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The 7 Best Substitutes for Kahlua in Drinks and Recipes

The goal of this article is to help you choose the correct Kahlua alternative for your cocktails or cookies. I’ll explain each one in detail and walk you through the process of creating and using them, which means you’ll be ready to imitate the amazing Kahlua taste in no time.

1. Homemade Kahlua

A glass of homemade coffee with instant coffee and white sugar spilled at the base

If you have no access to store-bought Kahlua, making it at home is the best way to substitute for it. The process is simple and mostly includes ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. You might have to get some rum, but the rest of the ingredients should be readily available.

You should also note that many recipes for homemade Kahlua call for vodka or even Everclear. While this might get the job done, rum is the best choice since Kahlua is a rum-based drink, so it’s best to use rum to mimic the taste. 

On the other hand, if you have a bottle of vodka lying around, feel free to use it. Just keep in mind that the end product probably won’t taste the same as Kahlua. 

For the recipe, you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of rum
  • 2 cups of sugar (white or brown)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla (you can use a teaspoon of vanilla extract as well)
  • ½ of instant coffee

To make your homemade Kahlua, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Bring the water to a simmer.
  2. Add the coffee, sugar, and vanilla.
  3. Keep simmering at low to middle heat until the mixture starts to look like a syrup.
  4. Let the syrup cool down.
  5. Mix with your rum in a mason jar or another bottle. 
  6. Use in cocktails and baking as you would use regular Kahlua.

And there you have it! You’ll have an ideal replacement for Kahlua in a few simple steps. Keep in mind that if you’re using a drink stronger than rum, you’ll have to use less than two cups unless you want a super strong Kahlua. 

2. Coffee Liqueur

A closeup of a bottle of dark coffee liquor named Tia Maria

Since Kahlua is essentially a type of coffee liqueur, you can use any other coffee liqueur as a replacement. For a cheaper version, you can go for a generic coffee liqueur, but if you want something a bit more high-end, you can opt for a substitute such as Tia Maria. 

You should also keep in mind that each coffee liqueur will bring different notes into cocktails and recipes, so it’s best to check the ingredients and do a taste test before you start using a different kind. 

For example, Tia Maria has caramel and citrus notes, with a stronger coffee flavor than Kahlua. It is also less thick and sweet, so you’ll need to adjust for that, especially in baking. On the other hand, you might find a coffee liqueur that’s thicker and sweeter than Kahlua, so you’ll have to add more water and less sugar to your recipe.

There are plenty of coffee liqueurs to choose from, so you’ll just have to experiment and see what you like. Arguably, this is a good thing since taste-testing coffee liqueurs sounds like a fun activity to pass the time–and a delicious one, too!

Related 15 Best Substitutes For Alcoholic Beverages in Recipes.

3. Baileys

Bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream

Baileys is a suggestion that often pops up when discussing substitutes for Kahlua. This is definitely a tasty choice, but not the one that would mimic the taste of Kahlua too closely. This is because Baileys is made from Irish whisky, cream, and cocoa. 

Therefore, Baileys will taste much sweeter and more like chocolate than Kahlua. It’s also much creamier, so you’ll have to dilute it a bit unless you want your cocktails to get that thick consistency. You can also add some coffee to the mix to get a taste similar to Kahlua’s. 

You should also keep in mind that Baileys doesn’t mix well with acidic ingredients. Acids will make the cream in Baileys curdle, which you want to avoid most of the time. Therefore, it’s not a good choice if your recipe or cocktail contains acidic ingredients such as lemon or lime. 

Of course, if real Baileys is not available or it’s too costly at the moment, you can also pick a generic whisky-based cream liqueur. This can also do the trick, but it probably won’t taste the same. 

4. Instant Coffee

Spoonful of instant coffee from a jar with a coffee mug in the background

Instant coffee is a good choice if you’re looking for the coffee flavor of Kahlua with no alcohol. You can even mix it with vanilla and rum extracts to get closer to the original flavor. This will work particularly well in baking recipes, as there’s usually not much need for alcohol in cakes, and you’re only looking for the flavor. 

Here’s what you need in this case: 

  • 1 cup of hot water
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup of instant coffee

Once you’ve got all the ingredients, simply stir in the coffee and the sugar into the water and keep stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the vanilla and rum extracts if you wish, and wait for it to cool off before you start using it. 

This mixture will allow you to easily mimic Kahlua’s taste without alcohol. It won’t have the exact same taste, but it’s going to be close enough to use in baking and maybe even in cocktails if there’s no better alternative. 

Using instant coffee this way will also increase the caffeine content in whatever you’re making. Keep this in mind in case you’re sensitive to caffeine or if you’re baking for someone who is. Having problems of this kind is not very likely, but you can never be too sure. 

5. Coffee Extract

Coffee Extract is another great way of getting the taste of Kahlua with none of the alcohol. Coffee extract is readily available in most supermarkets, so even if you don’t have it, it’s very easy to acquire it. Of course, you can combine it with rum and vanilla extracts for a flavor closer to the original.

What you need for this is:

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of coffee extract

The process is very simple. You need to bring the water to a simmer and stir in the sugar until dissolved. After that, remove the mixture from the heat and add the coffee extract. Add a bit of rum and vanilla extracts if you wish. You can store this in a mason jar or bottle and refrigerate it for up to two weeks.

6. Rum Extract and Cocoa Powder

While this will not mimic the taste of Kahlua exactly, it’s easily made from ingredients you probably already have at home, so it’s very easy to pull off. The rum extract will, of course, bring the taste of rum to the mix, while the cocoa powder will bring the bitterness of coffee, so you’ll get a mixture that tastes somewhat similar to Kahlua.

You can try mixing some cocoa powder and rum extract in a bit of water until you achieve the desired balance of tastes and consistency. You can add in some sugar at this step, but it might not be necessary, especially if you’ll be using it for baking, as you’ll add sugar to the batter anyway. 

As you can see, if you wish to mimic the taste of Kahlua, you can play around with extracts that mimic the flavors of Kahlua. Its flavor is based on rum, coffee, vanilla, and sugar, so you can play around with those extracts and ingredients and see what you get. 

Since these are common ingredients, you can use whatever you have available. The easiest thing is to combine extracts and real ingredients based on what you currently have. You’ll get a satisfying substitute for Kahlua with some experimentation. 

7. Kahlua Syrup

Making homemade Kahlua syrup is similar to making homemade Kahlua. The major difference will be the lack of rum (and hence, alcohol) and the consistency. It will be much thicker and more concentrated, so you’ll use smaller quantities of it compared to Kahlua.

Here are the ingredients you need:

  • ¼ cup of water
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup of coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract 

You need to follow these steps to make the syrup: 

  1. Bring the water, coffee, and sugar to a simmer.
  2. Stir until everything is dissolved and has the texture of syrup.
  3. Remove from the heat.
  4. Let it cool, and add the extracts. 
  5. Pour into a jar and use when needed.

This mixture can sit in the fridge for up to two weeks if it’s in a sealed container. The flavor will be a bit more concentrated, and the syrup will be much denser than Kahlua, so you need to account for that while mixing your batter. Likewise, if you want to use it in a cocktail, you will need more liquid so it can dissolve well.


The 7 best Kahlua substitutes that you can try out in your cocktails and baking:

  1. Homemade Kahlua
  2. Coffee liqueur 
  3. Baileys
  4. Instant coffee
  5. Coffee extract
  6. Rum extract and cocoa powder
  7. Kahlua syrup

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss The 5 Best Substitutes for Chocolate Liqueur.