We explain how to make it, where to buy it, and which cocktails it's best in—and yes, that means the espresso martini.

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As the popularity of the Espresso Martini surges once again, it's time to take a look at one of the cocktail's main ingredients: coffee liqueur. Essentially, coffee liqueur is a blend of two of many people's favorite beverages: coffee and alcohol, plus some sugar to balance it out, come together to give the imbiber a shot of energy and liquid courage at the same time. It can be enjoyed on its own (usually over ice) or mixed into a cocktail.

If you want to make coffee liqueur yourself, you can mix cold brew, simple syrup, and your booze of choice (rum, vodka, and bourbon all work well). You can also add flavorings like vanilla bean and cinnamon. After combining, let the mixture sit for about two weeks and then it's ready to drink.

Of course, it's easy to buy coffee liqueur and the most well-known, mass market brands are Kahlúa and Tia Maria. Recently, Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur (from $32.14, drizly.com) out of Australia has become a favorite of bartenders. There are also a number of craft distilleries making coffee liqueurs worth seeking out, including Leopold Bros. Frenchpress-Style American Coffee Liqueur (from $34.99, drizly.com) out of Colorado; St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($38.99, wine.com), which highlights New Orleans style coffee made with chicory; Forthave Spirits Brown (from $29.99, drizly.com), made in Brooklyn with coffee from Nicaragua roasted at Café Integral; and Maggie's Farm Coffee Liqueur ($39.99, pstreetwines.com), which is made from their house-made rum, house-made vanilla extract, and coffee beans from fellow Pittsburgh local roaster Commonplace Coffee. Tequila producer Patrón has also jumped on the coffee liqueur bandwagon with their Patrón XO Café (from $30, drizly.com), which blends their tequila with Arabica coffee.

espresso martini cocktail on white table
Credit: samuel foster / Getty Images

Once you've got your coffee liqueur in hand, you can either sip it over ice or mix it into a cocktail. Aside from the aforementioned Espresso Martini, which combines coffee liqueur, freshly brewed espresso, vodka, and simple syrup, there are several other cocktails using coffee liqueur to try.

The Black Russian is the simplest cocktail to use it in (just add vodka) and the White Russian adds heavy cream to that. You can also add it to a traditional Irish Coffee. The Toasted Almond blends coffee liqueur with amaretto and cream for a creamy, almond-flavored treat. A Coffee Old Fashioned adds coffee liqueur to a classic Old Fashioned (bourbon or rye plus sugar and orange bitters); it's also sometimes called the Revolver, which was created by bartender Jon Santer in San Francisco. And for something a bit tropical, try the Bushwacker, which was invented in 1975 in the Virgin Islands and is a kind of chocolaty piña colada. It whirs ice with coffee liqueur, dark rum, crème de cacao, cream of coconut, and milk in a blender to create a frothy, frozen drink.

On Mr. Black's website, they also suggest using coffee liqueur with mezcal or tequila, pink grapefruit juice, and soda to make a Paloma Negra or just topping it with tonic for a Mr. Black & Tonic. St. George Spirits's website has the Hall & Oates, which combines their coffee liqueur with Fernet Branca, and the Nola Nog, which has it mixed with eggnog for a caffeinated holiday treat.

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