Better than Kahlua – How to Make Coffee Liqueur

My youngest daughter Lauren works at Nordstrom’s in their Visual Merchandising department; she is one of the elves that work behind the scenes for weeks in preparation for the big reveal of all things Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. I won’t say it’s not hard for me that we don’t spend the holiday together but I respect Nordstrom’s tradition; it’s so in line with my own.

That being said; I struggled with doing a post this week before Thanksgiving that had any mention of Christmas. But…no make that a big BUT; I’m really doing this for you! I decided it was worth jumping the gun a few days than waiting until it’s too late to share this recipe that is the perfect gift for you to give friends and family over the holiday gift giving season.

Cigars and Kahlua Shooters – A Tribute to My Uncle Eddie

I don’t make my holiday gifts because I’m cheap (promise!) but because I want to put an effort into them that makes the giving personal in a very real sense. Don’t laugh but this year…recipients are getting this coffee liqueur, my version of Biscoff cookies (I’ll share them soon!) and my home cured Maple Bourbon Bacon. Yes, bacon. I want them all to experience how amazing home cured bacon is so yesterday I bought 10 lbs of pork belly which I’ll be curing and smoking and wrapping in one pound packages for gifts. Go on, tell me now if that’s crazy; I’m happy to hang on to all of it for myself!

There are a variety of methods I’ve seen for making home brewed Kahlua coffee liqueur. The primary difference in methods is using either coffee grounds in the brew or instant coffee. I’ve done both and personally prefer going the instant coffee route; the year I tried grounds there was no way to remove every bit of them; even pouring it through cheesecloth didn’t completely work if only because some of the heavenly elixir was lost in the cheesecloth. I also like to cook down the sugars and water to get a syrupy consistency before adding the vodka. Is it totally necessary? Not really; just my personal preference.

I’ve found that my favorite concoction includes some of my own revisions. I use dried espresso instead of instant coffee; I just think it’s a bit richer as a result. And beyond the standard water, sugars and vodka I add just a touch of chocolate liqueur to the mix. I often use espresso in a chocolate recipe because they are so compatible with each other so I’ve just done ‘opposite day’ and added a bit of chocolate to this espresso based liqueur. It’s subtle but it’s there and it’s a good addition.

By the way; I don’t recommend that you use either Everclear or your best vodka for this. Everclear is often recommended but it’s grain alcohol that has such a high proof that many liquor stores won’t even carry it. Using great sipping vodka is also not required; save that for your favorite cocktails. Once you mix the vodka with sugars and coffee and let it age a bit; the vodka will mellow out. I usually ask a liquor store for a recommendation and spend around $15 for a 750 ML bottle.

If you’re now in the mood to make your own Coffee Liqueur; you might want to check out my post for Cranberry Liqueur; it’s also amazing and currently aging in our brewing facility (you might call it a garage).

Better than Kahlua – How to Make Coffee Liqueur
Prep time
Total time
I think better even than Kahlua...your own coffee liqueur using espresso.
Serves: Approx 8 cups
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • ¼ cup dried espresso
  • 3 cups vodka
  • 2 vanilla beans, split
  • 2 shots of chocolate liqueur
  1. Combine the water, both sugars and dried espresso in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil; turn the heat to low and simmer for a minimum of 1 reduce the mixture and make a more syrupy consistency.
  3. Watch constantly and stir occasionally.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool.
  5. Add vodka, vanilla beans and chocolate liqueur.
  6. Pour everything into a storage container.
  7. Age for 3-4 weeks in a cool, dark location; stirring once or twice a week. ('s absolutely drinkable earlier; so if you have less time to age it than that; gift it and make a note on the gift tag to wait just a bit).
  8. When ready to bottle, remove vanilla beans, bottle mixture and store.
I cut up the vanilla beans and add them to some sugar...nothing at all wrong with Kahlua flavored sugar in your coffee!

