Maybe you’ve seen it on the menu at a coffee shop, or maybe you’ve just heard rumors about it. Red eye coffee is something that feels born out of the modern need to “hustle” constantly. Certainly not for everyone, but this caffeine monster appeals to the whole of the US, with regional variations popping up wherever you look.
If you want to know all about the specifics of this caffeine injection, variations on eye coffee drinks, what it tastes like, and just how much caffeine you’re consuming with each cup, then we have all the answers.
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Red eye coffee is a cup of drip coffee with an added shot of espresso to give you that extra jolt you need to be as productive as possible, or at least feel like you are. In a world of seemingly infinite coffee variants, this is one of the more intense. There are variations that include even more espresso for those who really hate sleep.
The name comes from the famous late-night flight from the west coast to New York City. Onboard, you will find most people furiously working through the night to prepare for whatever awaits them on the other side. The characteristic red-eye look of those exhausted passengers as they disembark in NYC gives the name first to the flight, then the strong coffee drink.
I’m sure someone, somewhere, was the first person to have this concoction but there is absolutely no way of knowing. Nowadays, anywhere that claims they are the home of “ red eye coffee” is, at best, guessing. As soon as the red eye coffee became a common coffee order, escalation occurred.
Now, in addition to the red-eye, we also have the Black Eye Coffee (2 shots of espresso with the drip method coffee), and the Dead Eye Coffee (3 shots of espresso) for those who feel a strong need to try and induce a heart arrhythmia through caffeine consumption.
All you need is some roast coffee beans, an espresso machine, and either a regular drip coffee, pour-over, or French press coffee maker. The choice comes down to what you have available and what you prefer. Then simply follow these steps:
- Brew your coffee: Using your drip coffee maker, pour over, or French press brew up your coffee
- Make your espresso: For every cup of coffee brewed, you need one shot of espresso. So fire up your espresso machine and make as much as you need
- Combine: It really couldn’t be more simple – just pour your espresso shot over your cup of coffee and stir. If you like milky coffee or a little sweetness, add milk/cream or sugar to your (fast beating) heart’s content
There’s no longer any need to spend $8 at a coffee shop for the full red-eye experience. Instead, you can be a caffeine-fueled jitterbug very easily at home for far cheaper.
As this is your drink, you should enjoy it however you like it. So, if you want milk, cream, or sugar you can go ahead and pop that in there too – it doesn’t need to be a black coffee. Just remember you’ll probably want more than normal due to the increased intensity.
It doesn’t matter how tired you are, or how desperately in need of caffeine you are, the taste matters and you want whatever variation of “eye coffee” you’re making to still taste great. So, what does this cup of pure electricity taste like? Well, as you probably guessed, it’s pretty intense.
When I’ve made red eye coffee at home, I’ve used my trusty French press topped off with a shot of espresso. The thick oily French press texture with the extra hit of syrupy espresso made for a coffee with a genuinely *thick* texture and mountains of body. It’s not one for the faint-hearted.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a negative as the intensity of the flavor really married well with the overtly full-body. It felt like a genuinely different coffee experience, rather than just an attempt to stay awake forever.
However, a lot of the nuance I would normally get from my French press coffee beans was completely lost. Instead, the big hits of chocolate, caramel, and nuts really came through. But if you’ve not slept and bold coffee is what you want – nothing tastes right when you’re exhausted after all – then you’ll be thankful for the assault on the senses.
If you prefer the drip coffee method to the French press you will probably get a slightly less full-bodied experience with more of the fruit notes accentuated.
It’s not for those in search of complex nuance and citrus from their coffee varieties but who doesn’t love a chocolatey, caramel, nutty baseball bat to the mouth in the morning?
Many people claim that light roast coffee beans contain more caffeine than dark or vice versa. But it’s not that simple. For a rough idea, we can go to a purveyor of mass-produced, mediocre coffee: Starbucks.
A single espresso at Starbucks contains 75mg of caffeine. So the caffeine count on your Red Eye will just depend on what coffee beans you are choosing for your normal drip coffee.
- Featured Dark Roast (Tall) – 175mg Caffeine
- Pike Place (Tall) – 235mg Caffeine
- Blonde Roast (Tall) – 280mg Caffeine
So a Red Eye will range from 250mg to 355mg of caffeine. Considering the daily guideline amount of caffeine for an adult is 400mg, this is quite a lot.
If you feel like this wouldn’t be sufficient to get the jolt you need, then remember you can always add 2 or even 3 shots of espresso. Maxing out at 505mg of caffeine in an individual coffee for a tall blonde roast with 3 extra shots. Nearly double the amount in even the strongest cup of drip coffee.
Remember that not all Baristas at coffee shops will know what these concoctions are, they’re relatively well known but have a variety of names, depending on where you are. So, it’s always best to just order exactly what you want to avoid confusion. Most coffee shops will probably be used to a version of the eye coffee being ordered.
In what seems to be a worrying nod to the huge oil industry in the state, it is called a “Sludge Cup”
Slightly more poetic, you’ll be ordering a “shot in the dark”
Another that is a slightly concerning name, in the northernmost parts of California you’ll be asking for a “train wreck”. I’m unsure if you want more shots if it’s called a double or triple train wreck.
North East Coast
I’d love someone to explain to me why, but it’s called a “Mondo”. Feel free to get in touch if you know the origin of this.
Another oil industry-themed name – it’s roughly the right color I guess! Here, you’ll be ordering an “oil spill”.
In many other places, the red eye coffee is simply referred to as a “hammerhead”.
It’s not one of those fancy Italian coffee drinks, or even a particularly sophisticated one, but it will certainly wake you up.
Do be aware of the amount of caffeine you are consuming though, it’s fine to drink huge amounts on occasion when you need to but we wouldn’t recommend you start having several red eyes a day as your normal beverage.
Most specialty coffee shops will be used to a red eye coffee drink order but best just to order a normal drip coffee with an extra shot to make sure. If you have a drip coffee maker at home, then you could just grab an espresso on the way to fortify your morning brew.
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