Tia Maria Vs Kahlua – What’s The Difference?

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Tia Maria and Kahlua are one of the best-known coffee liqueurs in the world but many people might struggle to find the difference between the two, even though both liqueurs have unique characteristics and uses! 

What is the difference between Tia Maria and Kahlua? Tia Maria is similar to Kahlua but is considered to be better because of its caramel, vanilla, and citrus notes. Kahlua is an equally famous coffee liqueur that is known to be sweeter and has a uniquely thicker consistency than Tia Maria. 

Keep on reading to find out more about each type of liqueur, its differences, similarities, and how you can use each in different and fun ways! 

Tia Maria

Tia Maria was invented in Jamaica during the 1940s. Its main ingredients are Arabica coffee, Jamaican rum, bourbon vanilla, and sugar.

This coffee liqueur is famous for its balanced flavor and aroma. It is widely used in making cocktails, ice-cream-based beverages, and more.

You can even mix it with tonic water, cola, and, other carbonated beverages for a delicious and unique coffee-like flavor.

On its own, Tia Maria is known to be slightly better than Kahlua, especially for people who do not prefer a sweeter liqueur. 

Tia Maria is very easy to make at home too! Yes, that’s right, if you thought you could only get this delicious beverage in stores then we have an excellent recipe that will surely blow you away. 

As a side note, this recipe will also help explain the fundamental differences between Tia Maria and Kahlua as well!


  • 4 tsp. instant coffee
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cold distilled water
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 750 ml (26 oz.) 94% alcohol


  1. Pour 4 tsp of instant coffee (or any other high-quality blend) into a cup and add boiling water to it. Stir and let it sit for a while.
  2. In a pot, add the sugar and 1 ½ a cup of room temperature water. Bring the water to a boil and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved. Don’t over-boil the water! The idea here is to just warm the water enough to dissolve the sugar. Once that’s done, set the mixture aside.
  3. When the sugar mixture has reached room temperature, add in the vanilla extract, coffee mixture, and alcohol. We recommend using Jamaican rum but you may also substitute vodka for this recipe. Mix well and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes. 
  4. Now pour the mixture into a decanter and let it sit for at least 3-4 weeks. This step is extremely important as it will help bring all the ingredients together and will significantly enhance the flavor of the liqueur.

That’s it! Just like that, you have made homemade Tia Maria! Of course, this is an overly simplified recipe that aims to replicate the flavor of the original beverage.

But the great thing about making your own Tia Maria is that you get to choose the subtle flavor notes in the beverage which can significantly impact the flavor of the recipes you add it to, especially when making a glass of White Russian! 

Furthermore, the better the ingredients, the more refined and pronounced the flavor will be for your homemade blend.

Also, while you can use any type of coffee for this liqueur, we suggest that you go for high-quality Arabica for the most authentic flavor! 

Here are some of the characteristics of Tia Maria:


Visually, Tia Maria has a dark red and orange shade due to the addition of rum and coffee.

While it may also be available in slightly different shades, in most cases, an authentic bottle of Tia Maria will always have a dark coffee-like color

This beverage is noticeably thinner in consistency than Kahlua which makes it the beverage of choice for several other coffee-based beverages. 


Tia Maria has a more pronounced and developed flavor. It is considered to have a distinct coffee-like flavor and is a bit stronger than Kahlua. In commercial Tia Maria, you will easily notice the roasted Arabica and vanilla back notes. 

Also, the addition of Jamaican rum is what gives this beverage its depth and structure as well.

All in all, Tia Maria provides a well-rounded flavor that will be perfect for people who enjoy a straight glass of coffee liqueur, without making it a dessert beverage

This balanced flavor is one of the reasons why Tia Maria is usually preferred by many people when making, for example, White Russian. 

It isn’t too sweet and provides an amazing aftertaste thanks to the addition of vanilla. 


If you were to make a list of uses for both Kahlua and Tia Maria, you would find that both liqueurs can be used to make a wide variety of different beverages.

In simple terms, both of these liqueurs can be used interchangeably—however, there are a few considerations to this. 

For example, as mentioned above, the balanced flavor of Tia Maria makes it an excellent contender for several cocktails and even dessert beverages

Since it is not overly sweet and has an accentuated coffee flavor along with an agreeable consistency, Tia Maria can be seen as the primary choice in making some beverages. 


Kahlua was invented in the 1930s and was subsequently imported to the USA where it found slow and steady traction.

Today, Kahlua is a well-known and well-established coffee liqueur that has won several awards and is prized for its versatility and sweet, coffee-like flavor.

On its own Kahlua has a sweeter flavor compared to Tia Maria. This is because it has a higher sugar content and is noticeably thicker than Tia Maria.

Although it is not exactly syrup-like, many compare its consistency to light and subtly viscous syrup.

One of the reasons why this drink was so popularized is because it is widely used to make not just delicious beverages, but it is also used in the making of several types of baking goods as well.

Most notably, Kahlua is an important ingredient in different sponge cakes and cheesecakes too!

Furthermore, Kahlua can also be used as a topping for desserts and ice creams.

Keep in mind that while this beverage can be consumed on its own, most people prefer to add it as an ingredient in other recipes because of its distinctly sweet coffee flavor. 

Kahlua is made from an infusion of Arabica coffee from Veracruz, Mexico, and it has a 20% ABV.

However, it doesn’t go over the top which is why it is considered to be such a suitable ingredient in many delicious recipes and beverages. 

Interestingly, Kahlua is also available in 21.5 ACL/Vol; however, this version of the liqueur is only available in Ohio!

