Cheap and Easy Coffee Liqueur




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Back in the day, before the hangovers started, I really loved White Russians.  I had one at a party way back when and fell in love, then saw The Big Lebowski and knew that coffee liqueur and I were made for each other.

Somewhere in all this I realized that buying that junk at the booze-ahol store is expensive!  I'm a cheap, money grubbing tightwad, so I embarked on a quest, a quest for a cheaper and better way to drink more White Russians.

During a trip to California in 2003 (you can buy hard A in the grocery stores there!), I discovered the most delicious coffee liqueur of them all, Kakatua.  More chocolatey than Khalua and miles better than the bottom shelf stuff, Kakatua Coffee Liqueur became my mental template for the coffee liqueur I wanted to make. 

I've not been able to find Kakatua since then so my memory of the taste has faded, but my home brewed liqueur still kicks the pants off of Khalua!  It's got both a stronger coffee and stronger chocolate taste, without being as syrupy, which helps when you're trying to drink a White Russian on a hot day.

Here's a little video I made of the process, just for kicks:

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Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment

I like to make a ton of this stuff a few times a year, so the quantities are large and kind of vague.  You can always scale it down if you don't feel like making multiple gallons.  I find making a bunch all at once lets you play around with recipes too, as you can get an idea of what the final result is going to be with each bottle and adjust your recipe accordingly.

Here's what you need:
  • Coffee - cheap stuff, don't waste your money on expensive grounds for this
  • White sugar - get a big bag
  • Brown sugar - you'll need two or three bags of the dark kind
  • Pure grain alcohol - don't buy Everclear, go for the cheap brand (called Clear Springs around here).  They both taste like rubbing alcohol smells, so it's not worth the extra quarter to buy a plaid label
  • Baking cocoa - whatever's available, one tin should do
  • Vanilla extract - I like to use a mix of imitation and the real stuff
  • Cinnamon sticks - optional, and kind of expensive most of the time.  There's a restaurant supply store near where I work, you can buy them in bulk there.  If you're going to use them, try and find a place like that ***UPDATE 4/26/10  --  User SinAmos has pointed out that you can sometimes find a package of 5 sticks for a buck at the dollar store.  That's an even better deal than I was getting from the restaurant supply store, so you might check that out!
  • A big pot - really big
  • A smaller pot - but not too small
  • Several empty, clean jugs or pitchers
  • A funnel
  • A liquid measuring cup
  • Spoons
  • Many empty and clean alcohol bottles - the recipe is for standard 750ml (fifth gallon) bottles.  Remember, reusing is better than recycling
  • Cheesecloth - also optional, only needed if you're feeling ambitious
  • A cat - not required, but he won't leave and is extremely interested in what you're doing.  Make sure you pay attention to where you're going as he will insist on sprawling somewhere in your path

Step 2: Make Some Coffee

Make some coffee, and make it strong!  You've just bought a big can of the cheapest, darkest roast coffee you could find, so don't worry about putting the proper amount in the filter.  Just load it up and start percolating!

A lot of recipes I've seen for coffee liqueur say you should make "Coffee Extract" for your coffee flavor.  This is achieved by placing coffee grounds in a jar with pure grain alcohol, putting the jar in a dark place, and shaking it several times over the course of several weeks.  When you make the liqueur, you're supposed to put a small amount of this extract in the bottle and top it off with water.  This, my friends, is pure BS and also stupid.  You can leapfrog ahead of all that, plus give your booze a much stronger and more authentic coffee flavor by simply topping it off with coffee instead of water.

For a big batch like this you'll probably need three, maybe four pots, so start this step early.  As each pot is done, dump it into a jug or pitcher and set it aside to cool.  When I do this in the winter I'll put them outside in the cold to cool down that much faster.

Step 3: Make Some (special) Vanilla Syrup

The syrup base is another place that I've learned to depart from many of the other recipes I explored in my quest for coffee liqueur.  There are a lot of ideas about slowly cooking your syrup down to thicken it, and slightly caramelizing it for a darker color, but I think both of these things are wrong.

For one thing, with my recipe you get a dark brown color mostly due to the fact that you're using coffee instead of coffee extract.  For another, I think cooking down your syrup until it thickens is a bad idea.  I've never been too concerned about how thick my liqueur is, and the only time I'll really notice is when a liqueur has gotten too thick and gums up the back of your throat or is way too sweet.

