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Scientists Create Alcohol from Coffee

Scientists Create Alcohol from Coffee

Want to smell coffee but get drunk? Science has a cure for you

You could reuse your coffee to make your own booze.

This might just revolutionize the boozy brunch scene; Science magazine reports that scientists have discovered how to ferment alcohol from used coffee grounds,

Researchers published a study in the journal LWT - Food Science and Technology, noting the process to create a new alcoholic beverage with 40 percent ethanol from used coffee grounds. Scientists collected used coffee grounds from a Portuguese coffee roaster, dried them out, and then heated the coffee ground powder with water for 45 minutes at 325 degrees F.

After the water soaked up all the coffee particles, the scientists strained out the liquid, adding sugar and yeast cells to let it all ferment. The liquid was then concentrated to up the alcohol content.

The resulting concoction was served to eight tasters, who identified coffee as the primary aroma. The drink itself left a "bitter and pungent taste," tasters reportedly noted.

Researchers plan on aging the mixture even more to alter the coffee-booze flavor, which makes us wonder if using fresh coffee grounds would affect the flavor. Unfortunately for caffeine junkies, once alcohol is produced, the coffee loses its caffeine. So you might just have to stick with spiking your coffee with Kahlua.

Irish Coffee

The Irish Coffee may not be the first coffee drink with alcohol, but this cocktail has become one of the most famous. Combining coffee with Irish whiskey, brown sugar and lightly whipped cream, the Irish Coffee is a hot, creamy classic that can wake you up on cold mornings or keep you going after a long night.

There are many tall tales about the Irish Coffee’s origins. The most credible version attributes the cocktail to Joe Sheridan, the head chef of the restaurant at the Foynes Flying Boat terminal in County Limerick in the early 1940s, who wanted to add a little local hospitality to the establishment’s coffee. Legend has it that when he first served it and was asked if it was Brazilian coffee, Sheridan cheekily replied that it was “Irish coffee.”

The drink was later made famous by Pulitzer Prize-winning "San Francisco Chronicle" columnist Stanton Delaplane, who frequented the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco during the 1950s. After tasting one in Ireland, he and the bar’s owner, Jack Koeppler, attempted to recreate the warming elixir. They succeeded, and Deplante wrote about the drink in his column, which was read widely across the States. This helped to earn the drink a following at Buena Vista and beyond. On a busy day, the San Francisco bar can serve more than 2,000 Irish Coffees. With its comforting blend of whiskey, caffeine and cream, it’s easy to see the drink’s appeal.

According to bartending legend Dale DeGroff, the Irish Coffee should not be a large drink. He says that bars, particularly in America, go too big, which ruins the balance of an otherwise great cocktail. "Choose the vessel wisely," he says. "The small bell-shaped glass that Libbey has been providing to The Buena Vista for decades is a nice size at six ounces."

Then you can build your drink right in the glass, starting with the whiskey, sugar and coffee, and topping it with a dose of thick cream. "At The Buena Vista Cafe, the concoction is finished with a white cloud of hand-whipped cream," says DeGroff. "This topping serves two important purposes: It creates the drink’s signature dramatic black-and-white look, and the unsweetened coolness of the cream tempers the alcohol and the hot, sugary coffee." If you’d like to decorate that gorgeous white head, you can optionally add a dusting of fresh cinnamon or nutmeg for a fragrant garnish.

"You also don’t need a giant pour of Irish whiskey," says DeGroff. "Delaplane and Koeppler’s recipe calls for a one-ounce shot. I know it seems stingy, but do not be put off—it’s actually good news. That liquor, along with three-and-a-half ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee and three-quarters of an inch of lightly whipped cream, is so delicious you’ll want to consume at least two more."’s recipe below calls for slightly more than that, but it's still not enough to knock you off your bar stool.

Degroff offers three additional tips for creating a perfect Irish Coffee:

1. Use a stemmed glass no larger than eight ounces. (With an eight-ounce glass, you can go up to one-and-a-half ounces of Irish whiskey. I am partial to Jameson.)

