How to make the holy trinity of coffee cocktails

Cocktails with Chris

Chris Markham, Director of Print

What two liquids are more symbolic of the college experience than coffee and alcohol? We college students drink coffee at seemingly all hours of the day to help us tackle the endless amount of work and studying that we have to do. And in the precious moments when we aren’t working or studying, many of us are drinking alcohol to unwind from all of the stress. 

But what about when we consume our coffee and our alcohol together? Well that, my friend, gives us a coffee cocktail. Coffee cocktails combine the caffeine and flavor of coffee with the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and they’re often exactly what you need (or at least what I need). 

Of course, it’s important to note that by adding caffeine to alcohol, you’re adding some additional risk to your drinking. Because caffeine makes you feel more alert, it dampens the intoxicating effects of alcohol, meaning that you won’t feel as drunk as you would after drinking a normal cocktail. As such, you may find yourself wanting to have more drinks than you typically would, putting you at greater risk of alcohol poisoning. So when you’re indulging in the delicacy of coffee cocktails, it’s probably best to limit yourself to one or two, and be especially aware of how you’re feeling while drinking. As always, the most important thing is staying safe. 

Today, I’m going to cover recipes for not one, not two, but three coffee cocktails. I consider these three drinks to be the holy trinity of coffee cocktails: the espresso martini, the White Russian and the spiked coffee. 

Espresso Martini

We have to start with the espresso martini simply because it has the single greatest origin story of any cocktail. Sometime in the 1980s, London bartender Dick Bradsell had a model come into his bar with a not-so-simple request: a drink that would both “wake me up and then fuck me up.” To satisfy the model’s request, Bradsell combined vodka, espresso, Kahlua coffee liqueur and simple syrup to make the now iconic drink. 

Though this martini is traditionally made with a shot or two of espresso, don’t feel obligated to get an espresso machine or to buy an espresso shot at your local Starbucks in order to make this drink. If you don’t have actual espresso, you can just as easily use a cold brew coffee concentrate. Ideally, you would use a cold brew that’s as concentrated as possible to replicate the strength of a shot of espresso. However you make this drink, though, you’ll definitely be satisfied.


2 ounces vodka

1 1/2 ounces espresso or cold brew concentrate

1/2 ounce coffee liqueur 

1/4 ounce simple syrup*


  1. Add ingredients to your cocktail shaker filled with ice**
  2. Shake until sufficiently chilled  
  3. Strain the drink into your preferred glass with or without ice
  4. Enjoy responsibly 

*To make simple syrup, combine sugar and water into a pot and heat up until the sugar is dissolved. The standard ratio in most recipes is one part sugar to one part water, which will last about four weeks in the refrigerator. You can also make what’s called a rich simple syrup by using two parts sugar to one part water, which will last for about six months in the refrigerator. I like to use this 2:1 rich syrup. 

**If you don’t have a cocktail shaker available, you can use a protein shaker bottle, a Mason jar or a thermos that gets a really tight seal. 

White Russian

Made famous by the character The Dude from the film “The Big Lebowski,” the White Russian is the cocktail on this list that doesn’t have coffee itself as an ingredient but rather coffee lacquer, for which I have a recipe later in the article. Therefore, it is the cocktail with the lowest caffeine content. 

The standard recipe for a White Russian is a 2:1:1 ratio of vodka to coffee liqueur to half-and-half. Of course, you can use whatever creamer you prefer, be it a heavy cream or a dairy-free creamer––that’s a simple enough switch. 

However, when I make a White Russian, I mess with the ratios a bit. For my taste, the standard ratio results in an unbalanced, vodka-heavy drink. There’s nothing wrong with that if you really like vodka, but it just doesn’t do what I want a coffee cocktail to do. If I’m making a coffee cocktail, I want the coffee to be the dominant flavor, not alcohol. As such, my preferred recipe controversially flips the ratios of vodka and coffee liqueur. This switch gives the drink a stronger coffee flavor and tones down the alcohol burn from the vodka. If that sounds good to you, give my recipe a try. On the other hand, if you like the taste of ethanol more than the taste of coffee, for some strange reason, try the standard recipe. Whichever you choose, I hope you enjoy responsibly. 


