Tia Maria Coffee Liqueur Explained

By Timo Torner / Last updated on May 12, 2023

Tia Maria is a rich, dark coffee liqueur made from cold brew coffee extract, Jamaican rum, vanilla, and sugar. It's a smooth and refined alternative to Kahlúa.
Tia Maria coffee liqueur

Tia Maria is one of the best ones coffee liqueurs on the market. Invented in Jamaica, the coffee liqueur has a rich and smooth taste with notes of vanilla and caramel. It's delicious in cocktails and also tastes good on the rocks.

It can be used in a variety of classic cocktail recipes. Drinks like the Espresso Martini, Bahama Mama, or Screaming Orgasm wouldn't taste the same without this bittersweet coffee-flavored liqueur.

It's an excellent substitute for Kahlúa but has a slightly better-balanced flavor profile with less sweetness and a more-pronounced coffee taste.

What is Tia Maria?

Tia Maria is a high-quality coffee liqueur produced by a company with the same name. The liqueur was invented in the 1940s and initially manufactured in Jamaica. The original recipe is made from Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaican rum, bourbon vanilla, and sugar.

However, the recipe changed over time, as did the alcohol content. The original version contained 31.5% of alcohol, whereas today's version only contains 20%. Even the place of production changed. These days, the Jamaican coffee liqueur is produced in Italy and no longer in Jamaica.

What's in Tia Maria?

Today, Tia Maria is made from Jamaican rum, cold brew coffee extract, Madagascar vanilla, and sugar. The ingredients are blended until the final product reaches an alcohol content of 20%.

The former, original recipe was significantly boozier with an alcohol content of 31.5%. The ingredients were also slightly different, as the liqueur was made from Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans and genuine bourbon vanilla.

The taste of Tia Maria

Tia Maria has an intense coffee taste with subtle caramel sweetness and hints of vanilla. The coffee flavor also includes slightly bitter notes that are well balanced with the sweetness in the liqueur. The consistency is smooth without the thick and syrupy texture of other coffee liqueurs.

Tia Maria vs. Kahlúa

Tia Maria is often preferred over Kahlúa due to its more intense coffee flavor with delicate caramel and vanilla notes. Compared to Kahlúa, Tia Maria is less sweet with a more distinct coffee taste. Both liqueurs clock in at 20% ABV, and only Kahlùa gets its coffee flavor from genuine roasted Arabica coffee beans. 

The difference in consistency is mainly due to one key ingredient in Tia Maria. It uses cold brew extract instead of roasted coffee beans. This extract makes for a more watery consistency and a better-balanced coffee taste with less bitter notes. That, in turn, means that Tia Maria requires less sugar to balance out bitter notes.

 Here's a detailed comparison of both coffee-flavored liqueurs.

Tia Maria Kahlúa
ABV 20% 20%
Proof 40 40
Taste Coffee, caramel, vanilla, sweetness Coffee, sweet, bitter
Base spirit Rum Rum
Coffee flavor Cold brew extract Arabica coffee beans
Consistency Relatively thin for a liqueur Thick and syrup
Price $27 $25

The History of Tia Maria Liqueur

To say it upfront, the history of how the liqueur came to life is not entirely clear. There are many versions, legends, and tales of how the recipe came to life and when the story of Tia Maria began.

So let's have a. look at the three most common stories you'll hear about the origin of the Jamaican coffee liqueur.

The Story of Aunt Maria

One of the legends is about a young Spanish girl that had to flee Jamaica because of the colonial war. She was accompanied by her female servant Maria, who not only managed to bring some jewelry with them but also saved the family recipe for coffee liqueur.

To honor her name and to thank her for saving the recipe, the Spanish lady named the liqueur Tia Maria (Tia is the Spanish term for aunt or auntie). 

However, this story is most likely only part of a marketing campaign and not the true story of the beginning of the coffee liqueur.

The Morris Cargill Version

Morris Cargill, a Jamaican lawyer, and businessman, states in his book Jamaica Farewell that he had the idea of making a coffee liqueur similar to the one his aunt used to make. 

Unable to get a hand on the original recipe, he connected with Dr. Ken Evans to develop a recipe coming as close to Cargill's memories as possible. 

They partnered with Eustace Myers from Myers Rum and Blue Mountain Coffee to produce the first 5,000 cases.

For the label design, Cargill hired a London agency led by Joseph MacNulty. After hearing the story of Cargill chasing the old recipe, he came up with the idea of naming the liqueur after Cargill's aunt. -And aunt mary became Tia Maria.

Today's marketing version

On the official website, the story is a bit different. Here, Dr. Evans discovered the liqueur shortly after the 2nd World War. 

In an attempt to reproduce it, he created his version of a coffee liqueur, which, subsequently, was sold as Tia Maria.

When The Recipe of Tia Maria Changed

The original version of Tia Maria has established itself as a premium liqueur at 31.5% ABV. In the 1980s, the formula of the liqueur changed, and since then, the resulting product only contains 20% ABV.

Pernod Ricard bought the brand in 2005 and sold it again only four years later to Illva Saronno.

After that sale, the production moved from Jamaica to Saronno, Italy. Likely, the ingredients in the recipe have changed then, as well.

Tia Maria in cocktails

Since Tia Maria is similar to Kahlúa coffee liqueur, it's an excellent replacement in mixed drink recipes.

So, here are more easy-to-make Tia Maria drinks to try at home.

Best Espresso Martini
1 / 4

Espresso Martini

The Espresso Martini is an excellent Tia Maria cocktail. The bittersweet notes of freshly brewed espresso coffee pair perfectly with the sweet, Rum-based coffee liqueur.
View Recipe
Black Russian cocktail
2 / 4

Black Russian

Using Tia Maria instead of Kahlúa in Black Russian makes for an excellent cocktail. This cocktail classic is a perfect after-dinner sipper.
View Recipe
Bahama Mama rum Cocktail
3 / 4

Bahama Mama

Yes, even tiki drinks sometimes ask for rich coffee notes. The Bahama Mama is a well-balanced drink that's not overly sweet. It dates back to the 1950s and is one of the more famous Tiki cocktails.
View Recipe
White Russian cocktail
4 / 4

White Russian

The White Russian is a famous Kahlúa drink that tastes richer when made with Tia Maria. 
This twist on the Black Russian is a rich and creamy cocktail that became famous for being the Dude's favorite drink in The Big Lebowski.
View Recipe
Baby Guinness shot

Baby Guinness

A fabulous shot made of coffee liqueur and Irish cream.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Irish
Keyword: kahlua
Servings: 1
Calories: 112kcal
Cost: $1.40


  • 1 Jigger
  • 1 Bar spoon


  • 1 oz Tia Maria coffee liqueur
  • 0.33 oz Baileys


  • Refrigerate both ingredients before using.
  • Use a chilled shot glass and pour in the coffee liqueur.
  • Float Irish cream on top of coffee liqueur with the help of a bar spoon, and enjoy your Baby Guinness. Cheers! Sláinte!


Serving: 1.33ozCalories: 112kcalCarbohydrates: 15.35gProtein: 0.33gFat: 1.54gSaturated Fat: 1.49gSugar: 15.35g
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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