Coffee liqueur combines two of many people’s favorite drinks: coffee and alcohol. Plenty of sugar is added to balance out the alcohol’s sharp taste, usually. While Kahlua is the most well-known and widely sold, it is hardly the only option available. There are several other commercially produced options, and you can even make your own coffee liqueur at home.
The Most Common Coffee Liqueurs Are Sweet and Syrupy
Commercially produced coffee liqueurs fall into two categories. There are mass-produced selections, like Kahlua, that can be found in almost any liquor store, and there are micro-liqueurs produced by smaller operations.
The two main mass-produced selections are Kahlua and Tia Maria. Other companies produce coffee-flavored varieties of their mainstay liquor (e.g. Bailey’s has a coffee-flavored Irish cream), but these are the two true coffee liqueurs. Starbucks also launched a line of coffee liqueurs, but it’s been discontinued.
Kahlua, especially, is known for being excessively sweet and syrupy. While some people might have them on the rocks, they’re more often worked into mixed drinks — primarily Black and White Russians.
A Less-Known Coffee Liqueur That’s Worth Searching For
If you’re interested in less widely produced coffee liqueurs, we recommend search out Firelit. It may be difficult to find in some areas, but it’s worth the effort. Firelit is made with small-batch, freshly roasted coffee that’s brewed as a cold-brew, and brandy. It’s stronger, both in flavor and alcohol content, than Kahlua, which is often a good thing.
Firelit’s uniqueness comes from the brandy it uses, and from its high-quality coffee. Most large companies use inferior coffee — and some even use instant coffee. After brewing the coffee, they add lots of sugar and syrup to mask the bitter flavors produced by the coffee. Firelit doesn’t need to use as much sugar, because they start by using great coffee.
A Recipe for Making Homemade Coffee Liqueur
You won’t be able to perfectly mimic the syrupy flavor of Kahlua at home, but making a great homemade coffee liqueur is easy. Use our coffee and your favorite spirit, and you’re almost guaranteed to be pleased with the result. We love this recipe from ChowHound, which we’ve made a few tweaks to:
- 1 C cold brew
- ½ C dark brown sugar
- ½ C water
- 1 C alcohol*
- 1 vanilla bean**
*Tailor this liqueur to your own tastes by using almost any spirit that you like. Some common ones that work well are rum, vodka and bourbon. You can even use two different ones, such as a dark and a light rum, for added complexity.
**If you’d like to try flavored coffee liqueur, substitute a ¼ teaspoon of either cinnamon, or ⅛ teaspoon of peppermint or hazelnut extract for the vanilla bean.
- Brew 1 cup of cold brew.
- To make ½ cup simple syrup, warm up the water and dissolve the sugar in it.
- To a 1-quart pitcher, add the cold brew, simple syrup and alcohol.
- Slice a vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds into the pitcher and toss the pod in the pitcher. (Slicing it open helps extract the vanilla, but you still use the entire bean.)
- Let the liqueur sit for 2 weeks, stirring occasionally.
After two weeks, get your liqueur out and enjoy a fine adult beverage. Start out with a Black or White Russian, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other drinks, too.