NOTE: No, I don’t smoke cigars but my Uncle Eddie did. He and my aunt both passed away this year after a long life together and my cousin sent me some of their possessions. I didn’t want much; all I asked for were a few things that I could use in photos; as a reminder of them. The funny thing is I didn’t think of cigars when I made that request, but one of the things Pat sent me was this old cigar box and it brought back a flood of memories of my Uncle Ed and his cigars. I can see him smoking one now with a coffee liqueur shooter so this one’s for you Ed!


    • Creative Culinary says

      No, I use a dried/instant espresso called Medaglia D’Oro (I can get it from my regular grocer and think Whole Foods carries it too) – here’s a photo:

      In a pinch you can use regular instant coffee but just add a bit more. I’ve heard some folks use ground espresso but I have not so hesitate to say yes because without testing I wouldn’t be certain of the quantity required.

  1. Chris K says

    I am making gifts for folks this Christmas one of which is herbed vinegar. Living in Florida, autumn and winter are our prime growing season. The thing is that I bought a ton of white wine vinegar and I don’t want to put the herbed vinegar back into the bottles. Several years back, my brother and his wife gave me a bottle of coffee liquor that was to die for, so I decided to use my wine vinegar bottles for coffee liquor. I just want to say that I visited several blog sites until I settled on your recipe. I’ve already made a batch of home made vanilla, and my beans are spent, so if I can’t find any at the local grocery store, I’m going to use vanilla extract. I am also considering going a different route than vodka, because that is what my vanilla is in. On the other hand, no one is going to be drinking the vanilla extract… or so I think. In any case, thanks for sharing this, and also your story about your Uncle Ed. That really touched my heart.

    • Creative Culinary says

      Thank you Chris: I hope you love it. I don’t think there is anything more special that we can give for holiday gifts than something we made from the heart with our own hands. I hope you love it!

      He was a special guy; one of the VERY few in this world that got away with calling me Barbie. :)

  2. says

    I have another question.

    I am going to gift my coffee liqueur and was thinking about putting one of the vanilla beans in the bottle. The bottle would then come with your instructions on making Kahula flavored sugar. Thus the question: Would leaving the bean in the bottle further change the liquerur—or is all the vanilla flavor already extracted from the bean? I think the bean in the bottle would make for a homey touch but I don’t want to ruin the liqueur.

    What do you think about this?


    • Creative Culinary says

      Hmm. I can’t say if it would change the bean or the liqueur but if it were me? I would just tie the bean around the top of the bottle with some raffia or other rustic ribbon and include a card for it’s use. Good idea too…I gift this to friends and family every Christmas and keep the beans; more than I need. I shall now gift them their beans too!

    • Chris K says

      Hi Dave,

      I am making vanilla extract this year to give out as Christmas presents. The recipe calls for the extract to steep for six months. I can’t see how keeping the bean in the coffee liqueur could hurt, but in all honesty, no one will know it is in there because of the color of the liqueur. If you are doing it for esthetics, I’d say why bother. If you want to ramp up the flavor of the vanilla, then go for it!

  3. says

    I’ve done this recipe exactly as recommended. The month is not quite up and I can’t keep my sampling spoon out of the container! Still I’m wanting to play with the recipe and wondering what would happen if I substituted Rum for the Vodka (Rum seems to be a more natural pairing). Have you tried this? should I use the same portions?

  4. John says


    I just made this thanks for the recipe. One question though, I think I might have burnt it a small bit and there is small bits at the bottom of the bottle. Would I be best leaving it in till after the 3 or 4 weeks and then running through a sieve?

      • John says

        Ok. I have ran it through a sieve to get the heavy stuff and slowly but surely its going through paper towels as its all I had to get the finer stuff. But its looking a lot closer to what the image has above.


        • Creative Culinary says

          Sounds like a plan John. I usually use something caller Butter Muslin to strain my liqueurs but if I’m out, I’ll do a coffee filter or paper towels too…whatever works!

  5. Carol says

    Vanilla Beans are very expensive. Have you made this with Vanilla Extract? Do you know what the substitution measurements would be? I have 2 Vanilla Beans and plan to make a double recipe and may use Vanilla Extract to make up the difference, hoping that it doesn’t change the delicious flavor.