1 ounce vodka

2 ounces coffee liqueur 

1 ounce half-and-half (or your preferred creamer)


  1. Add ingredients to your glass filled with ice
  2. Stir until sufficiently mixed and chilled  
  3. Enjoy responsibly 

Spiked Coffee

You can use just about anything to spike your coffee, giving a wide variety of drinks. From vodka to rum, Irish whiskey to American bourbon––there’s no limit to what kind of liquor you can add to your cup of coffee. Use whatever alcohol you feel like when making it and you won’t be disappointed. I almost always go for an aged rum, but you do you. 

Just like the type of alcohol is your choice, the temperature is as well. Though it’s more traditional to make spiked coffee hot, you’re the one drinking it, so go ahead, have it cold. Just make sure you use a mug if you’re drinking it hot.

When it comes to sweetening your spiked coffee, feel free to use any kind of sweetener you like. While you can’t go wrong with using a simple syrup made from normal white sugar, using a simple syrup made from brown sugar adds a unique richness to the coffee. This drink is also amazing with flavored syrups like peppermint or cinnamon. 

Finally, there’s the matter of whipped cream. Most of us are probably just going to use a standard can of whipped cream and spray a large spiral of it on top of our coffee, and that’s a perfectly valid way to go. However, you can easily make the whipped cream yourself by simply pouring heavy cream or half-and-half into your cocktail shaker and shaking it until whipped. Once you’re done shaking, just add it to your coffee. If you really want to make a nice, aesthetically pleasing layer of cream that floats on top of the coffee, you can hold an upside down spoon just over the surface of the coffee, and then slowly pour the whipped cream onto the back of the spoon. If you’re using a clear glass or mug, this will look really cool. 

With spiked coffee, literally everything is up to you. So go nuts and make it your own.


1 1/2 ounces your preferred hard liquor 

6 ounces hot or cold coffee

1/2 ounce simple syrup (or your favorite flavored syrup)

Whipped cream


  1. Add ingredients to your mug or glass
  2. Stir until sufficiently mixed 
  3. Top with whipped cream
  4. Enjoy responsibly 

Homemade Coffee Liqueur 

There are lots of coffee liqueurs out there that you can buy, but the most popular one is Kahlua, a rum-based coffee liqueur made in Mexico. That being said, you can easily make your own coffee liqueur at home, and there are two big reasons to do so: one, Kahlua is pretty expensive, and two, it has a lot of sugar in it. By making your own coffee liqueur, you can save money and control how much sugar you want. 

To make the liqueur, I use a slightly modified version of my grandma’s recipe. It, like most recipes on the internet, uses instant coffee. I am a little bit of a coffee snob, so I was skeptical at first. I found, however, that it’s an effective way of packing a lot of coffee flavor into your liqueur, with any unpleasant, lower-quality flavor lost in the alcohol, sugar and vanilla. There might be recipes out there that use actual ground coffee, but I haven’t tried any of them. 

I use rum when I make my own coffee liqueur, since it’s what’s in actual Kahlua, but you can use any hard liquor you prefer. My grandma uses brandy, but I really like rum. Vodka is another great choice, due to its neutral flavor and low price. 

Regarding sugar content, my grandma’s recipe calls for two cups, but I tend to use less than that, sometimes as little as one cup. In my most recent bottle, I decided to use 1 1/2 cup, and I think I’ll stick with that going forward. Keep in mind that if you use less sugar in the liqueur, you may have to add extra simple syrup to ensure that it’s sweet enough. 

Ever since I started making my own coffee liqueur, I haven’t bought a single bottle, and I bet you won’t either. 


1 ounce instant coffee

1 to 2 cups sugar 

1 cup water

1 cup rum (or your preferred hard liquor)

1/2 a vanilla bean (or 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract)


  1. Add instant coffee, sugar and water to a pot 
  2. Heat and stir until coffee and sugar are dissolved 
  3. Let cool
  4. Add rum to the pot and stir
  5. Put the vanilla bean or extract into an empty bottle
  6. Pour the mixture into the bottle 
  7. Store in a cool, dark place