The Coffee Liqueur That Started It All

With all the craft coffee liqueurs hitting the market, it’s easy to forget that the back bar staple, Kahlúa, was instrumental in starting it all.

By: Tiff Christie|April 11,2019

It’s hard to walk through any bar these days without seeing the frothy white foam and dark liquid body of an Espresso Martini. Like the coffee from which it is made, these cocktails appear to be in the hands, and on the lips, of every second drinker you see.

With this said, we thought it was about time we talked about the liqueur that started it all. Yes, we’re talking about that back bar staple, Kahlúa.

Now you might be surprised to find out that Kahlúa isn’t simply a construct of the 1970s. Sure you might easily associate it with old school disco drinks but it has a long history that stretches back to the 1930s.

As Kahlúa Brand Ambassador Ben Parton tells it, the liqueur has had a journey that is marked with a timeline of classic cocktails, all of which have cemented this liqueurs’ place not only behind the bar but also on your bar trolley at home.


“As time goes by, production methods have improved, source ingredients have improved and we have also introduced a sustainability programme,” he said. “But the liquid is much the same, just the blend of coffee, rum and vanilla.”


Earlier this year, Kahlua developed it’s first sustainable development initiative will address the environmental, social and economic impact coffee farming has as it strives to “bring positive change to the lives of Mexican coffee farmers and their families”.

As Billy King, director of sustainable development at Kahlúa, told “We recognise that the way we consume, do business and ultimately live has to change.

“At Kahlúa, we believe that the quality and character of our product comes from the land where the ingredients are grown, so we are committed to nurturing that terroir and its biodiversity.”

As part of the initiative, Kahlúa will provide education and training in sustainable agriculture techniques, practices and methods. The main goal with the programme is to help farmers achieve better forest management, improve soil fertility and restore and protect the biodiversity required for healthy crops to thrive.

While you might more easily think of Tequila or Mezcal as Mexico’s contribution to your liquor cabinet, it is easy to forget that Kahlua is another ‘south of the border’ contributor to your cocktail repertoire.

How It All Began

“Kahlua was started in Veracruz, Mexico and it was founded by four guys: two were coffee merchants, one was a financier and the other was a chemist,” explained Parton. 
“The four brought their trades together to make Kahlua, taking advantage of the abundance in Mexico of coffee, Vanilla and the sugarcane you need to make rum”.


The original recipe contains sugar cane rum, arabica coffee, vanilla bean, and caramel. Over the years, other flavours have been added to create new iterations, including hazelnut, cinnamon spice, French vanilla, and peppermint mocha.

From the Black Russian through the Mudslide, past the Revolver, and on, of course, to the White Russian, Kahlúa has been there ensuring that your cocktail has that sweetness, depth, edge and body, you’re after in a sweet coffee liqueur.

Yet with the advent of craft Coffee liqueurs, it can sometimes be easy to turn your nose up to Kahlúa but it’s important to remember that without Kahlúa a lot of your favourite cocktails may not have come into existence.

“Kahlur is popular for a reason,” Parton explains. “It tastes good and people like it. It’s an accessible and trustworthy brand. With a lot of the products that have come out of the craft movement, there’s not much provenance behind them. A lot of the time you don’t know where it is coming from and we are a well-established brand.”

It takes an incredible seven years to produce Kahlua, from growing the coffee and drying the beans to finally distilling the rum and blending it with the coffee. The result is an alcohol volume of 20 percent, making it less potent than rum by itself, but the perfect after-dinner drink.

“The Black Russian was the first iconic cocktail to utilize the brand back in the late 1940’s” continued Parton, “and if you look at the structure of it, vodka and Kahlua, if you put espresso in there you are not that far away from an Espresso Martini.

As Easy As Opening A Can

But if you feel that making an Espresso martini at home is all a bit hard, then the news of the recent launch of Kahlúa’s Espresso Martini in a can will be perfect. With a ‘smart’ nitrogen widget to bring bubbles to the surface as soon as the can has been opened to recreate the creamy foam of an Espresso Martini.


The cans are convenient enough to have at home or really anywhere … road trips, glamping or just lazy Sunday afternoon picnics.

“Flavour wise we have tried to make the product as close to how we would normally make an Espresso Martini, Parton said. “The main point with the Ready To Drink is its convenience and cost. You can open a can, pour it out and that’s it, an espresso martini that tastes great.

“You don’t have to buy a cocktail kit, individual bottles, worry about shaking, ice or even clean up. It’s made to be a no-fuss solution.”

But what does a brand ambassador for a coffee liqueur drink himself? Well, Parton tells us a simple but definitely tasty concoction that he was playing with just the other day.

“It a very simple, stirred down drink in which you use 60mls of banana bread infused rum and 15mls of Kahlua, served over ice. You simply let the banana bread steep in rum for about an hour before fine straining it and adding the Kahlua. You get the nice taste of banana bread rum and banana works well with coffee.”

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The Coffee Liqueur That Started It All

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