What Is a Red Eye Coffee? And 2 Related Coffee Drinks

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You are entering a zone of caffeine that will change your world forever. This article is not about milky espresso drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. It’s not about the types of coffee drinks that dilute espresso with water, like Americanos and long blacks. No, we’re talking about drinks that are only for serious caffeine fanatics.

What is a red-eye coffee? It’s the ultimate answer to the coffee lover’s dilemma: a cup of coffee or a shot of espresso. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.

What Is a Red-Eye Coffee Drink?

A red-eye coffee is a cup of brewed coffee with a shot of espresso in it. It’s a 1-2 caffeine punch since a normal drip coffee has 95 mg of caffeine and an espresso shot has about 65 mg of caffeine, so together you are getting a megadose of 160 mg of caffeine.

Coffee splashing, like when you pour espresso into it to make a red-eye coffee

The red-eye was named after red-eye flights — long, overnight flights. You know, the kind of flights where neither espresso nor coffee alone will keep you awake the whole time. 

The flavor of a red eye is heavily dependent on the flavor profiles of the coffee and espresso you use to make it. You could take brewed coffee made with Cuban coffee beans and mix them with Illy or Lavazza’s premium espresso blends to create an intensely dark red eye. Or you could take a lighter roast of coffee from Costa Rican beans and mix it with Colombian coffee espresso to make a more floral, fruity red eye. The choice is yours.

How to Make a Red-Eye Coffee

  1. Brew a cup of coffee. You can use your favorite drip coffee, Keurig pods, or whatever other method you like for this. I’m a fan of automatic pour-over coffee makers for this — but just go with your personal preference.
  2. Pull a shot of espresso. Ideally, you should have an espresso machine for this step, although Nespresso pods will also work. In a pinch, you could use an espresso mimic from an AeroPress or Moka pot coffee, but it just won’t be the same. 
  3. Pour the shot into the cup. There’s nothing special about the mixing process here, but the shot is usually added to the brewed coffee instead of the other way around.
  4. Modify as desired. You can drink your red-eye coffee as-is — or feel free to add cream, sugar, flavored syrup, or whatever else you generally like in your coffee. 
  5. Enjoy!

Black-Eye Coffee Drink

Is one shot of espresso not enough? Do you want coffee stronger than that? If you are the type of person that asks for extra shots of espresso in every drink you order, you might be ready to advance to a black-eye coffee. A black eye is a red-eye coffee with two shots of espresso instead of one. 

Making two shots of espresso, enough for a black-eye coffee

Black-eye coffee has about 225 mg of caffeine, which is almost 2.5X what you would get in a regular cup of coffee!

Green-Eye / Dead-Eye Coffee Drink

Double shots still not enough? Do you need the strongest coffee money can buy? A green-eye coffee (also known as a dead-eye) is probably for you. A green eye is made with three shots of espresso.

For those keeping track of caffeine, that’s roughly 290 mg of caffeine in one drink — 3X as much as you would get from drip coffee! By the time you get to three shots of espresso, the flavor of the drink is heavily impacted by the espresso, so make sure that you are using good espresso beans or you’ll be drinking a big cup of terribleness.

Yes, Starbucks Has Them All

You can get a red-eye, black-eye, or green-eye at a range of coffee shops, including Starbucks. In fact, this is one of the few things you can order there that are stronger than even the strongest Starbucks drinks.

Even if they don’t have the drink on their menu, coffee shops obviously have the ingredients they need to make these drinks. If your coffee shop doesn’t have espresso and brewed coffee, it’s probably time to find a new cafe.

Other Names for Red-Eye Coffee

Not finding red-eye coffee in your area? There are some regional coffee slang names for the red-eye drink, so keep an ear out for these instead.

  • In Alaska, they call it a sludge cup, a name that you can probably thank the state’s gigantic petroleum industry for.
  • In Northern California, instead of a red-eye coffee, you should order a train wreck.
  • In the Northeastern US, it’s a mondo. Given that the word typically means striking or remarkable, I guess it fits.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, you’d order a shot in the dark for a red-eye coffee and a double shot in the dark for a black eye. Parts of Colorado and New Mexico also use that first name.
  • In Ulysses Kansas, it’s an oil spill.
  • In Vancouver, Canada, you might try ordering a double drip.
  • At the Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Oregon, you can just order a stink eye.
  • You can try ordering a hammerhead or a wellard coffee, although these names don’t seem to be in use anymore.

The Eyes Have It

I’m certainly not suggesting that you go around drinking red-eye coffee every day. Like breve coffee, it’s probably best consumed as a casual treat. But when you need a strong kick, few things beat a red-eye coffee (black-eye coffee and green-eye coffee aside).

If you are looking for other caffeine heavyweights, you should consider grabbing some of the strongest coffee k-cups. They are incredibly convenient ways of approaching the safe caffeine limit, and they don’t even require an espresso maker. 

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