2. Top with no more than four ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee.

3. Lightly whip the cream. It should not form peaks, but it should be frothy enough to float, creating that perfect separation of coffee from cream, which is, after all, the signature of the drink.

Scientists See Dangers in Energy Drinks

With widespread alarm about deaths linked to alcohol-and-caffeine-laced commercial drinks like the fruity malt beverage Four Loko, it’s easy to overlook problems that may be linked to the so-called energy drinks that spawned them.

But a number of scientists are worried about highly caffeinated beverages like Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster and Full Throttle, which are popular among teenagers and young adults.

The often bizarre combination of ingredients in these drinks prompted three researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the University of Queensland in Australia to examine what is known — and not known — about the contents of these beverages, which are sold alongside sodas and sport drinks in supermarkets, drugstores and highway rest stops.

Their review of all the studies in English in the scientific literature, published in November in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings, led them to question both the effectiveness and safety of energy drinks.

Long-Term Effects Unclear

The researchers noted that the drinks contain high levels of caffeine and warned that certain susceptible people risk dangerous, even life-threatening, effects on blood pressure, heart rate and brain function.

The authors noted that “four documented cases of caffeine-associated death have been reported, as well as five separate cases of seizures associated with consumption of energy/power drinks.” Additional reports include an otherwise healthy 28-year-old man who suffered a cardiac arrest after a day of motocross racing a healthy 18-year-old man who died playing basketball after drinking two cans of Red Bull and four cases of mania experienced by individuals known to have bipolar disorder.

Using an abbreviation for energy beverages, Dr. John P. Higgins and co-authors wrote in the Mayo journal that because “teens and young adults, both athletes and nonathletes, are consuming E.B.’s at an alarming rate, we need to determine whether long-term use of E.B.’s by this population will translate into deleterious effects later.”

His co-author Troy D. Tuttle, an exercise physiologist at the Houston university, said in an interview: “Almost all the studies done on energy drinks have involved small sample sizes of young, healthy individuals in whom you’re unlikely to see short-term ill effects.

“But what about the long term? What about liver and cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and diabetes? We could speculate about a lot of possible problems, but we just don’t know.”

He urged the Food and Drug Administration to “step in and regulate this market,” which currently has few restrictions on the kinds and amounts of ingredients and the claims that are made about them. Manufacturers have labeled the beverages “dietary supplements,” which absolves them of the federal regulations that govern sodas and juices and allows producers to make “structure and function” claims, like “Enhances athletic performance” and “Increases caloric burn and mental sharpness.”

As Mr. Tuttle described the marketing strategy for energy drinks, “the companies have taken a cup of coffee — or two or more cups of coffee, added a lot of hip-sounding stuff and marketed it with a hot, modern, trendy push for young people who want to look cool walking around with a can of Red Bull.

“Anyone can buy these drinks, even 11- and 12-year-old kids.”

In an e-mailed statement, the American Beverage Association said, “Most mainstream energy drink brands voluntarily put statements on their containers, including advisories about use by people sensitive to caffeine.” Also, the organization said many of its members voluntarily list the amount of caffeine on their product labels or have provided caffeine content information through their Web sites and consumer hot lines.

Kevin A. Clauson, a doctor of pharmacy at Nova Southeastern University in West Palm Beach, Fla., who had previously reviewed safety issues surrounding energy drinks said that his main concerns were “the amount of caffeine, which can be injurious particularly to people with a pre-existing cardiovascular abnormality” and “the effects of these drinks when they are combined with alcohol, which can have disastrous consequences.”

After several states made moves to ban Four Loko, it was reformulated to remove the caffeine and two other ingredients, guarana and taurine, but Dr. Clauson said that was “unlikely to have a substantial impact” on young people, who will continue to combine alcohol with energy drinks. The caffeine and caffeinelike ingredients in these drinks can mask the perception of inebriation — and that can increase the risk of drunken driving or other dangerous behaviors.

Mr. Tuttle, who works with sports teams, is concerned about the effects of energy drinks on athletic performance. “A lot of kids are reaching for energy beverages instead of sport drinks, which unlike the energy drinks are mostly water with a nominal amount of sugar and electrolytes,” he said. “The energy drinks contain a slew of ingredients, most of which are unresearched, especially in combination with one another.”

