doesn't come through very dramatically. The coffee does, though,” Casey said after his first few sips. “It's not horrible, but I would say it would have done a lot better increasing the sweetness. It's kind of hard to do a coffee in a can.”
Many of our taste testers felt it lacked a punch of creaminess and sweetness from something like Kahlua or Baileys, which are fixtures in many espresso martinis you can order at the bar. That's probably tricky for a canned, shelf-stable cocktail. But without it, the bitter taste of espresso and vodka seemed overpowering.
“It’s not a sweet cocktail. It’s a cocktail for people who really like to taste the alcohol,” said Malory Van Guilder, one of our testers and a big fan of espresso martinis. “It’s not a ‘girl’s trip, trying to have a little fun before we land' drink.”
My wife, Allie Potter, is another espresso martini aficionado. She agreed that these cocktails were missing something.
“It needs to be more creamy,” she said. “I’m kind of sad, I had high hopes. I think people are going to be disappointed.”
To that end, some of us tried adding a splash of half and half or coffee creamer to our drinks – something you could easily grab from a Delta flight attendant along with your espresso martini. While it didn't turn these cocktails from a swing-and-a-miss into a home run, it was a big improvement.
“Now it just kind of tastes like an iced latte,” our senior editor Allie Johnson said.
Would We Try Delta's Espresso Martini Again?
Maybe … but probably not. We may all need some time to get over the disappointment that a cocktail we were so excited about fell short of our high expectations.
“That’s not really for me,” our co-founder Nick Searti said after his first few sips. “I love Tip Top’s canned Old Fashioned and Negroni and like a good espresso martini, so I was excited to try it. But after this, I can’t imagine ordering one in-flight.”
“On very specifically timed Vegas flights, if I was in Delta Comfort Plus and it was free, I would have one,” our travel reporter and flight deal analyst Gunnar Olson said, before adding: “Probably.”
Casey, our expert mixologist, said the company likely did the best it could putting an espresso martini into a can – a tall task, to be sure. An Old Fashioned is a much simpler drink to concoct and package than one of these martinis.
“Would I do this on the plane? Probably, I probably would order one of these on the plane,” he said. “Would I prefer one fresh? Absolutely.”
For the rest of our taste testers, it was a resounding “No, thanks.”
Personally, I'm torn. Maybe we were all wrong to expect too much from these canned cocktails? Then again, I think the Old Fashioned I've had on previous Delta flights was better than some $20-plus cocktails I've had on the ground.
In the end, I'll give Delta's espresso martini another go on an upcoming flight, if only to see whether it tastes better in the air. But my expectations are officially lowered. And I'll probably ask for a packet of coffee creamer, just in case.
Maybe it's us – not you, espresso martini.
To a T, we all had wildly high hopes for this canned cocktail from the moment Delta announced it would be available soon. Nothing says “fun” quite like an espresso martini on the way to a new destination, right? Maybe not…
But just because most of us weren't fans doesn't mean it won't be a smash hit with flyers once it officially goes on sale. After all: We're travel experts, not espresso martini experts.