Red Eye, Black Eye and Dead Eye Coffee

Sometimes brewed coffee simply isn’t enough on its own. When you need an extra jolt of caffeine, the red eye, black eye and dead eye coffees offer varying degrees of what you’re looking for.

What is Red Eye Coffee?

Red eye coffee can be thought of as the basic version of “eye” coffee, as the others take both their nomenclature and composition from it. All of these coffees add espresso to brewed coffee — the red eye adds a single shot.

Where Does the Name “Red Eye” Come From?

The name “red eye” most likely stems from U.S. travelers ordering it after taking overnight flights from the West Coast to the East Coast. The flights are commonly referred to as red eyes, because travelers get little sleep and look bloodshot once landed in the morning. The name could have easily transliterated into coffee culture in the major East Coast cities, and spread from there.

Many different regional names have come along as the drink has spread. Depending on where you are, you might hear a red eye referred to as a “hammerhead” (most places), “sludge cup” (Alaska), “stink eye” (Portland, Oregon), “shot in the dar” (Pacific Northwest), “oil spill” (Kansas), “train wreck” (North Carolina), “double drip” (Canada), canadiano (U.S.-Canadian border) or “well hard” (U.K.).

Canadiano takes inspiration from the americano, adding espresso to brewed coffee rather than hot water. The well hard name is rooted in the Whitemoor mine in England, where workers named the drink after the Wellard dog breed. The mutation into “well hard” probably occurred partly because that’s what your character must be like to drink espresso and coffee together.

How Do You Make Red Eye Coffee?

All three “eye” coffees are traditionally made by pouring the espresso on top of the brewed coffee. Some cafes may reverse the order in an effort to lessen the risk of hot liquid spilling at the espresso bar. Most cafes and home baristas still pour the espresso over the coffee as this preserves the crema (much like a long black does by reversing the order of an americano).

Other than pouring espresso on top of brewed coffee, there are few other strict practices for making red eyes.

The ratio of espresso to coffee is 1 shot per cup, with cup not being a strict measurement. A small, medium and large red eye all have a single shot, even though those sizes could range from 8 to 24 ounces at most cafes.

Additionally, red eyes can be made hot or iced. Cream and sugar can be added afterward, just as they sometimes are with brewed coffee.

Make a Red Eye Coffee at Home
If you have an espresso machine, the red eye is one of the easiest espresso beverages to make:

  1. Brew coffee as you normally do (e.g. drip, pour-over, French press).
  2. Pull a shot of espresso as the brew is finishing or just after it’s complete.
  3. Add the shot of espresso to the brewed coffee.

If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can use a Moka pot to brew homemade espresso. Only add a little of the brewed Moka pot espresso, though. Most pots make several “cups” of espresso, and adding them would place your drink in the range of a black or dead eye (see below).

What Does a Red Eye Taste Like?

The coffee and espresso flavors in red eyes are well balanced, and some people get the drink more for the flavor than the caffeine. The espresso shot adds brightness and flavor, while the coffee keeps it from overpowering.

The different flavors become especially complementary if you mix and match different coffees. A fruity espresso will brighten a chocolaty medium-brew, while a floral may add delicateness to a brew that’s more nutty. When matching, look for beans from different regions and with different flavor notes (e.g. a bright African with a medium Guatemala).

What is Black Eye Coffee?

Black eye coffee takes the red eye up a notch, by adding two instead of one espresso shot. The two shots are added to brewed coffee, just as with each of these three drinks.

Where Does the Name “Black Eye” Come From?

Some more fanciful fables guess that the name “black eye” stems from being so grumpy that you’ll give someone a black eye if you don’t get a strongly caffeinated drink.

A slightly more credible suggestion points out that placing the two shots on top of brewed coffee creates a black ring around the cup, perhaps a “black eye.” The ring is much more pronounced with two shots rather than one, because the crema of two spreads to the edges of most cups. There’s not quite enough crema from one cup to do this.

The most likely source of “black eye” probably is a continuation of the “red eye,” as the pattern of color + eye is consistent. Or, perhaps this combined with the black ring that forms inspired the nomenclature of black eye.

How Do You Make Black Eye Coffee?

Black eye coffee is made in the same way as red eye, but with two shots of espresso rather than one. Just as with red eye, the shots are traditionally placed on top of the brewed coffee and there’s no standard ratio — the shots can be added to a small, medium, large or other-sized coffee.

The two shots of espresso is equal to what most cafes will use as the standard for cortados, cappuccinos and lattes. The espresso is added to coffee and not steamed milk, of course.

