What is Dirty Coffee? And How to Make It at Home

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Have you ever heard someone bizarrely describe coffee? Something like rocket fuel or jitter juice? That’s because the coffee community uses a lot of coffee slang to describe a typical cup of joe. Some of them are straightforward, while there are odd ones like dirty coffee.

Dirty coffee is hot espresso poured over cold milk. As the drink balances the temperature difference, the espresso slowly infuses into the milk, develops a rich, complex flavor, and leaves a messy trail from which the name originated.

Simply put, dirty coffee is a drinkable beverage with a messy appearance. But, there’s more to this drink than this definition. Let’s dive deeper into what it is and how you can make one at home. Hint: You don’t have to be an expert to brew one!

What Is Dirty Coffee?

Dirty coffee is hot espresso sitting over a layer of thick milk. The temperature and density difference lightly mix the two components and create the smudged appearance that gave its name.

Dirty coffee typically contains a highly concentrated ounce of espresso. Instead of using 7 g of coffee grounds per shot, this drink uses 18 g. Doing so extracts more of the rich, robust coffee flavors while preventing the overly bitter oils from infusing.

Depending on how you pull the shot, your dirty coffee can be made with a double espresso or ristretto. Since ristretto uses a shorter pull, it develops a higher concentration and sweeter flavor – making it the alternative for a double espresso shot in dirty coffee.

What Does Dirty Coffee Taste Like?

Drinking dirty coffee is a complex experience. The hot espresso gives you a slightly acidic, bitter, and caramel-like aftertaste until the cold milk suddenly overpowers that with its creaminess. This transition results in a unique texture and sweeter flavor.

Who Invented Dirty Coffee?

Rumors state that dirty coffee started as a specialty item called “The Dirty” from a Japanese coffee shop. However, since these are just rumors, there’s no way to ascertain who invented the drink.

What is true, in this case, is the rising popularity of dirty coffee in Japan. People kept talking about the drink on social media that its trending status penetrated the global market.

Espresso with Cold Milk

Espresso and milk constitute most coffees, but how you brew and combine them dictates what kind of coffee drink you’ll have. Here’s a quick comparison of dirty coffee and the most popular milk-infused espresso drinks: latte and cappuccino

Dirty coffee vs latte vs cappuccino

Dirty CoffeeLatteCappuccino
AppearanceMessy, stained espresso streaks along the profileConsistent milky coffee profile with a thin layer of milk foam on topDistinct layers of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam
Ingredient order (top to bottom)1. Espresso
2. Milk
1. Milk Foam
2. Espresso and milk mixture
1. Milk Foam
2. Steamed Milk
3. Espresso
Espresso-to-milk ratio No strict recipe1:3 to 1:111:1
Serving temperatureHot and ColdHot or ColdHot or Cold
Milk frotherOptionalRequiredRequired

Dirty Coffee Recipe

What you need

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Pour milk in a cup and refrigerate. The milk should stay in the freezer for 15 minutes before brewing espresso. Doing so allows the milk to cool down without freezing and, in turn, develop a complex and creamy taste in the dirty coffee.
  1. Grind the coffee beans finely. If you grind your coffee beans correctly, the coffee should have a powdery texture close to table salt or granulated white sugar.
  1. Tamp the grounds into the portafilter and pull. For dirty coffee, it’s best to combine strong, concentrated coffee with cold milk. Hence, you may pull for 25 to 30 seconds for a double espresso or 15 seconds for ristretto, a more concentrated espresso.
  1. Add sweeteners to the milk (optional). If you like your coffee extremely sweet, you may add sweeteners like syrup and sugar to the milk. Remember that these additives should also be cold to maintain the milk’s temperature.
  1. Pour espresso over an upside-down spoon and into the milk. The tablespoon blocks espresso from directly mixing into the milk, thereby creating a coffee layer on top.
  1. Take a picture and enjoy. As soon as you finish taking photos for Instagram, drink your dirty coffee right away. Otherwise, espresso would sink in the milk, and you wouldn’t enjoy it the way you’re supposed to!

Can I Make Dirty Coffee without an Espresso Machine?

If you don’t have an espresso machine, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. You can still brew espresso, or more accurately, a mock espresso for your dirty coffee. Here are some alternatives you might want to check out!

  • Keurig is an automatic pod-based machine that operates like a drip coffee maker and an espresso machine. It uses K-Cups and less pressure than the required 9 bars for espresso, so Keurig espresso is an imitation of the actual one.
  • Ninja Coffee Maker makes drip coffee concentrate strong enough to rival an espresso. However, the slow brewing process of Ninja espresso means it won’t have the same flavors as a classic espresso.
  • AeroPress is a manual coffee maker which requires pushing a plunger for a minute. These machines can’t handle 9 bars of pressure nor heat water, so you need to tweak your espresso recipe with AeroPress.
  • Moka Pot is a stove-top coffee maker which uses steam buildup to force pressurized water through coffee grounds. Although it resembles an espresso machine, the pressure is not enough for a classic espresso – something the Moka pot and AeroPress have in common. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does dirty mean in coffee?

Dirty implies the messy, smudged appearance developed from the slow infusion of hot espresso through the cold milk underneath. Despite the smudged look, the layers and coffee-milk gradients make dirty coffee appealing to the eyes.

What’s the difference between a latte and dirty coffee?

Latte consists of steamed milk mixed with hot espresso and topped with milk foam. These drinks may be hot or cold, depending on the temperature of the ingredients. In contrast, dirty coffee exists in a hot and cold state, with the espresso layer sitting over cold milk.

Dirty Coffee: A Trend Worth Trying

Dirty coffee has undoubtedly caught the attention of the Internet with its peculiar appearance and unconventional approach to making delicious coffee. Aside from its surprisingly easy recipe, the resulting drink makes an Instagram-worthy photo. 

Want to spice up your Instagram feed some more? I suggest trying out my nitro cold brew recipe. It’s a delicious drink served by several multinational coffee chains that you wouldn’t want to miss!


If that’s too complex for you, a simple frappe or Frappuccino should do the trick. These two drinks are more forgiving than most coffee drinks out there.

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