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What is a good substitute for Kahlua in White Russian?

The White Russian cocktail is a classic drink made with vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream. It has a sweet yet robust coffee flavor that many find irresistible. However, one of the key ingredients in a White Russian is Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur), which some people may not have on hand. Thankfully, there are a few good Kahlua substitutes and alternative ways to make a White Russian without this coffee-flavored liqueur.

Quick Answer for What is a good substitute for Kahlua in White Russian?

Some good substitutes for Kahlua in a White Russian are coffee syrup or coffee extract, vanilla vodka, Baileys Irish Cream, coffee brandy, cold brew coffee, espresso, or even just strong brewed coffee.

Coffee Syrup or Extract

One of the easiest Kahlua substitutes is using coffee syrup or coffee extract. Many coffee shops and brands like Torani, DaVinci, and Monin make flavored coffee syrups that can replicate the sweet coffee flavor of Kahlua. Only a small amount (around 1/2 ounce or 1 tablespoon) is needed in a White Russian. The syrup provides the sweetness and coffee essence without the higher alcohol content of liqueurs. Coffee extract can also be used for a potent coffee flavor, though you may need to add a bit of simple syrup for sweetness.

Vanilla Vodka

Surprisingly, plain vanilla vodka can make a tasty Kahlua substitute in a White Russian drink. The vanilla flavor pairs nicely with the cream to approximate a sweet coffee-like flavor. Choose a vodka with bold vanilla notes like Smirnoff Vanilla Twist or Absolut Vanilia. To enhance the coffee flavor, you can add a splash of coffee extract as well. Vanilla vodka adds sweetness and pairs well with the cream, making it one of the easiest Kahlua swaps.

Baileys Irish Cream

Baileys Irish cream is another coffee-flavored liqueur that can substitute for Kahlua. Since Baileys combines whiskey with cream and cocoa, it has a chocolate-coffee profile that works well in a White Russian. The cream is already incorporated into Baileys, so you may want to start with half the cream and adjust to taste. Baileys will provide plenty of the sweet, creamy coffee richness that Kahlua lends to this cocktail.

Coffee Brandy

For an alcoholic option, try swapping in coffee brandy or coffee-flavored brandy as a Kahlua replacement. Brandies like Caffe Lolita, Maraska, and Kono all make coffee liqueurs or coffee brandies that can mimic Kahlua. Use the same 1-1.5 ounce as you would Kahlua. This swap adds rich coffee flavor with brandy’s signature nuances. The brandy tones down the sweetness slightly for a more spirit-forward drink.

Cold Brew Concentrate

For an authentic coffee flavor, try using cold brew coffee concentrate in place of Kahlua. You can easily make cold brew at home by steeping ground coffee in water for 12-24 hours. For a White Russian, dilute 2 ounces of cold brew concentrate with 1 ounce of simple syrup to add sweetness. The cold brew provides intense coffee flavor that really comes through in the cocktail. You can also customize the coffee intensity by using different coffee beans.


A quick Kahlua substitute is mixing equal parts espresso and simple syrup. Make a homemade coffee syrup by combining 1 ounce freshly brewed espresso with 1 ounce simple syrup. Let cool slightly before using in the drink. This gives you the dark roasted coffee notes and sweetness of Kahlua in just a couple ingredients. Adjust the sweetness to taste depending on how strong your espresso is.

Strong Brewed Coffee

Don’t have any fancy coffee liqueurs or cold brew on hand? Just use fresh regular coffee! Brew some nice strong coffee and let it cool completely before using. Combine equal parts fresh brewed coffee and simple syrup for a quick DIY Kahlua. The regular coffee won’t be quite as robust but still provides plenty of caffeine kick. Feel free to experiment with adding a bit of vanilla or chocolate syrup to amp up the flavor.

Recipe and Directions for Kahlua-Free White Russian

Whatever coffee substitute you use, the drink directions remain largely the same. Here is a basic recipe for a White Russian without Kahlua:


  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 1-1.5 oz coffee substitute (see above options)
  • 1-2 oz heavy cream or milk
  • Ice cubes


  1. Fill a rocks glass with ice.
  2. Pour in the vodka, coffee substitute, and cream/milk.
  3. Stir gently to combine.
  4. Top with a bit more cream or foam if desired.
  5. Enjoy!

Taste as you mix and adjust sweetness or coffee flavor as needed. All the Kahlua swaps above can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio in this basic White Russian recipe.

How to Make an Iced White Russian Without Kahlua

A White Russian isn’t just a cold weather cocktail! You can also make a refreshing iced version for warm weather sipping. Follow the same recipe above but shake ingredients with ice instead of stirring over ice. Strain into a chilled glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with chocolate shavings or cocoa powder if desired. Any of the Kahlua substitutes recommended above will work well chilled in an iced White Russian.

What About Non-Alcoholic Kahlua Substitutes?

To make a virgin White Russian without alcohol, try using strong chilled coffee or coffee ice cubes. Combine with cream and simple syrup for a sweet “iced coffee” take on the classic. You can also use coffee syrups or extracts mixed into cream soda or root beer for a fun spin.

For an at-home Kahlua substitute, brew some coffee, add vanilla and sugar, and let steep overnight in a sealed jar in the fridge. Mix a splash of the cooled coffee syrup into soda water, milk, or non-dairy milk for an easy no-proof take on Kahlua flavors.


With options like coffee syrup, vanilla vodka, Irish cream, brandy, cold brew, espresso, and regular coffee, you have lots of ways to mimic Kahlua in a White Russian. The key is adding strong coffee flavor and sweetness to complement the vodka and cream. So next time you need to make this iconic cocktail, don’t let a missing liqueur stop you. Use one of these handy Kahlua swaps instead and say “Na Zdorovie!” to a delicious White Russian anytime.