The Drinks Have Eyes: Explaining Red Eye Coffee

Sometimes when a simple cup of coffee just isn't enough in the morning, red eye coffee is sure to jolt you awake. Regular drip coffee is an old standby for delivering that kick of caffeine on the daily, but many coffee drinkers build up a tolerance to its energizing side effects when consuming mug and mug to get through the day.

Instead of drinking more coffee to up your caffeine consumption and risk an ulcer, why not simply add extra caffeine to your normal drip coffee with the help of additional espresso shots? Baristas know red eye coffee to be a potent elixir reserved for the most devoted coffee drinkers, but it could be the perfect kick to your regular coffee tradition when you need the extra energy.

What's the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

Close up action photo of a double shot espresso extraction into shot glasses.
Getty Images

Though both your typical brewed coffee drink and shot of espresso are made from the same basic ingredients of just coffee beans and water, the major difference comes from how the drinks are processed.

If you have ever drunk coffee in your life, it was most likely a form of drip coffee. Drip coffee is a brewing method when hot water is filtered through ground coffee beans like in your everyday coffee maker or percolator. Regular coffee can be made by a variety of other brew methods like a pour-over setup or a french press, but coffee is characterized by being mostly water no matter the process.

Espresso on the other hand is a different drink altogether. Coffee beans are roasted darker and ground to a much finer consistency, and hot water is forced through the beans with additional pressure to make a strong, highly concentrated form of coffee in the form of a shot.

A shot of espresso becomes the base for most drinks one would order in a coffee shop, adding steamed milk to make a latte or macchiato or diluting the shot with water for an Americano.

While a shot of espresso has a richer taste, thicker consistency, and overall higher concentration of caffeine than brewed coffee, it contains less caffeine due to its small serving size. But when you're desperate for a kick of caffeine, combining the two delivers an unparalleled jolt of energy for those days when you feel like a zombie.

How Many Shots Do You Want?

The red eye coffee is perhaps the most popular name for a coffee drink that contains both brewed coffee and espresso in one, but coffee shops have more specific names for drinks depending on just how many shots of espresso you want to add.

The first level is the typical red eye, where a single shot of espresso is added to brewed coffee. This resembles a typical Americano, replacing the water with coffee. The name is rumored to come from the kick of energy travelers need to muscle through a red eye flight from the West Coast to New York, but depending on the coffee shop the drink can also be referred to as a hammerhead or a shot in the dark like I used to serve as a barista.

Coffee Cup in hands
Getty Images

The next step is called black eye coffee, where a double-shot of espresso is added to a cup of coffee. The somewhat violent name comes from the black ring of oils from the coffee beans that sticks to the side of the cup when the espresso is poured on top- all that oil means a richer flavor and a better caffeine kick.

Reserved for the final boss of caffeine dependency, dead eye coffee is when three espresso shots are added to a cup of coffee. Also known as a green eye when ordered at Starbucks, the dead eye contains over half the recommended daily allotment of caffeine for adults, clocking in at around 284mg for the average 8-oz beverage.

These levels of caffeine are not for the faint of heart, so use this information wisely when you really need the extra pick me up.

READ MORE: Coffee Moonshine Recipe

Products featured on Wide Open Eats are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Related Videos