What is a Red Eye Coffee?

A “red eye coffee” is a coffee drink comprising a full serving of drip coffee with an additional espresso shot added right into the cup. This drink—a combination of drip or filter coffee with espresso in the same vessel—is often colloquially called a “red eye”… though it may be called something completely different, depending on where you drink coffee in the world.

What else is it called?

So glad you asked! A coffee with added espresso shot has numerous names spanning various regions of the world. Besides a Red Eye, you may have also seen this drink on coffee menus by such names as A Shot in the Dark, a Depth Charge, an Eye Opener, a Sludge Cup, or even a Hammerhead, if you are in California. Other names we’ve heard include a Foglifter, a Devil’s Crowbar, and an Oil Spill.

Because of its fairly recent presence in the canon of coffee drinks, many coffee shops have taken the liberty of giving this drink a signature name unique to the cafe. If you patronize the Rooster’s Crow in Huntsville, AL, it’s a Crow’s Eye, or if you drink at the Fourth Coast Cafe in Kalamazoo, MI, you’ll be wanting a Bowbreaker.

Whatever you call it, it’s clear this particular beverage is a canvas for interesting colloquial drink names.

Was it invented anywhere? Didn’t Starbucks or Caribou invent this?

So the legend goes, the Red Eye takes its name from the overnight airline flights of the same nickname—departing in one city at night and landing in the morning in the next city with little sleep, resulting in a condition that might necessitate an extra bump of caffeine. Flight attendants, it’s said, would serve passengers a mix of drip coffee and espresso prepared in-flight (this once commonly was offered!), resulting in the drink we know today. Whether this is the true origin of the name and whether these mile-high heroes were its real inventors is difficult to prove.

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Starbucks is credited with popularizing the Red Eye. This is the case for most (but not all) coffee drinks in modern coffee culture, but it’s unlikely the chain was the first retailer ever to serve this particular combination of coffees. Caribou, too, cannot be traced specifically to the drink’s origins—though the chain famously trademarked the term Depth Charge in the early 2000s, leading to a series of cease and desist orders to small Minnesota cafes who had been using that name for this concoction. If you are planning to open a cafe, please do not call this drink a Depth Charge unless you like lawyer letters.

How much caffeine is in a Red Eye?

How much caffeine is in a drip coffee varies depending on size, and espresso shots can vary as well. Using back-of-the-cafe-napkin math, you’ll get about 250-300mg of caffeine from a Red Eye, imagining 200mg caffeine in the drip coffee and 60mg in the espresso shot.

This is not enough caffeine. I want more than one shot of espresso in my coffee? What is that called?

Easy, tiger. As with the one-shot Red Eye, there are myriad names for its variants. You may add additional shots to produce a Black Eye, a Dead Eye, or even a JFK (three shots, ouch) or other ghastly names. It is worth including the popular Dirty Chai in this aside—that’s a chai latte with a shot of espresso added, and it can be delicious.

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Do people serve this drink internationally or is it just a tacky American thing?

Sprudge checked in with Monogram Coffee’s Ben Put in Calgary (where the drink is often called a Canadiano!) for the North of the Border perspective:

“When I first started as a barista, it was a very common order. We will definitely serve them, but they are not on the menu,” says Put.

Meanwhile in Denmark, you can certainly order a Red Eye at Coffee Collective as well—if you explain the barista what it is, says co-founder Klaus Thomsen.

“They would be like, ‘A what?’,” says Thomsen, who said the barista would certainly still make the drink.

“I am so done with the whole, ‘No you can’t have that, we know better than you’ and all that,” says the former World Barista Champion. “We might recommend something else, but we’ll always be like, you know what, if that’s what you want, we’re happy, it costs this and this. That’s money we can bring back to the farmers, and if we say no, you can’t get that, we can’t bring that back to the farmers.”

So order your Red Eye, your Sludge Cup, or even A Shot in the Dark no matter where you may roam. Perhaps it’ll help with the jet lag!

Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.