The Black Russian: The Smooth Taste of Vodka and Coffee

Black Russian Cocktail
PLAINVIEW / Getty Images
  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 serving
Ratings (28)

When it comes to simple and satisfying cocktails, few can beat the black Russian. This popular lowball is enjoyed worldwide and the combination of vodka with a coffee liqueur creates a pleasant and irresistible drink.

The black Russian is so well-known that it should be among the first cocktails that every aspiring bartender commits to memory. While you're at it, be sure to learn how to make the white Russian as well.

There is not much to the black Russian recipe and it's on of those incredibly easy drinks that anyone can mix up. You will simply pour your favorite vodka and coffee liqueur (typically Kahlua) over ice, stir, and serve. Despite its simplicity, there are a few things that you can do to enhance the black Russian.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Build the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir well.

3 Ways to Improve Your Black Russian

The black Russian really is a great drink and that's why it's so popular. Just like many of our favorite cocktails, it can also be used as a foundation for new ideas. For instance, you can bring the vodka-coffee combination into the world of boozy ice pops to create a fun adults-only treat for summer.

But why stop there? Let's explore some ideas for improving your black Russian experience.

Pour to Your Personal Taste

No one says that you have to pour a black Russian in any exact proportions. In fact, you should be customizing it to your taste because you're the one drinking it. You can even switch it up depending on your mood.

The 2:1 ratio given in the recipe is a nice balance; the drink is neither too sweet nor too dry. If you want it a little sweeter one night, simply pour more liqueur. If, on the other hand, you would like a drier drink (perfect for dinner), then go with less liqueur and make up for it with vodka.

Experiment With the Liquors

Familiar cocktails like this are the perfect way to gauge a new distilled spirit because you can use your previous experiences for comparison. Take advantage of this and go beyond "the usual" to discover something you've not tried before.

For example, it's common to associate "coffee liqueur" with the brand name of Kahlua. It is a nice option and incredibly reliable because you can find a bottle almost anywhere liquor is sold. Yet, Kahlua is not the only coffee liqueur out there. If you spy a new coffee liqueur at the liquor store, give it the black Russian taste test and see how you like it compared to your old favorite.

Tip: Did you know it's easy to make your own coffee liqueur? It's a great experiment if you're inclined to a little DIY project.

The same can be said for vodka, which is a far more complex market with tons of options. There are some amazing vodkas being produced today. Some fit the luxury category while others are friendlier on the wallet. There is no reason to continue drinking the same vodka you've poured for the last 10 years. Get out there and live a little! You might be surprised at what you find.

When you're ready to step away from vodka, switch the spirit out completely. With the exception of gin, almost any of the other base liquors pair perfectly with coffee liqueur. Start with a shot of tequila and enjoy a brave bull, then try brandy, rum, or whiskey.

Add a Hint of Flavor

Quite often, vodka drinkers shy away from using flavored vodkas in drinks with darker profiles. Sure, it's easy to add a fruity vodka to drinks like the madras or cosmopolitan, but when it comes to those of the black Russian variety, the choices seem limited. 

This is not entirely true, you just have to be more selective and creative in the vodka you pour.

Beyond these suggestions, think of flavors that you might enjoy adding to your morning coffee. It's more than likely that there's a flavored vodka to match and, if not, you can always infuse it yourself.

How Strong Is the Black Russian?

Two-ingredient, liquor-only drinks are not weak and that is not their intention. Instead, mixed drinks like the black Russian should be thought of like a scotch on the rocks: a flavorful drink to be enjoyed slowly, sip by sip.

To prove this point, if we make the black Russian with an 80-proof vodka and 40-proof coffee liqueur using the recipe above, it would be about 27 percent ABV (54 proof). It's smoother than a straight shot of vodka, yet retains that full flavor of its ingredients.