Kahlúa, the world’s favorite coffee liqueur, has been made in Mexico since 1936 with high-quality coffee beans grown in Veracruz. Produced by the folks behind Absolut Vodka and Malibu, Kahlúa has become a fixture in bars across the globe. But don’t let its ubiquity fool you; this is no one-trick pony. Sure, it’s divine on the rocks, but its full-bodied sweet caffeine kick has inspired some of the best classic cocktails sipped around the world.
Kahlúa’s White Russian cocktail is perhaps best associated with the Coen brothers cult-classic film The Big Lebowski, released in 1998. This movie portrays a wild, whimsical world where bowling is a spiritual journey, bathrobes are a fashion statement, and the White Russian is a way of life.
In this cinematic rollercoaster, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, a slacker of epic proportions played by Jeff Bridges, stumbles into a case of mistaken identity that propels him into a noir-inspired odyssey. In addition to the intricate plot twists, The Big Lebowski became an underground hit thanks to The Dude’s laid-back philosophy and his unwavering affection for White Russians, which he affectionately dubs “Caucasians.” As The Dude meanders through a labyrinth of absurdity and oddball characters, his consistent companion is this sweet and creamy elixir, elevating the White Russian from mere cocktail to a symbol of relaxed rebellion.
The film’s quirky charm turned sipping on a White Russian into a homage to the Dude himself. From the Lebowski Bar in Reykjavik to Le Dude in Paris, people around the world are raising a White Russian while toasting to the Dude’s nonchalant wisdom and questionable fashion choices.
Popular Kahlúa cocktails
Kahlúa has proven a popular cocktail ingredient ever since the creation of the iconic Black Russian. This classic cocktail was invented in 1949 in a hotel bar in Brussels for the American ambassador to Luxembourg — nothing Russian about that but it got its name from the vodka and the color of coffee liquor.
In 1955 the Black Russian got a run for its money when a bar in California added heavy cream to create its alter ego, the White Russian. This creamy concoction swirling with decadence enjoyed great popularity in the next couple of decades. However, nightclubs weren’t keen on making space for cartons of milk and the White Russian nearly disappeared from the cocktail scene during the 80’s — saved largely by The Dude himself a decade later.
The liqueur is versatile however. In 1983, when a patron asked a bartender in London for a drink to wake her up, he poured espresso, vodka and Kahlúa into a martini glass, garnished with three coffee beans and the classic Espresso Martini was born.
Not sure if you’re craving a chocolate milkshake or a piña colada? Go get yourself a Bushwacker! Invented in 1975 in the US Virgin Islands, this drink is perfect for sipping poolside at a beach resort. The frozen shake is made by combining aged rum, creme de cacao, cream of coconut, milk, Kahlúa and ice in a blender until smooth.
Can’t we just keep it simple? Of course, we can! Spike your regular cup of coffee with a shot of Kahlúa any time of the day or add some whipped cream on top for the perfect dessert drink. Then take it up a notch by adding tequila and Triple Sec and, bravo! You have a cup of what bartenders call Mexican Coffee.
Sustainable coffee and “Coffee for Good”
As well as being delicious, Kahlúa is also a force for sustainability in the coffee world. The global popularity of the bean has led to serious environmental concerns, with the rampant use of pesticides, and the poverty of growers a leading concern.
To resolve these issues, in 2016, Kahlúa took a bold step towards addressing environmental concerns and safeguarding the livelihoods of farming communities by launching its innovative “Coffee for Good” program. This initiative is providing training in sustainable agriculture techniques to achieve better forest management, improve soil fertility and restore and protect the biodiversity required for healthy crops to thrive.
“Coffee for Good” also promotes crop diversification, soil preservation and is creating a network of coffee nurseries to replace aged and diseased plants. To increase sustainability and reduce water usage, it has also provided access to clean water and sanitation by installing dry toilets and building tanks near homes to collect rainwater.
Kahlúa has committed to sourcing 100% of its coffee from sustainable communities and paying a premium price for their beans. The four benefited communities located in Veracruz are set to harvest and sell enough coffee to cover all Kahlúa’s production and will have the tools and knowledge they need to ensure a sustainable future.
So, next time you find yourself yearning for a taste of pop culture or sustainable coffee, grab a bottle of Kahlúa and channel your inner Dude. Cheers to Veracruz, The Big Lebowski, and the wild ride through cocktail history!
Sandra is a Mexican writer and translator based in San Miguel de Allende who specializes in mental health and humanitarian aid. She believes in the power of language to foster compassion and understanding across cultures. She can be reached at: [email protected]