A Potent Brew

For an athlete engaged in intense exercise, the high doses of sugar in energy drinks can impair absorption of fluids and result in dehydration. A 16-ounce can of an energy drink may contain 13 teaspoons of sugar and the amount of caffeine found in four or more colas. Mr. Tuttle noted that caffeine, which is known to improve muscle action and performance, especially in endurance activities, is banned in many sports competitions. Thus, consuming an energy drink close to an event could disqualify an athlete.

Other ingredients often found in energy drinks include taurine, glucuronolactone, B vitamins, ginseng, guarana, ginkgo biloba and milk thistle. Mr. Tuttle says guarana, which contains high levels of caffeine, is particularly worrisome.

“The B vitamins, which are important enzymes for energy utilization, are added to legitimize the high levels of sugar,” he said. “But the American diet, which is very high in protein, already has plenty of B vitamins. These drinks are a kind of sensory overload for the body, with too much stuff coming in at the same time.”

Adding alcohol to the mix, as some consumers were doing even before drinks like Four Loko came along, can be a recipe for disaster. Under the stimulation of energy drinks, people may think they are sober when they are not. Such was the fate of Donte’ Stallworth, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns who killed a pedestrian with his car in March 2009 after drinking multiple shots of tequila and a Red Bull. Mr. Stallworth said he did not feel intoxicated at the time of the accident.

“Caffeine is being treated as a flavoring agent, not a drug,” Dr. Clauson said. “The average healthy person who consumes one serving of an energy drink is unlikely to encounter difficulty.” Those most likely to get into trouble, he said, are “toxic jocks” who overindulge and those with an underlying heart condition.

These Heroic Scientists Turned Used Coffee Grounds Into Booze

Whiskey, vodka, gin or rum…or tequila or brandy…made from wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, rye, sugarcane or any number of fruits—whatever the booze, Americans, the dominant drinkers of hard liquor worldwide, will go for it. But America’s love of hootch pales in comparison to its love of another drink: coffee. A new process that ferments liquor from used coffee grounds, then, may be just what the country is after.

The scientists first collected from a Portuguese coffee roasting company and dried it. Then they heated the powder in water at 163°C for 45 minutes, separated out the liquid, and added sugar. Next, the team mixed in yeast cells, let the concoction ferment, and concentrated the sample to get a higher alcohol content. (A similar process is used to produce other distilled beverages such as whiskey and rum from wheat and molasses.) And voilà! Used coffee grounds produced a new alcoholic beverage with 40% ethanol.

Microbrewers often flavor their beers with coffee, and caffeine-liquor mixes, from the classic rum and coke to the infamous Four Loko, are nothing new. But the new booze is different. The scientists say that their new “Spent Coffee Ground spirit” smells and tastes like coffee and “was considered as having features of a pleasant beverage.”

Plus, the potentially dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol that gives boozy energy drinks a bad rap should be absent here: most of the caffeine,  says Giridharan, “disappears in the brewing process.”

Step 3: Caramelize the Sugar

This step is pretty much essential if you have any sort of pride in your final result. Sure you could just add the sugar to coffee, but why then don't you just go to the liquor store and buy coffee liqueur.

To caramelize the sugar, mix the 1/2 cup of sugar and about 1/2 cup of water in a pot. The sugar will dissolve easier as you heat the mixture, so don't try to mix it before setting it on the stove. Basically just keep stirring the mix as it heats up even once its mixed. It will start boiling and bubbling and will require much more frequent stirring. I guess there is a fine line between making caramel and making candy, but it will all dissolve into the coffee anyway. Its tough to tell when enough is enough (ok, I'm not a professional caramelizer), but you'll notice eventually that the stuff is thickening. Thats probably a good point to add it to the coffee. Don't heat up the coffee to blend the caramel in. You don't want to burn the coffee.

Like I said, its difficult to determine the point of caramelization because you are stirring while hot when the stuff tends to flow the best.

Uhh, I guess I looked it up, and this is not the way to make caramel. Its the way I made it for the liqueur, so I'm going to leave it until I try differently. There isn't an instructable that gets at it, but Wikihow suggests just melting sugar.