Black eyes can be hot or iced, and amended with cream and sugar to taste. Many people who get this for the caffeine add cream and/or sugar in order to counter the strong taste.

Make a Black Eye Coffee at Home
If you have an espresso machine, brew coffee and pull two shots:

  1. Brew coffee as you normally do (e.g. drip, pour-over, French press).
  2. Pull two shots of espresso as the brew is finishing or just after it’s complete.
  3. Add the shots of espresso to the brewed coffee.

Again, a Moka pot can be used if you don’t have an espresso machine. Approximately half of a small Moka’s brewed “cups” will equal two shots.

What Does a Black Eye Taste Like?

At the black eye leve, the espresso begins to overpower the coffee. This creates a substantially stronger flavor, especially if using two coffees that are similar in flavor.

If drinking for flavor, choosing two coffees from different regions will again produce the most complementary profile. Go with a bright and fruity espresso if you want to liven up a cup, or a dark and chocolaty one if you want to mute the brightness of a light brew.

What is Dead Eye Coffee?

Dead Eye coffee is the strongest of these three drinks, adding three shots of espresso to brewed coffee. The espresso is once again poured on top of brewed coffee.

Where Does the Name Dead Eye Come From?

The name “dead eye” is most likely a continuation of the color + eye theme, following red eye and black eye in suit. Perhaps a more creative interpretation is that your eyes look dead if you need to order something this caffeinated.

Because the drink is less frequently ordered, it’s sometimes referred to as a “triple red eye.” Using “double red eye” for a black eye isn’t as common. The black eye is also occasionally called a “green eye,” mostly at Starbucks cafes.

How Do You Make Dead Eye Coffee?

Dead eye coffee is made just as the other “eye” coffees are, except a total of three shots are used. The shots are traditionally poured on top, and there’s not a standard ratio. A small, medium and large black eye all have the same amount of espresso in them.

Dead eyes likewise can be hot or iced, black or with cream/sugar.

Make a Dead Eye Coffee at Home
If you have an espresso machine, brew coffee and pull three shots:

  1. Brew coffee as you normally do (e.g. drip, pour-over, French press).
  2. Pull three shots of espresso as the brew is finishing or just after it’s complete.
  3. Add the shots of espresso to the brewed coffee.

If using a Moka pot, a small Moka’s full batch will approximately equal three shots of espresso. No one will care if that’s a little more, considering how strong this drink already is.

What Does Dead Eye Taste Like?

The flavor of dead eye coffee is quite strong, with the espresso overpowering the brewed coffee and no milk diluting it. People who order the drink daily usually like the strong taste, and drink it black. People who just need the caffeine are more likely to add cream and/or sugar.

How Much Espresso is in Each “Eye” Coffee?

The amount of espresso is what distinguishes red, black and dead eye coffees from one another:

  • Red eyes have 1 shot of espresso
  • Black eyes have 2 shots of espresso
  • Dead eyes have 3 shots of espresso

How Much Caffeine is in a Red, Black and Dead Eye Coffee?

Caffeine can vary greatly depending on varietal, roast, strength and other factors — an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee can have anywhere from 70 to 140 milligrams of caffeine. Espresso similarly varies.

As a general guideline, assume an average of 95 mg of caffeine in each 8-ounce cup of coffee, and a 63-mg average for espresso shots. The calculus below uses these averages:

  1. Caffeine content of brewed coffee averages 12 mg/ounce (95 mg / 8 oz.)
  2. Caffeine content of espresso averages 63 mg/ounce (with 1-ounce shots).
  3. Each shot of espresso reduces the volume of brewed coffee by 1 ounce.
  4. Thus, each shot of espresso adds an average of 50 mg of caffeine to the drink.

Using these averages: red eyes have ~150 mg of caffeine, black eyes ~200 mg, and dead eyes ~250 mg. For reference, the Mayo Clinic recommends having no more than 400 mg per day.

How to Order “Eye” Coffees?

You can order these three drinks by their common names of “red eye,” “black eye” and “dead eye.” Some newer baristas may be unfamiliar with dead eye, in particular, which is partly why “triple red eye” is also used.

You might also try regional names when appropriate, but these are less widely known.

Enjoy Red, Black and Dead Eye Coffee

The “eye” coffees aren’t just for after an overnight flight. Many people order them when studying, working overnight shifts, staying up with children, or hungover. Some daily drinks also simply like the stronger flavor.

The next time you need an additional pick-me-up, try a red eye, black eye or dead eye coffee. It’ll give you the caffeine you want, and you may also fall in love with the flavor.