White Russians are truly magical, even if you’re not a fan of The Big Lebowski. For the coffee lovers among us, the idea of adding a little caffeine to happy hour (or a little happy hour to your morning caffeine) is more than just a little appealing—it’s genius. That’s why I think it’s important to have a killer White Russian recipe up your sleeve. You know, for emergencies.
The typical combo of coffee liqueur, vodka and cream (or half-and-half) can sometimes end up a little heavy or cloying. So, I came up with a recipe for a more subtle, DIY Kahlua that can be customized to your preferred level of sweetness.
You can also adjust the amount, type and strength of coffee used. If you’re someone who can’t drink caffeine after noon, you can go with decaf. Or you can use pre-made cold brew from the store for a simple, potent liqueur. It’s completely customizable.
How to Make DIY Kahlua
When making your own Kahlua, the quality of the coffee, vodka and vanilla is extra important. The end product will only be as good as the ingredients you use, so it’s worth it to splurge on a high-end coffee and a good brand of vanilla when you can.
If there’s a variety of coffee from a local roaster you just can’t live without, go ahead and brew up an extra pot to use for cocktails. I have found that dark roast coffee has the most the flavor, but if you prefer a lighter roast, go ahead and use it. Just remember that you’re going to be diluting the liqueur with half and half, extra vodka and a little ice, so it won’t be nearly as strong as you think.
Oh, and don’t skimp on the vodka either since cheap stuff may curdle your drink (ask me how I know).
To make homemade Kahlua, all you need is strong, hot brewed coffee, some brown sugar, vodka and vanilla extract.
There’s no right way to make the coffee, but since you’ll be diluting it, you want it to be as flavorful as possible. My coffee pot calls for two tablespoons coffee for every five ounces water. But when making Kahlua, I bump it up to three tablespoons per five ounces water.
This recipe calls for three cups of brewed coffee, so I use approximately 14 tablespoons (or just a little less than 1 cup) of ground coffee. It doesn’t need to be exact and you can adjust the amount of coffee based on your own preferences.
When your coffee is still hot, go ahead and add the brown sugar. Then give it a good stir.
If you’re not a fan of brown sugar, or you just don’t have any on hand, you can use white sugar, coconut sugar, agave or even honey to taste. If it’s a solid sugar, you’ll want to add it while the coffee is hot so it has ample time to dissolve. But if you’re using honey, agave, or some form of liquid sugar, you can add it when the coffee is cooler.
From there, you’ll want to let the coffee come to room temperature (let it sit for at least an hour in the refrigerator if you’re in a rush) before adding the vanilla extract and vodka. Give it another stir and then taste it. It should be slightly sweet with a strong coffee flavor, but it shouldn’t be syrupy like most store bought brands.
When you’re done, transfer your homemade Kahlua to a glass bottle with an airtight lid. I love these swing top glass bottles, which are made specifically for things like beer, kombucha and flavored water. They make pretty gifts, so you can make a big batch of Kahlua and fill up multiple bottles in time for the holidays. Then add ribbon and a fun tag and you’re all set.
White Russian Recipe with DIY Kahlua
Once you have your liqueur ready, it’s time to mix up a White Russian. A traditional White Russian uses cream or half and half, but if you want to get fancy, try using a coffee creamer. They come in a variety of yummy, seasonal flavors that you can choose from.
I like to use classic French Vanilla creamer, although Hazelnut and White Chocolate Macadamia make for a decadent, dessert-worthy drink.
If you’re not a fan of creamy drinks (or if you don’t do dairy), the homemade Kahlua is excellent on its own over ice. Or you can feel free to substitute plain or flavored almond, coconut or soy milk/creamer for the flavored creamer. I’ve tried it with Hazelnut Silk soy creamer, and it was great.
DIY Kahlua FAQ
Can I make this recipe dairy free?
Absolutely! You can substitute the flavored creamer used in this recipe for plain or flavored almond, coconut or soy milk/creamer. I’ve made it with Hazelnut Silk soy creamer and loved it.
Can I just drink the homemade coffee liqueur on its own?
If creamy drinks aren’t really your thing—or if you don’t have everything on hand to make a White Russian—the homemade Kahlua is delicious all on its own. Just pour over ice and enjoy!
Can I customize the strength of the homemade coffee liquor?
Yes, and that’s why I love this recipe—it’s easy to tailor to your preferences. I love a strong, bold coffee flavor, so I typically just brew an extra few cups in the morning using beans from my favorite local roaster and set it aside to make this recipe.
While you can adjust the amount, type and strength of coffee used, I would suggest using a high-end, quality coffee. It’s worth the splurge!
How long will the coffee liquor keep?
White Russians with Homemade Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua)
- Heat proof glass or mug
- 1 cup light brown sugar add more or less for desired sweetness
- 3 cups strong coffee
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup high-quality vodka
- 2 ounces high-quality vodka
- 1 ounce homemade Kahlua
- 1 ounce whole milk half and half or heavy cream
- Brew a fresh pot of strong, hot coffee. My coffee pot calls for 2 tablespoons grounds for every 5 ounces water, so I upped it to 3 tablespoons per 5 ounces water (or about 12 tablespoons total)
- Spoon the sugar into the hot coffee and stir until it's completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
- Add the vanilla.
- Then the vodka. Stir again.
- Mix Kahlua with vodka in a lowball glass over ice. Slowly drizzle in milk or half and half.