Coffee liqueurs like Tia Maria are popular ingredients in classic cocktails. Drinks like the Espresso Martini, Bahama Mama, or Screaming Orgasm wouldn't taste the same without this bittersweet coffee-flavored liqueur.
In many recipes, Kahlúa is the recommended ingredient. But there are some really good alternatives.
One of the best ones is Tia Maria. Invented in Jamaica, Tia Maria 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.
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.
Back then, the list of ingredients included Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaican Rum, Bourbon vanilla, and sugar.
Until the 1980s, Tia Maria coffee liqueur was positioned as a premium liqueur bottled at 31.5%. It has been a totally different product from what you get now.
Today, Tia Maria clocks in at only 20% and is no longer produced in Jamaica but in Italy. But how did that come about?
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 origins 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 Tia Maria 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 as possible to Cargill's memories.
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.
And 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.
Changes in the recipe
The original version of Tia Maria has positioned 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.
The taste of Tia Maria
Like most coffee liqueurs, Tia Maria tastes bittersweet with intense notes of coffee. The flavor profile also includes a hint of caramel and vanilla.
Compared to Kahlúa, it's slightly less sweet with richer notes of coffee. The consistency is also smooth and less thick and syrupy than Kahlúa is.
Tia Maria in cocktails
Since Tia Maria is similar to Kahlúa coffee liqueur, it's an excellent replacement in mixed drinks.
So, here are more easy-to-make Tia Maria drinks to try at home.
- 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!
More liqueur and cocktails guides
- Learn more about Italian Amaro in guide for Aperol and this article about Campari.
- Learn more about Irish Cream and its most popular representative Baileys.
- Cointreau Guide, Triple Sec guide, and Blue Curacao guide - time to learn more about the citrus liqueurs.
- Learn more about Fernet Branca and Branca Menta.
- Our Guide to Peanut Butter Whiskeys. Learn more about peanut butter flavored Whiskeys like Skrewball.
- Or find out how to make liqueurs at home. Like our DIY Banana liqueur, homemade Limoncello, and homemade Crème de Cacao.