    • Creative Culinary says

      I have not done that Carol but I would try it too if I didn’t have the beans that I get from Costco at a reasonable price. Please let me know how yours turns out…Barb

  6. Brian says

    Quick and easy … Cheap vodka, handful or two of coffee beans, sugar to taste. Remove some vodka from bottle, add sugar and dissolve to your taste, add coffee beans and leave to ‘brew’ until strong enough for your liking. Shake bottle at least once per weel. Drain off and consume!

  7. says

    Hi there.
    Bright sunny morning here in Durban . I looked up your recipe this morn and decided to give it a try. Will definitely let you know it went. Regards Leon

    • craig says

      irish cream recipe
      1/3 rum
      1 cup whiskey
      1 can sweetened con. milk
      2 cups half n half
      3 eggs
      2 T chocolate syrup
      1t vanilla extract
      blend sweetened con. milk, half n half, eggs, chocolate syrup, vanilla in blender well. stir in alcohol . makes a very nice irish cream bottle and enjoy

      • Creative Culinary says

        Umm…sounds good. Couple of questions Craig? Do you refrigerate it and how long is the shelf life? Thanks…Barb

  8. dylan says

    I was wondering if it is fine to drink it within only several days of making it and if so how does it taste? Also what about using cheap vodka>

    • Creative Culinary says

      I use inexpensive vodka but not the cheapest…and the aging serves to mellow it out a bit. You can drink it at any time; you’ll just notice a smoother result with a bit of aging.

  9. Malissa says


    I am definitely making this (and the cranberry one!) this year for gifts. They have recently privitized the liquor stores here, and I cannot find chocolate liqueur (along with a wide variety of other “specialized” liqueurs) anywhere. Can I use chocolate in some other form? Thanks!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Oh I like to throw it in because I made it too…but you don’t have to. Thinking hmm, maybe just a spoonful of cocoa would work? I just think that coffee and chocolate both compliment each other so well but it’s not imperative.

  10. Brianna says

    Hi there! I love this recipe! I was wondering where you got those great storage containers with the spouts? Also, I am also using this for Holiday gifts and there are so many bottles on the web I am not sure which ones to use. I want them to be pretty and decorative but I don’t want the recipients to have a hard time pouring. I was thinking swing top bottles but do you have trouble pouring with these? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much!!!

  11. says


    • Creative Culinary says

      Yes, I just love making liqueurs and always make my own holiday gifts. This year I’m thinking it will be wine jellies…my new favorite thing to make and give as gifts.

  12. Stacey says

    Kahlua, my all time favorite drink. I will definitely be trying this recipe out. I do have a question, though. Is there a time limit on how long a bottle will stay good for? For long-term storage would it be best to keep it in the fridge? Not that it will last long in MY house, lol, but in the event I make a whole batch to keep, does it ever go bad?

    • Creative Culinary says

      I’ve not had mine go bad and I just used some yesterday that has been kept in a cool place but not the fridge; it was made in December. The alcohol serves as a preservative but I still take precautions to keep it cool and out of sunlight. I’ve never had one long enough for it to go bad either so I can’t give you a firm answer on that; I give the majority of mine as gifts so more often than not I’m getting requests for refills and no one is worried about spoilage!

  13. says

    This recipe sounds absolutely delicious and I can’t wait to try it. I have a bag of whole bean espresso gourmet coffee that tastes great and I’d like to use that if possible. Please explain to me exactly how I would use this in place of your ground up espresso.

    Would I brew a rather strong pot of coffee and use that in place of the water or directly use the ground up Espresso?

    • Creative Culinary says

      Since I’ve never made it using coffee beans Anthony I can only suggest that you brew some espresso with your beans and use that in lieu of all or some of the water and dry espresso. You can certainly tell from a taste after adding everything together if it will be strong enough.

    • Creative Culinary says

      I realized after I made mine I should have measures the final output but I was giving it for gifts and had it bottled before I thought of that. Still I would guesstimate the recipe made about 8 cups of final product; I think I doubled my batch since I was making holiday gifts…we had coffee liqueur everywhere!