You may still be able to enjoy a higher alcohol percentage if you opt to make Kahlua at home! Here is how to do it!


  • 350ml rum
  • 120g of sugar/sugar cane/brown sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 250ml coffee (mocha) OR 35g of Arabica in 300ml water


  1. In a pot, heat coffee until it is steaming. Then mix in the sugar and vanilla bean extract. Mix until all of the sugar has dissolved.  
  2. Let the mixture cool for about 15 minutes and then add the rum. Allow the mixture to sit for about 2-3 hours. You may leave it for longer for a more developed flavor.  
  3. Once the mixture is at room temperature, pour all of it into a decanter and enjoy!

The benefit of making homemade Kahlua is similar to why we also recommend that you try homemade Tia Maria: you can adjust the sweetness and flavor notes of the beverage as per your liking!

As mentioned, Kahlua is known to be the sweeter of the two liqueurs.

This is usually the primary reason why some people prefer to use Tia Maria instead because it has a more tamed sweet flavor which allows other ingredients to shine through. 

Adjusting the sweetness of Kahlua will allow you to expand its uses and will make both of the drinks easy to swap in any recipe

Here are a few notable characteristics of Kahlua:


Kahlua looks just like Tia Maria but may have a syrupy consistency, especially if you opt for the commercial variety.

Since it is infused with coffee, Kahlua has a dark coffee-like color that is made ever so slightly lighter because of the rum and sugar

Please keep in mind that while you can use any spirit in making homemade Kahlua, we recommend sticking with a 20 ACL/Vol rum for a more authentic experience.


As mentioned above, Kahlua has a very subdued vanilla aftertaste, especially in comparison to Tia Maria. This is, again, due to the higher sugar content of Kahlua which can mask the other flavors of the beverage. 

Kahlua can be made using brown sugar or cane sugar, which can further affect its overall flavor.

In any case, most people tend to associate Kahlua as the sweeter option of the two which is partly why it is also widely used in baking and other dessert beverage recipes. 

For example, when used in cakes or, our favorite, cheesecake, the Kahlua will provide a unique after-taste that will immediately be apparent from the first bite!

Although it isn’t that strong, it is certainly a fun way to change things up when baking. 

We also recommend that you try mixing Kahlua with a cup of your favorite brew of coffee! 


As mentioned, Kahlua can be consumed on its own, but it is best used in dessert beverages.

For example, many people tend to use this liqueur in coffee to give it a balanced flavor and a slight kick. Kahlua can also be used in ice creams and can also be used as a garnish over dessert recipes too!

Tia Maria Vs. Kahlua 

Here is a summarized list of differences between both of these famous coffee liqueurs. 

QualityTia MariaKahlua
FlavorRounded sweet flavor with citrus, vanilla, and coffee notesSweeter with a mild coffee flavor along with subtle hints of vanilla
ColorA dark mixture of red and orangeDark brown
UsesCocktails, dessert beverages, White RussianCocktails, baking goods, dessert beverages, and more
ACL/Vol20%20% (21.5% available only in Ohio)
Best Before*1 Year2-3 Years

*Coffee liqueurs will remain safe to drink for many more years but will have a significantly faded coffee flavor, especially when opened. 

Which One Is Best For You?

When picking a coffee liqueur, you must first assess your expectations from the beverage. For example, people starting with Tia Maria might get accustomed to the toned down and less sweet flavor.

While this will not diminish the overall attractiveness of Kahlua, you must start with the sweeter of the two to see if the liqueur suits your palette.

Many people enjoy Kahlua as an ingredient. Again, while it is perfectly drinkable on its own, the real value of Kahlua lies in its multiple uses. 

This is why we recommend that you try Kahlua in any of your favorite beverages or even baking goods and then try the liqueur on its own too. This way, when you switch over to Tia Maria, you will understand the flavor notes better. 

Both drinks are attractive and versatile in their own right but if you are someone that wants a more distinct coffee flavor in your “coffee” liqueur, then we suggest that you go with Tia Maria.

If you are someone who loves dessert drinks, then Kahlua is going to be right up your alley! 

Related Questions

Now that you know the similarities and differences between Tia Maria and Kahlua, here are some related questions regarding both liqueurs! 

Are there other coffee-centric liqueurs? 

If you enjoy a deeper flavor of coffee then we recommend that you try Mr. Black, which is made with an infusion of deeply roasted coffee mixed with Australian rum.

This liqueur stands out as being the strongest when compared to Tia Maria and Kahlua. 

Kahlua is markedly sweet while Tia Maria is known for its intermediate flavor. However, Mr. Black provides a deeper and more pronounced coffee flavor that tastes like coffee

Can you use Kahlua and Tia Maria as substitutes for each other? 

Yes. Although Kahlua is noticeably sweeter and may even have a slightly syrup-like mouthfeel, both of these coffee liqueurs can be used as a substitute for one another.

Perhaps the best way to get the most out of the uses of each liqueur is to try substituting homemade Tia Maria and Kahlua. 

Since you will have way more control over the flavor of the liqueur, you will be able to use each beverage more freely in a range of different recipes. 

Should you refrigerate Kahlua and Tia Maria?

Some people prefer not to refrigerate coffee liqueurs while others find it perfectly fine to enjoy a chilled glass of their favorite liqueur. The truth is that there is virtually no effect on the flavor of each liqueur when refrigerated

But for people who want to keep things traditional, you can treat coffee liqueur just as you would treat its base, rum. 

Keep opened or unopened bottles in the pantry on in a cabinet. Make sure that these drinks stay away from sunlight or moisture for the best experience.

Always check the back of the packaging for storage instructions and the best before date!

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