So anyway, here's how it's done.  Grab your big pot and a cup, any cup will do as we're not being super precise at this point.  Don't worry about making too much either.  You can just bottle up whatever you have left and throw it in the fridge to use for your next batch or for whatever other cooking projects come your way.

Start adding sugar to the pot, one cup of white to one cup of dark brown.  Keep track of how much you use, that will be important later.  Using brown sugar is a little more expensive, but it does make your liqueur darker and also gives it some nice molasses flavors.  Once you feel like you've got enough (go through at least a bag and a half of the brown sugar), add water.  The ratio is one part white to one part brown to one part water (1:1:1).

Put it on the stove over medium heat and start stirring.  Stir frequently while it's cooking.  You need to get it hot without boiling it, and this can take a while.  Now's a good time to get started on step four (making chocolate syrup).  Get that going and come back here.

Once it looks like most of the sugar has dissolved, pour in some vanilla extract.  I use a mix of the cheap stuff and real stuff, but if you're a purist feel free to blow your money on a big bottle of pure vanilla extract.  I find that if you mix them the end result is pretty much the same. 

There's not a set amount of extract you'll need, just flavor it and taste until you think it seems good to you.  I like mine to be strongly vanilla, so I end up using quite a bit of extract.

The syrup is done when it starts getting really cloudy on top and really hot, but before it boils.  If it does boil don't worry, it isn't ruined or anything.  Remove it from the heat and put it somewhere the ants can't find it (stupid sugar ants!).  I will usually make up an ice or cold water bath in the sink, place the pot in there and stir until it gets to a less scalding temperature.

Step 4: Make Some Chocolate Syrup

In addition to the vanilla syrup you'll need a smaller batch of chocolate syrup for flavor.  I suppose you could make up a single batch of chocolate/vanilla syrup, but if you do it separately it gives you more control over the end result.

Just like the vanilla syrup, you start by adding equal parts white sugar, brown sugar, and water, but this time in a smaller pot.  Once done, put it on the stove over medium heat and stir frequently.  It's pretty easy to do this step at the same time you're doing step three.

Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is close to boiling, add some baking cocoa to the mix.  Much like the vanilla syrup, there's no set amount here, just flavor to taste.  I like it pretty chocolatey so I use around half the tin.

I often let this syrup cook hotter and even boil some in an effort to absorb the cocoa powder.  It never completely absorbs, so when the chocolate syrup is done and you've cooled it down in the freezer or an ice bath, strain it through some cheesecloth.  That will get most of the powder out of solution and leave you with some delicious chocolate syrup.

Step 5: Recipe(s)

Here's where you get to be creative.  Like I mentioned in a previous step, the nice thing about doing a big batch like this is you get to experiment from bottle to bottle until you find a recipe that's just right for you.  As you can see from the coffee/syrup stained scrap of paper below, I've gone through many different versions of this recipe and I'm still trying to perfect it.

Here are my two latest recipes  in their current form.  Both will give you an alcohol content of around 16%.

Ian's Mexican Mocha Coffee Liqueur
Alcohol 4 oz
Vanilla syrup 9 oz
Chocolate syrup 2.5 oz
Cinnamon sticks 1/2 per bottle
Coffee Top off bottle

This coffee liqueur's flavor was based somewhat on the Kakatua that I loved so much, and also on an insanely delicious milkshake I once had at a coffee shop in Portland.  It's a bit too sweet for some, but it goes well in a White Russian or just over ice with some milk, or even drizzled over ice cream.

Shianne's Extra Chocolate Coffee Liqueur
Alcohol 4 oz
Vanilla syrup 4 oz
Chocolate syrup 5 oz
Coffee 4 oz
Water Top off bottle

Having less sugar and less coffee flavor, this coffee liqueur is more versatile for mixing, and works very well for a lighter and less sweet White Russian.  If you make this recipe you'll want to make a lot less vanilla syrup and a lot more chocolate, and you won't need nearly as much coffee.

If you come up with your own recipe, post it in the comments section or send it to me, and I'll add another step for user submitted recipes!

Step 6: Mix It Up!

I save the fifth gallon (750ml) liquor bottles we use and then refill them with coffee liqueur.  If you use a bottle that only had alcohol in it before it should be safe to just start adding your ingredients, but if you're using a bottle a second time it's probably a good idea to run it through the dishwasher first.  Grab your measuring cup and funnel and start pouring!