9 Infused Alcohol Recipes

All these measurements are suited to mix with 32 ounces of booze. Use more or less depending on how intense or subtle you like the flavor and if you’re making it in bigger batches.

Bourbon / Whiskey Infusions

1. Coffee-Vanilla Bourbon

2 vanilla beans (split down the middle) + 1/2 cup coffee beans slightly crushed with a mortar and pestle—or a plastic bag and wooden spoon

2. Cherry-Vanilla Bourbon

2 vanilla beans (split down the middle) + 8 ounces dried or fresh cherries (no need to pit)

3. Apple-Cinnamon Whiskey

2 medium apples, peeled and chopped (use green for tart, Honeycrisp for sweeter) + a handful of cinnamon sticks

Vodka Infusions

4 . Lemon-Basil Vodka

1 bunch fresh basil leaves + peel of 2 medium lemons

5 . Cranberry-Lime Vodka

1 cup fresh cranberries + peel of 2 limes

6 . Grapefruit-Lemongrass Vodka

Peel of 2 grapefruit + 6 stalks lemongrass (cut these if needed)

Brandy Infusions

7 . Cardamom-Fig Brandy

2 whole cardamom pods (left intact) + 1 cup dried or fresh figs, halved

8 . Plum-Cinnamon Brandy

2 plums or prunes, pitted and quartered + a handful of cinnamon sticks

9 . Chai-Pear Brandy

Steep 2–3 chai tea bags in the brandy remove and infuse brandy with 2 pears, sliced

What will you be infusing this holiday season?

Coffee Cocktails: Alcohol and Caffeine Go Together Quite Nicely

Coffee and alcohol don&apost initially seem like the best ingredients to mix together in a cocktail. After all, alcohol is a depressant, and caffeine is a stimulant - won&apost a coffee cocktail just send your body into some sort of mixed message spiral? But bartenders around the nation are incorporating coffee in a variety of forms, from ground beans to syrup to infused liqueur, into their drink menus, finding that it actually complements many spirits quite nicely.

Kobrick Coffee Co. in New York City has been on the vanguard of this movement, featuring an expansive and creative coffee cocktail menu. "The right coffee paired with the right spirit works as well as the right liqueur paired with the right spirit," said cocktail consultant Tobin Ludwig. "Coffee complements spirits because it offers dynamic aromas, flavors and complexity that when done right, work beautifully with the nuanced flavor of the spirit." He suggests looking at coffee in the same way as wine, as its flavor is affected by similar variables like terroir and processing method. "If I had to call one spirit best for complementing coffee, it would be aged rum," said Ludwig. "The qualities of an aged, rum from sweetness level to body to complexity of flavor, tend to work beautifully with coffee." As far as the effects of combining caffeine with alcohol, he doesn&apost see an issue: "Another seemingly obvious note is the buzz," he said. "Adding caffeine to cocktails, as you would expect, creates an uplifting advantage."

Here are some of the coffee cocktails available at Kobrick Coffee Co.:

Just Past First Crack

1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
1/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
1 oz. J.P.F.C. Indian monsooned Malabar coffee syrup
1 oz. lemon
3 drops of J.P.F.C. tincture

Build in shaker, add ice and shake vigorously for 8 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe.
Garnish with cracked coffee bean

Alcohol-Free Coffee Cocktails to Kickstart Your Day

The marriage of coffee and alcohol is not exactly a novel concept. But take the alcohol out of the cocktail and you still get to have something quite delicious. Inventive baristas have been using elements of cocktails (such as soda, bitters, and citrus) to create delicious, alcohol-free drinks that bring out nuanced characteristics in the coffee.

Here are 8 caffeinated creations from the best coffee mixologists around the country:

1. Snowy Plover, Andytown Coffee Roasters San Francisco, CA. Baristas at Andytown Coffee Roasters create their signature cocktail by pouring a shot of espresso over an absinthe spoon of brown sugar to create a sweet, caffeinated syrup. The blend is then poured over iced sparkling water and topped with a dollop of whipped cream for a bubbly treat named after the area’s shorebirds (pictured above).