      I think it would be OK to bottle right away…make sure everything is very well combined before you do though. I think better with a screwtop or something like I use which has a plastic type insert that is rimmed with a washer to keep the liquid contained. Good luck; please let me know after you make it.

      All your fault that I want to go back downstairs and make a Kahlua and Cream!

    • Creative Culinary says

      You are most welcome…I’ve enjoyed making liqueurs; not just for me but they are great gifts too!

  14. Victoria A. says

    Hi, I’m new to your site, and I’m loving it!
    How would you go about making this recipe with regular coffee?
    Would you brew a strong batch, and use that in place of water and espresso powder?
    I’m a bit picky when it comes to coffee, and I’d like to try making this with my favorite kona coffee. And suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Absolutely switch out the espresso with your favorite coffee. I did that for my taste but it would be perfect to add your own personal favorite; makes the effort even that much more yours.

      Thanks for visiting and welcome!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Yes, you can use all white sugar if you prefer. That’s more standard; I just prefer the bit more robust sugar so that’s why it’s in my recipe.

  15. Nicole DAndrea says


    So I’m one week in to having my homemade coffee liqour sit and it just seems very syrupy. Is this normal? Should I thin it out? And how/with what?


    • Creative Culinary says

      If it seems too thick Nikki it might have been cooked down a bit too much in the beginning process. You can thin it down with a bit of water or add a bit more vodka. Liqueurs should be thicker than water but if it seems to thick for your tastes, certainly thin it out a bit. Just add some more liquid now and stir well.

    • Creative Culinary says

      It might also make a special way to start the day! I won’t deny I might have a cup of joe on Saturday morning with a touch. Just a touch, promise. :)

  16. Luke says

    Ok, I just made this and my apartment smells soooo good now! My roommates and I are so stoked for it to be ready in a few weeks! One question about storing it for the three weeks though….does it need to stay in a sealed container, or is it okay to open it every once and a while to smell it when I stir it?

    • Creative Culinary says

      It’s fine to open it and stir it and of course you must do a taste test! The time element is really to mellow out the vodka; in a pinch Luke you can try it sooner than three weeks!

      • Luke says

        Awesome, thanks! I’ll give it at least a week before doing a taste test, but after my taste test (or a few smaller tests) while I was cooking it, it was amazing!

        • Creative Culinary says

          Love that Luke…nothing I like more than someone making and enjoy one of my recipes. I’ve got a group meeting here in the morning…they’ll get some in their coffee if they want. Bet you they want! :)

  17. says

    This is perfect! Ever since I visited my family over the holidays I’ve been wanting a good coffee liqueur recipe I could try out that was a bit more than the basic water, sugar, vanilla, coffee, vodka combination (my family is obsessed with Kahlua, as am I). I’m excited to try out your recipe, however the dried espresso might be a bit of a hunt! I’m sure it will be very well worth it though.
    Meaghan Most Recent Post: An attempt at procrastination.

    • Creative Culinary says

      It’s great Meaghan…I ‘think’ I love it more with Espresso and I have yet to see another recipe that cites cooking down the brew a bit either. It won’t ever be real thick but I do like a bit more than having it be the consistency of water!

      I could only get dry espresso from Whole Foods but last year asked my local market to try and get some and they now stock it. This is what I use if a name and visual will help. BTW…I now make my chocolate liqueur first and then use it to make the Kahlua. I’m on a role too!

  18. Suzanne says

    Your recipe looks to taste far better than one I was going to make. I have all the ingredients…with instant coffee. Where do I find dried expresso?
    Cannot wait to make it and of course….test it!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Before I asked my local grocery store to try and get it, the only place I could find it was at Whole Foods. The brand I use is on this page:

      Worse case scenario just use a bit more instant coffee but if you can find the espresso? I think it combined with the chocolate liqueur is what take this over the top! Let me know if you make it; so far everyone has been delighted. The most important thing is to watch it closely as you make the syrup…getting it thick is important but not letting it burn even more so!