Keep a towel on hand as this can get messy sometimes.  After each bottle is filled, cap it securely and shake it up.  Take a small taste and see how you like it.  Keep in mind that the coffee is cheap coffee and the grain alcohol is really strong, so there will be some strong and somewhat unpleasant flavors when the liqueur is young, but these will fade after a few weeks.  If you feel you need to adjust the ingredients, go ahead, but make sure to write it down.

After a couple of days of sitting you will almost certainly have some sediments forming at the bottom of the bottle.  This is just small coffee grounds and cocoa powder, nothing to worry about.

You can start drinking it right away, but as I mentioned, the flavor will improve dramatically after a couple of weeks.  Giving it a month to rest is even better, but by no means required.

If you have any leftover coffee, put it in the fridge and make yourself an iced coffee tomorrow.  If you have any leftover syrup, bottle it up and put it in the fridge.  It'll last for months or even longer.

Step 7: Celebrate!

Have a White Russian!  Pour one part vodka, one part coffee liqueur, and two parts half and half over ice and enjoy.  Wear a bathrobe.  Go bowling.  Have an angry ferret dumped into the bathtub with you.  You're the Dude now!

I used to drink these things all the time, but a few years ago I started getting hangovers really bad, especially after drinking White Russians.  I suspect my body wasn't happy about me mixing dairy and alcohol, so I've since switched to beer.  I'll still have one every now and then, as they're just too delicious to avoid!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!  Please take a minute to post a comment and give me a rating.  I love hearing other peoples' thoughts about my instructables and always make an effort to respond.  Also, make sure to check out my other instructables on matters that vary from proton packs to croquet to how to save yourself from a zombie attack, and if you like them subscribe!  I've always got more projects in the works.

Step 8: User Submitted Recipes!

As promised, if anyone would like to post their own recipes for coffee liqueur, I'll put them here.  First up is lvlcaphoto, with this little gem.  Sounds delicious to me!  The picture below is her custom labelled bottle, complete with drink recipes.
lvlcaphoto says:  Hey all, I made some of my own concoction last year for Christmas presents. I started in October (to let it ferment a few months) and here's what I did different with my own recipe.
1. Coffee (same as yours, only make them all different, I used a Brazilian in there too.)
2. White Sugar (same as yours but no brown sugar)
3. Karo Syrup (bottle of the white) this is great for thickening the sugar water
3. Cheap White Vodka 
4. Christian Bros. Brandy (3 cups)
5. Vanilla Extract (Bourbon kind the best, plus one Vanilla Bean)
6. 2 Melted 97% Dark Chocolate Bars

I made the coffee ultra strong. I ran it through coffee filters 5 times to get all of the sediment out of the coffee as it goes to the bottom of the bottles and looks mucky if you don't strain it.
Heat up the sugar with the karo syrup with the water similar to your directions and set aside.
I melt the chocolate and add that into the coffee misture, then add in the sugar. Then add in the bourbon vanilla (the best I've found is Pampered Chef Vanilla or Trader Joe's). Let all that cool then add in the vodka and Bourbon. The Vanilla Bean goes in last and let sit until the next day.

I save all my dark beer bottles and purchase corks from Home Depot to fit the bottles. Make sure you boil the bottles first to get any germs out.

After filling, I shake the bottles every day for about two weeks or more and then personal label them with sticky back paper and my own design artwork for that added flair. When Christmas times comes around this stuff is great after two months of fermenting...enjoy!
Thanks for sharing lvlcaphoto!

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    81 Discussions


    4 years ago

    These sound amazingly awesome! I can't wait to try making this!

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    For reasonably priced cinnamon, go to Penzey' and look for chunk cinnamon-- they sell a mixture of korintje & Ceylon for $2.39 for a 1 oz bag, which is a decent quantity of really high-class, high-quality cinnamon. As for vanilla, I personally think that imitation vanilla tastes like cheap perfume. I use Penzey's therenas well, and I buy their double-strength. I admit, it's pretty spendy, but boy howdy, is it ever good!


    9 years ago on Introduction


    I've not yet made my own, but my aunt and uncle do, though there recipe is quite a bit different.  Here's a couple of thoughts:

    Coffee: I'd strongly recommend experimenting with good coffee. For real. You might be surprised. It doesn't even have to be REALLY good coffee, just not folgers. Get a whole bean coffee like 8'oClock French Roast and brew up some strong coffee. I think the quality of the initial ingredients will have a drastic impact on the final product.

    Grain Alcohol VS Vodka: I've had a few homemade coffee liqueurs made with  vodka and they're quite tasty. Again, don't go for the cheapest stuff, but don't do it with Crystal Head or Grey Goose, either. Stoli or something in that class.

