Kahlua coffee Liqueur

Kahlúa coffee liqueur - history and alternatives

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 23, 2022 
With more and more coffee Liqueurs flooding the market, I want to honor the one that started it all. Kahlúa Coffee Liqueur was the first coffee Liqueur on the market and is, without a doubt, the most famous one.

More than 1.5 million bottles of Kahlúa coffee liqueur get sold every year, and there's no end in sight. You can get it in almost every country on the planet, and it's an essential ingredient in one of the currently most trending cocktails - the Espresso Martini.

Many think that Kahlúa was invented in the 1970s because it appeared in many drinks around this time. But actually, the history of this coffee Liqueur goes back way longer. So let's check out when this stroke of genius was invented and how it still affects modern mixology.

The history of Kahlúa

In 1936 in the rural area of Veracruz, Mexico, Kahlúa coffee liqueur was born. It contains the finest arabica coffee beans harvested in Veracruz. But not only the coffee beans are Arabic, but the name "Kahlúa" allegedly also derived from ancient Arabic languages. It's said to have been a slang word for "coffee" at that time.

It only took about four years until Kahlúa got to the US. From there, the brand started its victory march. One thing that distinguishes Kahlúa from other Liqueur brands was a distinct form of advertising. It began in the 50s with quirky figurines placed in each advertisement to honor the rich Mexican heritage. Although it looked a bit strange, people loved it, and it made Kahlúa famous.

From the late 1970s to the 90s, Kahlúa seemed to be everywhere. Drinks like the Black Russian, White Russian, and Espresso Martini contributed heavily to the fame of the Coffee Liqueur. Each of these cocktails is based on Kahlúa and also was advertised that way. And again, those cocktail ads were unbelievably popular. Even today, you can understand why people loved it.

Even today, where there's more competition than ever in the market of coffee liqueur, Kahlúa defends the number one spot. And I don't think this will change anytime soon.

Kahlua Advertisement Espresso Martini

The Ingredients of Kahlúa

In case you're wondering if the coffee taste is achieved with the help of artificial flavors, it is not. As mentioned before, Kahlúa uses the finest 100% Arabica coffee beans, which bring the delicious bitter coffee taste to the Liqueur. Absolutely no artificials are involved. The main ingredients are rum and coffee beans. The guys also make their own rum to create Kahlúa. Like other rums, it is made from sugarcane.

Let's quickly take a closer look at the coffee beans: If there are real coffee beans used, there should be caffeine in it, right? But that's a big yes and no. Scientifically the answer is yes, as one liter of Kahlúa contains 101 milligrams of caffeine. But if you break this down to one shot of Kahlúa (1.5 oz), only 4.5 milligrams of caffeine are in every shot or cocktail containing Kahlúa. If you compare this to a cup of coffee (100 milligrams) or a glass of coke (34 milligrams), the caffeine in Kahlúa is almost non-existent.

The alcohol content, in turn, is pretty average for a Liqueur. At 20% vol. it is not exactly strong, but still strong enough to knock you out when you overdo it.

Production process

Altogether you need about seven years to produce a bottle of Kahlúa coffee Liqueur. The majority of this time goes into getting the coffee beans. They only grow in the shade, not in the sun. That slows the process down a lot. Therefore it can take up to 6 years until they're ready to be used.

Once the coffee cherries are ripe, it's time for harvesting. The beans are extracted from the fruit and then need to rest for about six months. As you know, good things take time - and proper resting will improve the taste immensely. Before the beans finally arrive at the distillery, they get roasted to create that intense and bitter coffee flavor.

The rum is produced by extracting the juice of sugarcane. Boiled and mixed with water, it's ready for the distillation process. It then is combined with the coffee beans and gets the finishing touches before resting for another four weeks. Then, finally, Kahlúa is ready to be bottled and shipped around the world.

Kahlúa alternatives

Besides Kahlúa, Tia Maria is another big name when it comes to Coffee Liqueurs. But there's plenty more competition for them nowadays since products containing coffee are trending for years on end.
Many of those alternatives are experimental, trying to push boundaries and creating a richer flavor profile. Each product tries to be different, either by using particular beans, roasting techniques, sweeteners, or a different brewing technique.

Here are some alternatives I recommend if you want to try something new.


CO'PS espresso liqueur

Probably hard to get your hands on at the moment. CO'PS actually is not a coffee Liqueur but an Espresso Liqueur. Therefore, one single shot of CO'PS contains the equivalent amount of caffeine of an Espresso. And it also does have 30% vol. of alcohol, so you know you can get a real party started with this Liqueur.

It is made from 100% coffee beans and cola nuts. The brand owners self-developed a maceration process that not only extracts aromas and caffeine extremely well it also creates a very smooth taste.


Firelit Coffee Liqueur

Firelit uses cold-brewed coffee as the base for their Liqueur. Blended with a coffee-infused brandy and aged in steel tanks, it takes about four weeks until the flavors fully integrate and the product is finished. I prefer to drink it neat, but it also works well in coffee cocktail recipes.

Bittermens New Orleans Coffee Liqueur

Bittermens New Orleans Coffee Liqueur

If you're looking for a heavier and more pronounced coffee taste, this New Orleans-inspired recipe is for you. Using Brazilian coffee beans that get roasted to perfection, this coffee Liqueur is for hard-core coffee lovers who prefer their coffee strong and bold.

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