  19. Jennifer says

    I just made it! Looks and smells like it’s going to be gooood! I also made my own chocolate liquor that I put in to this recipe. Super easy…..Boil 2c water. Add 1c to 1c of sugar (to make a simple syrup) then the other 1c of water to 1/4 c of unsweetened cocoa powder (good quality). Combine the chocolate mixture with the syrup mixture, then add 1c vodka. It says to let sit in fridge overnight and then strain, then keep in fridge. Also, I used vanilla bean paste (Nielssen Massey) instead of vanilla beans to this recipe. We’ll see how it turns out!

  20. chris says

    Is the “Cook time” at the top of recipe right (5 min)? Or is it really the 1 hour minimum for cooking (simmering) that is described in the directions?
    I can’t wait to get started making it! Thanks for the idea!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Oops…I am sometimes my own worst editor! I’ve revised that cook time; it’s now the one hour minimum I indicate in the recipe. Thanks Chris!

  21. says

    Well now, since I’ve been infusing everything but the kitchen rug lately, this is up next! By the way, Everclear reminds me of punches made in trashcans at college parties. I’m not sayin that’s a bad thing, I’m juuuuust sayin ;)

    • Creative Culinary says

      Yeah…it is so good. If you really do it, just watch it but let the first stage get really thick cause you’ll be adding the vodka to it. Mine even had some crystallized sugar on the side of the pan. I scraped it all off and put it all in the jug; it will melt into deliciousness I promise.

  22. Sarah says

    LOVE THIS!! I’ll be honest, though, I’m not savvy in the kitchen and don’t want to take too many chances…so when you say ‘store in a cool, dark place’ is a refrigerator ok?

    • Creative Culinary says

      Sure the refrigerator is fine; many would not want to put something in there for a couple of weeks so it’s not a requirement at this time of year; mine is out in the garage! Summertime or in warmer locales the refrigerator is the only solution. Good luck Sarah although it’s never failed me!

    • Creative Culinary says

      I just happen to have those big containers that I usually serve drinks from during summer parties but I’ve used any number of other things over the years. A washed out milk jug would be perfect or even an empty vodka bottle. I do recommend making sure it’s plastic and not metal.

  23. LucySezSammy says

    This looks great! I am going to do this for Christmas presents! Where did you get the bottles and any idea of price on them?

  24. Judy Davis says

    Wow, my favorite liquor is Kaluha and I love Uncle Eddie so how could I not enjoy this recipe! Thanks so much Barb!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Seriously? I loved Uncle Eddie too; he was always so sweet to me and yes, one of the few that got away with ‘Barbie.’ So glad to see your comment…I never typically hear from any family. xoxo to you Judy

    • Creative Culinary says

      You need no lessons for these…they’re way too easy. Now if you need some helping drinking them that’s a whole different story.

    • Creative Culinary says

      Better late than never right? Just make sure you let the syrup get really thick because once you add the vodka it thins a lot. Mine will get to where I have to scrape some of the sugar off the side of the pan and it’s not a worry; it will all melt together in the brew!

  25. says

    Fabulous! I’d love to be a recipient on your gift list this year :-) So great that you make your hits-I’m hoping to make some this year myself. Your cranberry liqueur looks amazing too! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    • Creative Culinary says

      The same back to you…and you should try the liqueur; it’s really easy. I’m re-posting it next week with new pics. Makes a lovely cocktail with a sparking wine.

  26. says

    This looks beautiful Barb. If your daughter works in the Denver store, I must say she does a fabulous job. Their displays are works of art and I always enjoy them. What a great gift. I too have started making holiday gifts and am going to post a recipe today. GMTA. :) Even if it’s before Thanksgiving.
    Lea Ann Most Recent Post: Homemade Hashbrown Potatoes…Take Three

    • Creative Culinary says

      She in the Park Meadows store but they have corporate guidelines for how everything has to look and stores are very similar. I know the woman who is the manager of that department in Cherry Creek; she is absolutely talented and driven; has won numerous awards.

