Two bottles of homemade kahlua on a kitchen counter surrounded by coffee beans.

A few years ago, we decided to focus on handmade holiday gifts for all of our family members. It’s been fun to make the gifts and everyone on our lists has had so much fun trying to guess what we’re going to make next!

Last year, we gave all the grown-ups on our Christmas list bottles of our homemade kahlúa—AKA: coffee liqueur—and it was a HIT! The best part? No one knew that we made all the bottles in less than 30 minutes. Let us show you how to make the best holiday gifts ever.

A hand holds a glass bottle filled with homemade coffee liqueur.

What is kahlua?

Kahula is a sweet coffee liqueur. And it is so easy to make! If you can make a cup of strong coffee and stir, you can make coffee liqueur at home. Because you are in control, you can completely customize your homemade kahlúa to your tastes. More or less sugar, decaf or caf, bold roast or light roast, high alcohol or light—it’s all up to you!

Overhead of a bottle of handmade coffee liqueur lying next to a mixed white russian cocktail.

What liquor do you use to make homemade kahlua?

Ideally, you’ll want to use grain alcohol (usually known as Everclear)—it is almost pure alcohol, so it has the cleanest flavor. That means you can let the coffee flavor shine on through.

Always treat Everclear as an unfinished ingredient—never, ever drink it undiluted. 189 or 190 proof is best, but if you can’t find that, it may be that only the less-potent 151 or 120 proof varieties are legal in your state.

Wholefully Protip

You can figure out if you can get Everclear near you using this product locator.

In some states, Everclear isn’t legal at all. In that case, you can use a strong vodka, but your final kahlua will not be nearly as strong.

A wooden stirring stick mixes together cream and coffee liqueur into a white russian.

How strong is kahlua?

How much alcohol is in each serving of your coffee liqueur depends on what proof alcohol you mix in. While we can’t give you the exact percentage of alcohol of your kahlúa, we can give you some ballpark estimates:

Alcohol Used Estimated Final ABV
Everclear 190 proof 20%
Everclear 151 proof 14%
Everclear 120 proof 11%
Vodka 80 proof 7%

Does kahlua have caffeine?

Yep! But if that’s a concern for you, you can make it decaf. Just brew up some decaf coffee, and use that to make your kahlúa.

Two glass bottles of homemade Kahlua stand side-by-side surrounded by coffee beans.

Okay, tell me how to make homemade kahlua!

Gather up some coffee, Everclear, brown sugar, and vanilla. And here we go!

  1. Brew up 12 cups of strong coffee. I like to use a dark roast to get the strongest flavor, but you choose your favorite.
  2. Warm the coffee with the brown sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Stir in the vanilla extract and grain alcohol.
  4. Pour into bottles, label, and store!

Wholefully Protip

We made free labels you can download and print for easy labeling! Download them here, and print them on the water-resistant round labels (Avery 22856).

Can you drink kahlua straight?

You sure can! There is nearly four times as much coffee as Everclear in this kahlúa, plus a generous amount of brown sugar and vanilla extract, so it is plenty diluted and sweetened to be enjoyable on its own.

What can I mix with coffee liqueur?

The classic way to drink kahlua is in a white Russian—that’s a combo of cream, vodka, and kahlua! You can also use it to spike your coffee or hot chocolate.

A bottle of homemade coffee liqueur stands next to a mixed white russian cocktail.

Does homemade kahlúa need to be refrigerated?

If you’re using 190 proof grain alcohol, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated to keep, because, with an alcohol content of 20%, it inhibits microbial growth pretty darn well. If you are using any other kind of alcohol to make this, please keep it in the fridge. In fact, since you use kahlua cold in a lot of drinks, it’s a great place to store it.

Does kahlua go bad?

If you used 190 proof grain alcohol, not really. The alcohol and sugar are both excellent preservatives. If you used one of the lower-percentage alcohols, we recommend stashing it in the fridge and enjoying it within a few months. If you’re short on space or packing it up as a gift, it will be fine at room temperature for a few days.

Looking for more creative gift ideas?

  • 45+ DIY Food Gifts. We have homemade edible gift ideas to fit everyone’s preferences! Giving the gift of something delicious is always a smart call.
  • 37+ Gifts for Coffee Lovers. From affordable stocking stuffers, all the way up to fancy coffee equipment, we have all the ideas you need for the java fans on your list!
Two bottles of homemade kahlua on a kitchen counter surrounded by coffee beans.

Homemade Coffee Liqueur Recipe (AKA: Kahlúa)

Yield: 19 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

You'll be blown away by just how easy it is to make kahlúa at home! Follow this tutorial and you'll have homemade coffee liqueur in less than half an hour.


  • 12 cups strong, dark brewed coffee
  • 2 pounds light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vanilla extract
  • 750ml Everclear 190/189 Proof grain alcohol (preferable) or Everclear 151, Everclear 120, see post for more information


  1. Pour the coffee into a large soup pot, add in the brown sugar, and heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Add in the vanilla and the grain alcohol. Pour into glass bottles, label, and store in a cool, dark place.


  • You want a very strong cup of coffee here! I recommend going with a dark roast and brewing it stronger than you would normally drink it.
  • We made free labels you can download and print for easy labeling! Download them here, and print them on water-resistant round labels (Avery 22856).

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 76 Serving Size: 2 oz.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 48Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 0gSugar: 12gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

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    1. Hi Ariel! You could, but you’ll need around 8 vanilla beans to equal 1/3 cup vanilla extract. The finished drink will also have the vanilla bean flecks in it. Plus, it will continue to get stronger in vanilla flavor as it infuses. So for cost, ease, and consistency, we recommend vanilla extract. You can always splurge on a higher quality pure vanilla extract if you’d like to make your gifts a little fancier!

  1. Hi! Can you confirm if the cup measurement you’re using for “12 cups of coffee” is “a cup” or “a coffee cup” (8oz vs 6oz, respectively)

      1. Hi Tim! We always use hot brew when making this because we love how quickly it comes together. But you could definitely use cold brew if that a flavor you prefer!

  2. Do you have suggestions where to purchase vintage style bottles? I love the one you use on your page

    1. Hi John! The quantities you need are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, but if you reply with some clarifying info, I’ll be happy to help! =)

    1. Hi, Kim! We’ve never had any of our batches separate, so we’re not sure what could have happened. We might be able to help you troubleshoot with a bit more information, though. Did you use brewed espresso or instant espresso powder? Does it look like the espresso layer is separating from the alcohol layer? Any additional info about what you think is happening would be helpful!

  3. I added a 1/4 bottle of Carmel vodka to your recipe.
    You really came up with a winner itty is very good

  4. Best coffee liqueur ever!

    I made this to give as Christmas presents to my family. It was a huge hit! They are asking for more! 🤩 For the gifts, I filled 8 oz flask-shaped bottles with the liqueur. I printed your recipe for White Russian Cocktail onto kraft paper gift tag and tied it to the bottle neck. Perfect!

    I made a virgin version, too, for the nondrinkers in the family.

    Thank you for sharing your recipes!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about it, Sharon! We’re delighted that this was a hit with your family!

    2. Sharon, do you remember the recipe details for the non-alcohol version? Thank you, thinking ahead to the upcoming holiday season.