White Russian Cocktail Recipe: A Coffee Lover’s Variation
The White Russian cocktail, at least to members of my generation, is strongly associated with the classic cult movie The Big Lebowski. While Jeff Bridges’ character, the Dude, isn’t exactly worthy of emulation, he knew his cocktails.
A classic White Russian combines cream, vodka, and coffee liqueur in a glass with ice. But we will put a coffee lover’s spin on our White Russian recipe by adding a rich shot of espresso.
What You Need
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce Kahlua
- 1 ounce espresso
- Heavy cream or coconut milk, to taste
- Ice cubes
- 8-ounce rocks glass or old fashioned glass
At a Glance
What Is In A White Russian?
A good rule of thumb when making coffee cocktail recipes is that the fewer ingredients, the higher quality they should be. You cannot hide the bad flavors with only four White Russian ingredients. Go ahead, and splurge on the best vodka, liqueur, and coffee.
Vodka is the primary ingredient in this cocktail, though it’s known mainly for its absence of flavor. It’s a clear, distilled alcohol usually made from grains or potatoes (1). You can choose any high-quality vodka you like, but a Russian vodka stays true to the spirit (pun intended) of the White Russian.
There are many types of coffee liqueur, and experimenting with different options is an easy way to get creative. Kahlua is a common and widely available choice. It is made from rum, sugar, and Arabica coffee and has an alcohol content of 20% (2). Using other liqueurs is a fun way to make White Russian variations like the Russian Cherry Orchard, which uses Grand Marnier.
Related: Try our Kahlua and coffee recipe for a warming alternative to the White Russian.
Coffee is a matter of personal taste, but we recommend a classic medium roast for this recipe. Choose something with sweet flavor notes like caramel, brown sugar, milk chocolate, vanilla, or toasted nuts. A dark roast can be too bitter. A light roast can be quite acidic and, when paired with vodka, runs the risk of curdling the cream.
How to Make a White Russian Cocktail
Coffee and booze are a natural pairing. Of course, it makes perfect sense to combine our two favorite chemical vices, caffeine, and alcohol. You’ll find regional coffee cocktails all over the world. In Spain, there’s the Cafe Corretto. In Mexico, there’s the Carajillo drink. And in America, there’s the White Russian. That’s right, the only thing Russian about this made-in-the-USA beverage is its vodka (3).
Let’s get this White Russian drink recipe started.
1. Prepare The Glass
Chill an 8-ounce rocks glass, and fill it halfway with ice cubes.
Pro tip: To amplify the flavor, use coffee ice cubes to avoid diluting the drink as the ice melts. To make them, simply freeze brewed coffee in an ice cube tray.
2. Pull A Single Shot Of Espresso
Using an espresso machine, pull a single shot of espresso. You can pull it into a demitasse cup and add it to the prepared glass or just pull it directly over the ice cubes to save time. If you don’t have an espresso machine, an ounce of strong brewed coffee from an Aeropress or Moka pot is a fine substitute.
Pro tip: Use 1 ounce of storebought or homemade cold brew coffee concentrate instead of espresso.
3. Add The Alcohol
Top the espresso with 2 ounces of vodka and 1 ounce of Kahlua. Mix everything together.
Pro tip: We love the slightly bitter and toasted flavor the espresso contributes to this drink. But if you prefer the sweeter original, you can stir in 1 teaspoon of simple syrup at this stage to balance any bitter notes.
4. Add Cream To Taste
Top the drink with a splash of heavy cream. Heavy cream (36% milk fat) makes for a decadent drink with a creamy mouthfeel, but you can also use table cream (18%) or half-and-half (10%) for lighter variations. If you replace the cream with whole milk, the thin drink is called a Caucasian. Another good heavy cream replacement is coconut milk.
Pro tip: Feeling fancy? Put your cream into a chilled mason jar and shake it well. This will aerate it and add body, just like the cold foam topping at your favorite cafe.
Like it’s close cousin – the black Russian cocktail – the traditional White Russian is a simple and delicious drink. Coffee lovers will prefer our variation on this coffee classic. The rich shot of espresso doesn’t just put an extra pep in your step. It balances the liqueur’s sweetness and adds an appealing creamy body to the drink. We think the Dude would abide.
Did you try this recipe? Once you sober up, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
The difference between a White Russian and a Black Russian cocktail is that the latter does not contain any dairy. Adding cream is what gives the White Russian its color and name.
Irish coffee is a cocktail with coffee. In making Irish coffee, the following ingredients are needed: coffee, brown sugar, and Irish whiskey, usually topped with whipped cream. Unlike White Russians, it is a warm cocktail best suited to cold weather sipping.
You make a White Russian vegan by swapping the liqueur and the dairy. Surprisingly, Kahlua is not vegan-friendly. For a vegan recipe, replace the Kahlua with Tia Maria, and swap the cream for your non-dairy milk or cream of choice.
- Russia Beyond. (2012, December 12). Russian vodka: A history. Retrieved from https://www.rbth.com/articles/2012/12/12/russian_vodka_a_history_20971
- Holladay, H. (2021, October 29). 10 Things You Should Know About Kahlua. Retrieved from https://vinepair.com/articles/ntk-kahlua-coffee-liqueur-guide/
- McCabe, C. (n.d.). Origin of the White Russian. Retrieved from https://www.cultursmag.com/origin-of-the-white-russian/