Toasty, bittersweet coffee liqueur can be enjoyed as an energizing after-dinner cordial, an extra kick to your morning cup of joe, or as the foundation for a wide range of tasty cocktails. This sweet sipping (or mixing) liqueur can be enjoyed year-round, but there’s something about the cold winter months that deliciously highlights the warm flavors of chocolate, coffee, vanilla beans, and spices.

Name brand sipping liqueurs can add up quickly; luckily, making your own homemade coffee liqueur is as simple as it is affordable. By distilling instant coffee, simple syrup, and whole vanilla beans into premium liquor, you can create a spirit that tastes just as good as (if not better than) store-bought. Skip the $40+ bottles of Kahlúa this year and create your coffee liqueur from home. Not only is it a great addition to your personal bar, but it also makes a unique, thoughtful, and great-tasting gift.

Melanie Davis

To create your own delicious coffee liqueur, you'll need the following materials:

  • 750 mL 100 proof vodka
  • 1/3 C instant coffee
  • 3 1/2 C white sugar
  • 1/3 C brown sugar
  • 4 C water
  • 4 vanilla beans split lengthwise
  • Large mason jar or sealable bottle
  • Medium saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Ladle
  • Knife

For the Best, Choose the Best

{from left to right): Mount Hagen, Nescafe, Starbucks

This coffee liqueur is made with instant coffee dissolved into a simple syrup solution. As any veteran coffee drinker can attest, there are usually few things worse-tasting than a bad cup of lukewarm instant coffee (my tongue tingles just thinking about it). Obviously, you don’t want that off-color, acrid taste in your alcohol, either -- so make sure you choose a high-quality brand of instant coffee. Good ingredients mean good flavors. Here’s a handy guide for picking the best instant coffee brands.

I opted for Nescafe’s Taster’s Choice French Roast for a bold, rich coffee flavor. Nescafe’s Taster’s Choice is made from 100% pure, responsibly-sourced beans. The coffee has a full-bodied, bold, and slightly smoky flavor. (The bolder the flavor of your instant coffee, the stronger the flavor will be when distilled into your liquor.) If you’re usually not one for the flavor of black coffee, you’ll be able to offset the bittersweet flavor later with your preferred ratio of vanilla beans and simple syrup.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine and don’t want to risk making a bottle of jittery nerves, not to worry! You can use decaffeinated instant coffee the exact same way you would regular instant coffee.

Selecting Your Spirits

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Finding the right spirit is equally as important as finding the right coffee. I prefer to use high-quality vodka because the clear liquor acts as a nice, neutral base to the flavors I’m trying to create in my homemade concoction. Using an unsweetened liquor like 100 proof vodka allows me to get my liqueur exactly as sweet (or bitter) as I’d like.

Name brands like Kahlúa and Tia Maria, however, use rum. The caramelly sweetness of dark rum combined with whole vanilla beans complements the coffee beans' sharp bite and creates a well-rounded, decadent dessert liqueur. Some rums are fortified with extra sweeteners, so make sure to taste test your mixture often while adding simple syrup to avoid over-sweetening your liqueur.

Brandy, a liquor produced by distilling wine, can also be used as your coffee liqueur base. Due to its distillation process, brandy offers a considerably more fruity flavor profile to your liqueur, adding hints of flowers, fresh and dried fruit, and citrus zest. The wood of the barrels used to store aged brandies reinforces notes of vanilla and warm spices.

Regardless of which liquor you choose, you’ll want to make sure it’s high-quality and high-proof. The high alcohol content helps draw out the most flavor from your natural ingredients; the higher quality the liquor, the smoother the drink. The best part about homemade liqueurs is the complete creative freedom you have to invent flavor combinations tailor-made to your (or a loved ones’) tastes. Experiment with different liquors or find your tried and true favorite -- the choice is yours!

The Secret Ingredient

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The secret ingredient to great-tasting coffee liqueur is in the beans: the vanilla beans, to be exact. Rather than using liquid extract, grade A whole vanilla beans are sliced lengthwise to expose the pod's inside to the liquor to maximize flavor extraction. The smooth, creamy vanilla flavor is infused into your liquor at a faster rate, and it’ll taste a million times better.

While these might be the trickiest and most expensive ingredient on the supplies list, I guarantee it’s worth the extra couple of days to order your beans online. I used Grade A Madagascar vanilla beans that I ordered through Amazon prime.

Once you have all of your materials gathered, it's time to start soaking up your flavors:

Melanie Davis
  • Combine water, white sugar, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil for approximately five minutes. Add your instant coffee and stir until fully combined. Remove from heat.
  • Transfer your liquor into a large glass jar or resealable bottle. You’ll need enough room for 750 mL worth of alcohol and four cups of instant coffee and simple syrup solution.
Melanie Davis
  • Slice the vanilla bean pods lengthwise, being careful not to slice all the way through. Add the pods to the glass container.
  • Carefully ladle your coffee and sugar solution into your glass container. This solution is super sweet, which means it’s also super sticky, so pour directly from the saucepan at your own risk (preferably over a sink).
  • Store container in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks before drinking.

Unlock Unique Cocktails

Melanie Davis

Having a bottle of coffee liqueur on hand can help you whip up specialty cocktails in no time. Combine 4 C crushed ice; 1.5 oz. vodka, coffee liqueur, and Irish cream liqueur; 2 tbsp. chocolate syrup; and ½ C whipped cream in a blender to create a delicious and boozy “grown-up” chocolate milkshake, a.k.a. a mudslide.

Channel your inner “Dude” with an easy-to-make, three-ingredient White Russian. Pour 2 oz. vodka, 1 oz. coffee liqueur, and 1 splash of heavy cream over ice for a cool, creamy cocktail perfect any time of day. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Coffee liqueur isn’t beholden to cream, chocolate, and vodka cocktails only. For a more sophisticated take on the bittersweet liqueur, try a zesty, spicy Revolver. Combine 2 oz. rye bourbon, 1 oz. coffee liqueur, 2 dashes of orange bitters, and garnish with an orange peel.

Lemons for Lulu created an irresistible tiramisu pudding shot that is a boozy dessert-in-a-glass. These decadent shots are dangerously good -- so enjoy with caution. In a large mixing bowl, beat together chocolate pudding mix, milk, coffee, and coffee liqueur until combined. Slowly fold in cool whip and set aside. In a second bowl, beat together white chocolate pudding, milk, and vodka. Fold in cool whip. Place two pudding mixtures into separate Ziploc bags, snip off a corner, and pipe into shot glasses.

Double Duty: From the Bar to the Bakery

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Don’t limit your homemade spirit to the bar; coffee liqueur can be used in a myriad of desserts, from decadent chocolate mousse to tiramisu to fluffy cheesecake. To get the most bang for your buck out of your new liqueur, try one of these tasty recipes:

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