Homemade Coffee Liqueur (like Kahlúa)

Posted on 07 Sep 2012 03:41

You might be blown away by how easy it is to make your own liqueurs and just how good they will be. You can save lots of money and control the sweetness to get a cordial that is just right. Many times, as well, you can make one that is very close to a commercial brand. This homemade coffee liqueur is similar to Kahlúa, by far, the leading coffee liqueur.

The basic home method for making a liqueur is to use part of the ingredients, cooked with sugar, to make a syrup, which is then cooled and put into the base spirit along with the remaining ingredients, which is allowed to macerate for several days to several weeks, depending on the ingredients. This coffee liqueur uses this basic method.

This basic coffee liqueur is perfect for experimentation. Want a hint of chocolate to make a more "mocha" flavored liqueur? Add some good cocoa, preferably a dark variety, to the syrup. Another great idea would be to add a little amaretto extract. Choose the spirit base based on your taste preference. Vodka is the most flavor neutral of the three.

You can find similar recipes and basic instruction in A.J. Rathburn's Luscious Liqueurs, which has 50 recipes including an amaretto, Irish cream, chocolate-mint, rum-based coconut, advocaat, citrus-based, and many more.

black russian cocktail with vodka and coffee liqueur (kahlúa)

Black Russian Cocktail

black russian cocktail with vodka and coffee liqueur (kahlúa)

Black Russian Cocktail


1/4 cup instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar or raw sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup whole coffee beans*
3 cups rum, brandy, or vodka
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Choose your coffee beans based on how much bitterness you want in the finished liqueur. Remember that the dark roast espresso will give a more bitter and smoky note to the product so for less bitterness choose a lighter roast.


Heat the espresso powder, sugar, and water together over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until almost boiling. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the syrup mixture cool completely.

Put the syrup mixture, coffee beans (do not grind), and rum, vodka, or brandy into a glass container (a large mason jar will do) with a tight fitting lid. Stir well and place the sealed container in a cool, dry, dark place. Let the mixture sit for two weeks, but take it out occasionally and swirl the contents around. It is perfectly okay to take a little taste of your liqueur, from time to time, to see if you think it is ready.

After 2 weeks, open the container and add the vanilla, stir again, and seal. Let sit again for two weeks. Have a bottle, a clean funnel, and cheesecloth handy.

When ready, strain the mixture through a double layer of cheesecloth into a container that you can easily pour from. Then, strain again through another double layer of cheesecloth into another pourable container. Funnel the filtered liqueur into your bottle.

Use it to sip, over ice cream, or in any cocktail that calls for coffee liqueur. Better yet, give it to a friend as a gift!

homemade coffee liqueur, working batch

Working Batch of Homemade Coffee Liqueur, with Chocolate

homemade coffee liqueur, working batch

Working Batch of Homemade Coffee Liqueur, with Chocolate

Adding Chocolate

Try adding 1/4 cup of cocoa powder to the syrup. Do not just put the cocoa powder straight into the syrup as this makes it too difficult to incorporate. Instead, make a little slurry by first mixing the cocoa with a small amount of water, in a small measuring cup, until a thin paste forms. Use as little water as needed. Then add the slurry to the syrup, which will easily stir in. You can also replace some of the espresso powder with additional cocoa to make a more chocolatey liqueur with a less pronounced coffee flavor.

Alternatively, some recipes call for adding cocoa nibs (cacao nibs) to the extraction. For this, you can add the nibs along with the coffee beans. I do not recommend this for use in your coffee liqueur, because the nibs can actually require a longer time to render flavor than your coffee beans, causing the chocolate flavor to to fall short of expectations. I've found cocoa to work perfectly.

Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Beans?

Of course, you could use vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract and the flavor may be somewhat better. Vanilla extract is based on lesser quality beans than the beans you would buy whole and extracting the flavor from real vanilla beans would give a more intense vanilla taste. However, vanilla beans are very expensive and if you used only one vanilla bean in your liqueur, it may represent a 30 dollar or more investment. I've seen some weird priorities in liqueur recipes, and you can usually separate out those who know what they are doing from those who are just trying to be fancy.

Here, the point is the coffee flavor. The vanilla is just an accent that gives it that sense of creaminess. It is funny that many of the recipes that call for expensive vanilla beans instead of pure vanilla extract (and do use "pure") will also call for cheap instant coffee and cheap vodka! This is about priorities. You aren't making a gourmet vanilla ice cream, you're making a liqueur, based on an alcoholic spirit.

I've also seen amaretto liqueur recipes that call for vanilla beans and almond extract! That is not making an amaretto, it is making a vanilla liqueur with some almond flavor! Never mind that almonds are not even used to make real amarettos, let alone extract. But I think you get my point. You don't skip on the main flavor component and spend wads on a secondary ingredient.

While it would not make sense to use a very expensive bottle of vodka, or a cognac instead of a common brandy, it also makes no sense to use a spirit that tastes like rubbing alcohol, and coffee that you would never drink! A vanilla extract will do you just fine, and the small amount of alcohol in it will not amount to a hill of beans…regular beans that is, not vanilla beans, as a hill of vanilla beans really does amount to something.

If you are going to spend copious amounts of money on any one individual ingredient for a homemade liqueur, then it would make more sense to go out an by a top-shelf liqueur made by some artisan in France, Italy, etc. who is using a recipe perfected over a hundred years.

white russian cocktail made with coffee liqueur

White Russian Cocktail with Coffee Liqueur
Image viawikimedia

white russian cocktail made with coffee liqueur

White Russian Cocktail with Coffee Liqueur
Image viawikimedia

Black Russian versus White Russian Cocktail

A Black Russian cocktail, shown in the first image, is simply one part Vodka to one part coffee liqueur, usually Kahlúa. A White Russian is the same thing except it adds two parts heavy cream. Usually, a bartender would build a Black Russian over ice in an old-fashioned glass. However, a White Russian can be built in a glass, and not mixed, like the image above, or shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice and then strained over ice into a rocks glass.

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