    • Creative Culinary says

      I think it is…and it is easy and while not what I want to call cheap since I don’t make gifts for that reason…I’m thinking I’ll get about 4 or 5 bottles of this for less than the cost of one bottle of Kahlua. Really can’t beat than can you? My biggest dilemma…wish gift recipients would return the bottles for refill!

  27. says

    I made it today!!! Love the way it turned out. The only thing I will do when I make it again is to reduce it for more than the 1hr. I thought it was thick enough but then when I added the vodka it thinned it out so I would cook it for longer to get it a bit thicker! Can’t wait to try it in my coffee!!!
    Judy Most Recent Post: Sweet and Sticky Oven Baked Chicken Thighs

    • Creative Culinary says

      So excited and glad you love it. Tastes amazing doesn’t it? The syrup does have to get thick because the vodka will then it again but I’ll tell you want. Better to have not cooked it quite enough than to have burned it. Many recipes don’t even thicken the syrup so I’m sure yours will be fabulous!

  28. says

    I made an ice cream with Kahlua recently and a reader sent me a recipe for homemade coffee liqueur like this…but in my case, low carb. I definitely need to give this a try with my alternative sweeteners!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Thank you Paula…one reason I loved the new header I made when I switched to CC is that not only is it easy to switch out photos when I feel like it but it’s also easy to change that top banner and some colors. I’ll be like Nordstrom’s; look for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving!

  29. says

    I hope you have that brewing facility locked up tight. With bottles of this in there I’m sure if any of your neighbours read this there may just be some late night boot-leggers lurking about :)
    I used to make home-made Bailey’s every Christmas (it’s great in your coffee too) and your recipe for this Coffee Liqueur is wonderful. Alone it would be a beautiful gift Barb but you adding it to your own home cured maple bourbon bacon and Biscoff cookies…now that makes for an awesome present that anyone would be a fool not to be overjoyed to receive.
    Paula Most Recent Post: Gingerbread Christmas Cookie Wreath

    • Creative Culinary says

      I admit; I have a very select list. Sister, dad, best buds and a couple of neighbors. I love that they so look forward to their basket each year. The bacon might be a shock…until they try it!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Aly…your response and delight is exactly why I do share things from my kitchen; let me know if you do this…and enjoy!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Made me chuckle…people anxiously wait for my basket of goodies; except for my own kids. You would think I was trying to give them cow feed to suggest I give them a basket as a gift. Funny I guess but shows what they’re used to huh?

    • Creative Culinary says

      I prefer giving edible gifts; I don’t have to worry about sizes or colors or even returns! Each year they get a bit more complicated though…I mean it used to be a dozen cookies!

  30. says

    Barb, this sounds fantastic – we don’t have many cold nights here in SoCal, but I can always pretend:)
    I made several fruit liqueurs during the summer, using the loot my father brought daily from his ranch and it just made me want to make more and more:) I have your Cranberry Liqueur bookmarked and I’ll gladly add this one to the list!
    BTW, lucky are your friends and family to receive such thoughtful gifts!
    Lana Most Recent Post: Ice Harvest

    • Creative Culinary says

      You don’t need a cold night…Kahlua is good no matter the temp. Glad you’re back home I bet huh? Must be so hard to worry about your Mom and still want to be home. Have a good Thanksgiving Lana; you deserve a break.

    • Creative Culinary says

      I now have some in my coffee. Just a bit cause it is morning and all…but oh my is that good. All your fault and I thank you for that!

    • Creative Culinary says

      Absolutely fabulous..and a great price to boot. I should figure it out, but I know this. One batch makes two bottles. I could do two batches from a 750ML of $15 vodka. Sugars and all…couple of bucks? Compared to $30+ for one bottle of Kahlua? Absolutely worth making.

        • Creative Culinary says

          It doesn’t have to be high quality since it’s added with other ingredients…for me it simply enhances the coffee a bit. I actually use the chocolate liqueur I make!

          • megi says

            thank you,but i am from bulgaria and don’t understand your quality in the recipes,do you understand me :) maybe around 50 grams…it’s ok??


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