Coffee liqueur is a sweet coffee and chocolate-flavored alcoholic beverage that often uses rum or vodka as its base. The two dominant brands in liquor stores are Kahlua and Tia Maria, although other similar products exist.
Coffee liqueur is excellent sipped on its own, added to cocktails like Black Russians, or poured over ice cream. Cheesecake, tiramisu, and truffles all benefit from a liberal splash of this ingredient. If you don't have any in the kitchen, you're going to need a coffee liqueur substitute. We've pulled together a list of our favorite alternatives so that you can finish recipes without the original ingredient.
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What can I use as an alternative to coffee liqueur?
To replace coffee liqueur in your next dessert or cocktail you can use instant coffee, coffee liqueur syrup, or coffee extract. They are all good alcohol-free options, ideal for kids and those that don't like liquor in their food. For a more authentic alternative to store-bought coffee liqueur, make a homemade version that will taste similar to Kahlua. Keep reading to get our delicious recipe further down the page.
1. Instant coffee
Instant coffee is a tasty non-alcoholic alternative to coffee liqueur, readily available in any part of the world. To replace one tablespoon of coffee liqueur we recommend combining half a tablespoon of coffee with one teaspoon of chocolate extract, a teaspoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of water. This combination of ingredients won't perfectly replicate coffee liqueur, but they are an excellent option for flavoring desserts like chocolate coffee cake without the taste of liquor.
Tip 1: If you've got no chocolate extract then unsweetened cocoa powder will also work fine.
Tip 2: For a stronger hit of coffee with deeper flavor notes you can use espresso. You may like to check out our comparison of Verismo and Keurig coffee makers for a convenient way to get good quality coffee.
2. Coffee liqueur syrup
This is a useful substitute, providing the delicious taste of coffee liqueur in a bottle of alcohol-free syrup. Although it's not the easiest product to find, we discovered that Torani produces a syrup that is perfect for replacing coffee liqueur. A tablespoon of this ingredient will provide a robust, aromatic coffee flavor combined with rum and vanilla. Read more on the Torano website.
Incorporate Torani syrup into whipped cream, cheesecake, milkshakes, or use it as a key ingredient in White Russian cocktails. It's also great added to coffee for those wanting extra flavor without the added booze.
3. Coffee Extract
By taking the intense, concentrated flavor from coffee beans and infusing it in an alcohol base, you get a coffee extract. It's a powerful ingredient and only requires a few drops rather than teaspoonfuls. Use coffee extract to add full-bodied flavor and aroma to cakes, desserts, cocktails, and ice cream. It is also useful for savory applications like adding flavor to gravy or marinades.
To take an extract closer to the taste of a coffee liqueur then it's best to add a teaspoon of cocoa powder and sugar, before taste testing. If needed, you can add more.
4. Make homemade coffee liqueur
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 1 hour
You may be surprised how easy it is to make a similar drink to Tia Maria or Kahlua at home. This is a fun DIY food project that produces a delicious coffee liqueur, much cheaper than the store-bought version.
- 3-inch piece vanilla bean
- 2 cups water
- 3 cups sugar
- ½ cup instant coffee
- 1 fifth (750ml) bottle rum
- Add the vanilla bean, water, and sugar to a small saucepan and place on a medium high heat until the liquid boils. Continue stirring until the sugar has dissolved, resulting in a simple syrup.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces by half. This should take about 30 minutes. Once the solution has reduced, remove from the heat and stir in the instant coffee, before allowing it to cool.
- Pour the syrup and rum into a sealable glass bottle or jar and shake well. Allow the mixture to sit in a cool dark place for 10 days, remembering to shake it each day to assist with the infusion process.
- Strain the liqueur through a cheesecloth or fine strainer to separate the vanilla bean and coffee granules. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a sealed bottle and consume or store in the liquor cabinet for up to three months.
- To produce a slightly less sweet drink, vodka can be used in place of rum. For a result that is similar to Kahlua then you should use rum.
- You may like to re-use the rum bottle for storing your coffee liqueur.
- There are no hard and fast rules for ingredient quantities. Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of coffee or sugar to suit your personal taste preferences.
- Avoid cheap instant coffee or rum as it will taint the taste of your liqueur.
- 10 days is a suggested waiting time, but you may need less or more. We suggest taste testing after a week to check how the flavor is progressing.
Coffee liqueur is a useful ingredient for adding to recipes and making cocktails like a Mudslide, Espresso Martini, or White Russian. It’s also amazing when added to hot or cold brew coffee.
If you would like to replace it then instant coffee, a liqueur syrup, or extract are all good options. For a cheaper, more authentic substitute then try making a batch at home. It’s fun, easy, and fail-safe but requires around 10 days to make it.
Don’t enjoy the flavor of household brands like Kahlua or Tia Maria? You may want to try something a little different. Kamora is a more affordable, less sweet version of Kahlua that may work as a substitute. Rumchata will appeal to people that enjoy liqueurs but prefer a vanilla, cinnamon flavor profile rather than coffee.
What are you looking to make with your coffee liqueur replacement? Please let us know in the comments below.