    Vanilla: Consider splitting a vanilla bean and adding it directly to the bottle. I've had coffee liquers this way as well, and you can really taste the difference. Awesome! Also, when doing good coffee and the straight vanilla bean, you might be able to skip the cocoa all together and just use straight sugar as the stronger coffee combined with the vanilla bean will impart a nice, chocolatey flavor on its own.

    Cheers, dude! I really need to do this one of these days!

    5 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks zook!  I didn't really go into it in the instructable, but I have experimented with the whole gourmet ingredients thing before.  I find that you can taste the difference, but as I mentioned, I'm a cheapskate.  I don't think you can taste ENOUGH of a difference to justify the extra expenses.  That's why when I run out of the homebrewed stuff I buy Copa De Oro, not Khalua.

    Every now and then I'll brew up a "Limited run" of fancy stuff, as presents to people or just as a special treat, but usually I stick to doing it cheap.  When it comes to spending lots of money on alcohol, I'll usually splurge on good beer, which is easy to do here in Oregon!

    Thanks for the comment and suggestions!  I like the vanilla bean idea a lot and have been toying with the idea.  I don't know if you can tell in the pictures, but the real vanilla extract I use is just a little bottle with vanilla beans in it.  I top it off with rum or vodka every now and then, and sometimes add a new bean.  It's a great way to get cheap, high quality vanilla extract!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm much more of a beer guy myself as well. I spend incomprehensible amounts of money on beer. One of my guilty pleasures is Bell's Hopslam which runs close to $16  a six pack. Yikes.

    All good mate!  I'm really looking forward to trying a recipe for this!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You guys are in Oregon huh? if you ever get down to Mendocino County in Northern California, check out the Anderson Valley Brewing Company stuff, or Lost Coast Brewery. the best is the IPA or the Boont.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not a big fan of Anderson Valley (at least the bottled stuff we get up here), but I'd kill for an Indica or a Downtown Brown from Lost Coast!


    9 years ago on Step 4

    I commend you for coming up with your own recipes, and even more for sharing your methods with us!

    One thing you might like to try is to beg/steal/borrow some cocoa from a country outside of North America*. I've had Hershey's cocoa and I'm not sure why but it's quite bland when compared with something like, say, Cadbury's Cocoa, or Green & Blacks. I know Hershey's cut corners for their chocolate bars (soy and UHT milk and stuff), maybe they do similar for the cocoa?

    *I'm being glib here - there are probably non-US cocoas available in North America, or even non-Hershey's cocoas made in North America. The point I'm making is, er, try it without Hershey's. ;-)

    Rocking instructable mate. :)

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks stabarinde, I like to share this sort of thing, which is why I love this site so much.

    I have tried other non-Hershey's cocoas, such as Ghirardelli and some from a local gourmet confectioner called Euphoria chocolate.  Both were noticeable in the final result and tasted great, but were way more expensive.  My goal with this project was to make the best possible coffee liqueur at the lowest possible price, so I've stopped buying the fancy ingredients. 

    You know, you're not the first person who's told me that Green & Blacks makes good cocoa . . . I might have to try to track some down one of theses days.

    Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you liked it!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Green and blacks is readily available all over Northern California in the plethora of hippy food stores here. it is very expensive however.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Ah yes, Ghirardelli! Of course, how could I have forgotten.

    I get your point about the cost though - that's a pretty good point from which to start for any coffee liqueur newbie. :)

    You do?!  Where did you get them?

    They belonged to my girlfriend's grandma and she absolutely loves them, but they're very thin glass and keep breaking.  I've been trying to find more to get her for a present, but I can't seem to find any!

    I bought two of them at a yard sale somewhere between Austin and Houston a couple of months ago.. Have you checked etsy and ebay?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    simplest thing to do in this situation would be to post a picture of the cups online along with a question about them. depending on the site, you could find out in less than a day.

    I looked on both places and didn't see anything that looked like them. Do yours have any markings? Mine are fairly worn.

    No markings.  I've been checking Ebay and and local second hand stores to no avail for a while.  Oh well, thanks for looking!


    9 years ago on Step 1

    Aah... Although I am not 21 yet and really shouldn't be trying to learn this until this August, what do you reccommend I use instead of grain alcohol?  It's illegal in my state, so all we can get is vodka.  Should I increase the booze content, or ROADTRIP?