DIY Coffee Liqueur Recipe

A fresh cup of coffee with added depth from rum.

A bottle of homemade coffee liqueur.

Serious Eats / Liz Clayman

Why This Recipe Works

  • Cold brewing the coffee keeps the flavor smooth.
  • Rum adds depth, but you can use whatever spirit is your favorite.
  • Making your own gives you the option of adding other flavors, like peppermint or warm spices.

Coffee and alcohol are two of the best beverages on the planet, so combining them is just common sense. But I didn't really understand the true genius of coffee liqueur until I went to Hawaii and noticed it in unexpected places—in old-school fruity umbrella drinks like the Bahama Mama and new tiki creations made with coconut, falernum, and lime, on top of a fruit salad, and even shaken up with cinnamon, chiles, and cream. I had been pigeonholing coffee liqueur as just a part of a White Russian, only to find out that its potent flavor actually blends well with a variety of ingredients.

What's Available to Buy?

Most liquor stores carry coffee liqueur, usually Kahlua and Tia Maria. Kahlua is probably the most well-known. A lot of people find Kahlua too sweet for use in anything but a classic White Russian, though. A little extra legwork can pay off for coffee liqueur connoisseurs. Firelit is made with small-batch freshly roasted cold-brewed coffee and brandy, so it tastes more like a cup of coffee than a sugary treat. Kahlua loyalists may find it too aggressive both in coffee flavor and alcohol content. Fair Cafe liqueur falls somewhere between Kahlua and Firelit, with strong coffee flavor and a less sweet taste but a bit less intensity than Firelit.

Why DIY?

Homemade coffee liqueur tastes rich and full without any syrupy sweetness. Just like with coffee, not everyone takes their coffee liqueur the same way. If you're picky about coffee, you can use your favorite beans in your own liqueur, and you have the option of playing with the spirit base as well. You can mix light and aged rums for more complexity. Not a rum person? Then try bourbon or vodka instead. Or follow Kahlua's lead and flavor your concoction with cinnamon, hazelnut, or peppermint. The quick steeping time means no patience is required.

Use It!

Making a "Russian" is coffee liqueur's most iconic job. For a Black Russian, add some of your liqueur to vodka. You can make it a White Russian by also adding cream. Want to branch out a bit? Look into tiki cocktails, or try The Revolver, a dry bourbon-based cocktail that will show off your liqueur without a sugar overload. You can indulge your sweet tooth with a mocha-caramel-coffee milkshake. Or drizzle some of your homemade coffee liqueur over vanilla ice cream or sliced papayas for a simple dessert.

What's your favorite way to enjoy coffee liqueur? Whatever it is, your DIY version will really shine.

January 2012

Recipe Details

DIY Coffee Liqueur Recipe

Prep 0 mins
Cook 5 mins
Active 10 mins
Infusing Time 84 hrs
Total 84 hrs 5 mins
Serves 48 tablespoons
Makes 3 cups

A fresh cup of coffee with added depth from rum.


  • 1/4 cup fine ground espresso

  • 2 1/4 cups water, divided

  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (see notes)

  • 1 vanilla bean

  • 1 1/2 cups light rum (see notes)


  1. Cold brew coffee by combining grounds and 1 1/4 cups water into a sealable glass jar, shaking it, then refrigerating mixture for 12 hours (see notes). Strain through a coffee filter into another sealable glass jar.

    A side by side photo of a jar filled with coffee grounds and water, just shaken; mixture strained through coffee filter.

    Serious Eats / Liz Clayman

  2. Combine sugar and 1 cup water in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let syrup cool to room temperature.

    Turbinado sugar and water boiling on stovetop to make simple syrup.

    Serious Eats / Liz Clayman

  3. Add cooled syrup, vanilla bean, and rum to glass jar that contains coffee. Let mixture steep 3 days, then remove vanilla bean and bottle liqueur.

    Removing vanilla bean from DIY coffee liqueur after steeping.

    Serious Eats / Liz Clayman

Special Equipment

Coffee filter


When hot coffee cools down, it loses some of its good qualities. Cold brewing the coffee keeps bitter and overly acidic flavors from taking over.

Turbinado sugar, also known as raw sugar, is available at most grocery stores. You can substitute other types of sugar if desired.

If rum isn't your favorite spirit, try vodka, brandy, or bourbon.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
30 Calories
0g Fat
4g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 48
Amount per serving
Calories 30
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 1mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 5mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)