2. Coffee Sour, Portola Coffee Lab Costa Mesa, CA. Their concept brew bar, Theorem, features an experimental, barista-driven coffee menu that rotates monthly. Offerings range from a menu called Trust, where customers describe their ideal drink and rely on the barista&aposs expertise. A featured drink includes the Coffee Sour, an Old Fashioned made with slow drip cold-brewed coffee barrel aged in oak for six months.

3. Cascara Fizz, Blue Bottle Coffee New York, NY. Most of Blue Bottle’s New York locations carry their Cascara Fizz, a blend of their coffee cherry tea, lemon, soda and simple syrup. Their coffee cherry tea, made from the cascara fruit surrounding the coffee bean, is sourced from El Salvadorian grower Aida Batlle’s farm Finca Tanzania. The fruit is dried and steeped into a tea before it is mixed with the other ingredients for a bubbly, refreshing alternative to standard coffee or tea.

4. Espresso Southsider, Houndstooth Coffee Austin, TX. This caffeine-filled drink was created as homage to the Chicago cocktail known as the Southside. A teaspoon of fresh squeezed lime juice and soft ice manipulates the 𠇌offee shot” to mimic the mouth-feel of rum. Next, it is topped with delicately floral Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic and dressed with mint and lime zest, which brighten the drink without compromising the subtle chocolate notes of Tweed Coffee Roaster’s Grapos Vega Del Rosario.

5. Ameri-cola, Octane Atlanta, GA. The specialty coffee house becomes a bar at night, so it is no surprise that the bartenders and baristas often swap knowledge and ingredients. They are constantly experimenting by shaking up espresso with fruit peels and housemade syrups and bitters. Their Ameri-cola is a double shot of espresso topped with Mexican Coke and a vanilla syrup floater. Come back at night when the same drink gets a shot of Four Roses Yellow A Label bourbon and becomes the Rocket Fuel.

6. Black Julep, Black Tap Coffee Charleston, SC. You𠆝 think the coffee julep would’ve surfaced in Louisville first, but instead it can be found further south in Charleston, where Black Tap Coffee has an alcohol-free version called the Black Julep. Baristas brew a shot of espresso, shake it with muddled mint and honey, then serve it over crushed ice with a mint garnish. Luckily, this refreshing libation is available all year round—not just during Derby season.

7. Intelli Egg Cream, Intelligentsia New York, NY. This spring, Chicago-based Intelligentsia opened their second New York location on the bottom floor of the Urban Outfitters mega store in Herald Square. It has been drawing in shoppers for its amped up riff on an Egg Cream. This take on the New York classic drink is made from espresso, milk and chocolate ganache shaken with ice, then strained, topped with soda and presented with a striped paper straw.

8. Blossom Fizz, Coffer various shops in Austin, TX (soon expanding nationally). Coffer, which just launched in Austin, is the world’s first naturally carbonated cold brew. Their precise fermentation method yields microbubbles that enhance their barely sweetened coffee without overpowering it, and make for a great canvas for other drinks. The Coffer Blossom Fizz is a take on the classic New Orleans cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz. Coffer brew is mixed with heavy cream and brightened with drops of orange blossom water, which bring out the coffee’s natural fruitiness.

Recipe: 'Wake the Hell Up!' Coffee-Infused Vodka

Do you love Utica Coffee Roasting Co. coffee so much, you could drink it all day long? Make the perfect after dinner drink with our adult recipe for your own homemade 'Wake the Hell Up!' Coffee-Infused Vodka!

The recipe is an easy-to-make infusion of vodka and our Espresso Blend coffee -- a bold, but sweet blend made from 100% of the finest, hand-selected Arabica and Robusta coffee beans from South America, Central America, and Africa. Our Espresso Blend exhibits an intense, classic espresso flavor with an elegant smokiness.

The result of the vodka infusion is a soft, bittersweet vodka that you can add to hot chocolate, a cappuccino, cup of coffee, or create your own cocktails with an espresso edge.

The recipe is simple. All you need is:

  • 2 cups of vodka (we recommend our local distillery, Adirondack Distilling Co.)
  • 1/3 cup of Utica Coffee Roasting Co. Espresso Blend Coffee , coarsely crushed
  • 1 mason jar
  • 48 hours

First, coarsely crush your espresso beans by placing them in a plastic bag and gently hitting them with the mason jar.

Ideally, a bean should be fragmented into 4-7 smaller pieces, but if you have some larger pieces it'll work just fine.

Next, pour your vodka into your mason jar with your coarsely crushed beans.

Screw the cap onto your jar tightly, making sure the seal is intact, and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Let the jar sit for 48 hours at room temperature so the vodka can fully absorb all the flavors of our delicious coffee. Every 12 hours or so, give your jar a shake to optimize the infusion process.

After 48 hours, your vodka will turn a dark and delicious brown.

All that's left to do is strain your vodka using a coffee filter or a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. Pour your coffee vodka into a clean jar and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

And there you have it! Your very own 'Wake the Hell Up!' Coffee-Infused Vodka!

We're sure you'll have no problem drinking this down, but if you're not that creative, use your 'Wake the Hell Up' Vodka in these drink recipes:

Espresso Martini: 2 parts 'Wake the Hell Up!' Vodka + 1 part Bailey's Irish Cream + 1 shot of espresso, shaken with ice

White Russian: 2 parts 'Wake the Hell Up!' Vodka + 1 part cream, served over ice

Adult Chocolate Milk: 1 part 'Wake the Hell Up!' Vodka + 1 part chocolate milk, served over ice

'Wake the Hell Up' Martini: 1 part 'Wake the Hell Up!" Vodka, shaken with ice, and served straight-up

**Unlike a coffee liquor, this coffee-infused vodka is unsweetened, so if you like your coffee sweet, we recommend adding a teaspoon of plain old granular white sugar to your drinks to sweeten it up!**

Katie on January 18, 2020:

LOVE LOVE LOVE this in my Tiramisu!

rubadubdub on August 13, 2017:

I&aposve got an even easier method. Use instant coffee and then there&aposs no need for filtering. And if doing the "Kahlua" you can just use sugar instead of simple syrup. Adding a couple vanilla beans to the mix makes a great finishing touch.

Toni from NY on October 02, 2016:

Crying tears of joy. Where have you been all my life .

John Fisher from Easton, Pennsylvania on December 18, 2013:

@Christy Kirwan--Never tried this with ground coffee yet. I must give it a try. I usually use whole coffee beans to make coffee infusions.

Christy Kirwan (author) from San Francisco on February 13, 2013:

Hi Kathryn, I&aposm glad you enjoyed the Hub! I think liqueur cakes are a German thing-- I have a German friend whose mother bakes one every Christmas. Hers is an almond liqueur cake and it is excellent. Very moist and rich.

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on February 13, 2013:

That is something I have never thought of doing! I LOVE coffee, and even though vodka alone is not my favorite, I like mixed drinks.

I like the variations you added (I like flexibility in recipes), and I liked your list of uses. I would not have thought to put them in cream soda, latte or cake. Very interesting.

Christy Kirwan (author) from San Francisco on February 05, 2013:

Thanks, tillsontitan! It also makes a great gift if you save smaller bottles and jars to give it away in. :)

Christy Kirwan (author) from San Francisco on February 05, 2013:

You totally should, kohuether! It&aposs SUPER easy and the end result is way cheaper than Kahlua. Your ice cream idea sounds absolutely delicious. I&aposll have to try that next time I pick up some ice cream.

Mary Craig from New York on February 05, 2013:

Unfortunately I&aposm not a coffee drinker and seldom drink alcohol, however, I have a lot of company and they love to drink. How impressed would they be if I said I made my own Coffee Vodka? Your directions are easy to follow and you seem to have covered everything. Great idea for a hub.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Katherine Olga Tsoukalas from New Hampshire on February 05, 2013:

Oh wow, this looks really easy! I am totally doing this. I LOVE coffee infused vodka. Right now I am thinking about mixing a small bit of the finished product with some simple syrup and keeping it in the fridge to pour over ice cream!