What is Red Eye Coffee? A Short Explanation

This website contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Before straight triple shot espresso was a thing for students finishing a paper before 11:59PM and they’ve been awake for the past 24 hours, it all started with red eye coffee.

This peculiarly-named coffee is one of the beloved beverages for people who needed a solid, extra boost —whether it’s early in the morning or at the dead of the night. While this might not be your typical taste that you would take your time to enjoy, red eye coffee is more catered to provide you as much caffeine as possible in a single drink.

Can’t wait to get your caffeine fix to make you indestructible for the day? Here are all the things that you need to know about red eye coffee.

Focus what is red eye coffee

What is Red Eye Coffee?

Red eye coffee isn’t a complicated drink. It’s basically any type of drip coffee topped with a shot of espresso for that extra caffeine kick.

Different variations of red eye coffee have been popping up. There’s a black eye that is two espresso shots and the dead eye coffee that contains three espresso shots. The traditional red eye is a cup of hot coffee, a bit of cream, and a shot of espresso. But now, you can basically enjoy the drink hot or iced, with your preferred coffee-based.

Red eye coffee also has different terms depending on where you are. Such alternatives names are “sludge cup” in Alaska, “shot in the dark” in the Pacific Northwest, “train wreck” in Northern California, and “oil spill” in parts of Kansas.

As you can see, the red eye coffee might not be the most delicious coffee you’ll ever taste but it will surely deliver on its caffeine.

Why Is It Called Red Eye Coffee?

Because of the intent behind this coffee, the red eye coffee derived its name from the common red-eye symptom that you’ll experience whenever you’re tired and you lack sleep.

Historically, this coffee started in the aviation industries. The term red eye flights came to use when airlines started to open flights that would depart late at night and arrive in the morning. Everyone on that flight would usually get red eyes from the fatigue and lack of sleep because of the late-night flying. This usually happened during cross-country flights in the US.

Due to the long-haul flight from the West Coast to New York, coffee became a staple beverage for both airline passengers and staff. But since the regular in-flight coffee won’t beat their sleepiness and exhaustion, they started adding extra espresso shots on top of their drink.

On the other hand, black eye coffee came from the black circle that appears on the coffee cup once you poured the espresso shot on top of your base coffee with cream. Dead eye coffee got its name from its publicity ploy that your organs will shut down and die because of the amount of caffeine inside the drink.

While we highly doubt the truth behind that, we’re sure that this coffee isn’t for the faint at heart.

Focus what is red eye coffee

How Much Caffeine Does Red Eye Coffee Have?

Red eye coffee will definitely give you the punch that you need to finish your double shift at work or cram that school paper that you should’ve finished a couple days ago. This coffee surely will make your heart skip a beat at some point and will keep you extra focused for hours.

For people who drink coffee like water, the red eye coffee might not have the same effects. But for most, expect to have a little bit of after effects once that caffeine high dies down.

Some low-risk side effects from drinking this coffee include restlessness, stomach inflammation, and insomnia. If you drink this type of coffee frequently that you exceed the daily recommended caffeine intake, the high acid content of the coffee can lead to the development of an ulcer.

Here’s a breakdown of the caffeine levels for red eye, black eye, and dead eye coffee:

Red Eye Coffee Caffeine

8 ounces of drip coffee —approx. 95 mg

A shot of espresso — approx. 64mg

TOTAL — 159mg of caffeine

Black Eye Coffee Caffeine

8 ounces of drip coffee —approx. 95 mg

2 shots of espresso — approx. 128 mg

TOTAL — 223 mg of caffeine

Dead Eye Coffee Caffeine

8 ounces of drip coffee —approx. 95 mg

3 shots of espresso — approx. 192 mg

TOTAL — 287 mg of caffeine

Keep in mind that the daily maximum intake for adults is around 400 mg of caffeine. That’s about four cups of standard brewed coffee, two energy shot drinks, or 10 cans of soda. But when it comes to this type of coffee, you’re already at the halfway point.

Want more interesting facts about caffeine, you might want to read how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee for more information. Wondering if this type of coffee can make you fall asleep? We’ve also written an article on the effects of caffeine on sleep.

How to Make Red Eye Coffee

Focus what is red eye coffee

For a coffee that is monikered as an “oil spill”, making red eye coffee is pretty much straightforward. Just make your standard coffee (whether instant, brewed, or drip) and top it off with your desired number of espressos shot.

If you have a little bit of time to spare, why not make your red eye coffee the traditional way? Here’s how to do it:

What You’ll Need

  • 16g whole coffee beans
  • 250ml filtered water
  • Espresso shot
  • Paper filter
  • Coffee grinder


  1. Let’s start with making the coffee base for your red eye coffee. It begins with freshly grinding your own coffee beans. The magic ratio is about a gram of coffee beans per 16ml of water. Or you can eyeball it if you’ve done this long enough.
  2. Scoop your whole coffee beans into your coffee grinder and grind them until the consistency is coarse. The ideal mark is for the coffee to be the same texture as table salt. The reason why we prefer grinding our own coffee is that coffee beans lose a significant amount of aroma within 30 minutes of being ground. So if you see yourself making coffee a lot, it’s definitely worth it to invest in a coffee grinder.
  3. Boil your filtered water. You might want to use filtered water instead of mineral water to avoid adding a different taste to your coffee.
  4. Place your filter paper on the dripper (don’t forget to fold it properly) and wet it partially with hot water. This will remove any stray paper fibers and that paper taste in your coffee. Discard the water.
  5. Gently add your fresh coffee grounds to the paper and slightly tap the dripper to settle it. Don’t use a spoon or poke it to fix the coffee grounds or you might accidentally nick the paper filter.
  6. Place the carafe at the bottom of your dripper. Then, pour water over the filter, making sure that each exposed coffee grounds are wet. Don’t pour everything at once. Just put enough water to cover the coffee grounds.
  7. Wait for at least 45 seconds until you see the coffee bloom. This step allows the gas from the grounds to escape and makes the overall taste and mouth feel of your coffee better.
  8. Once the coffee bloomed, you can continue to pour the remaining water. When pouring, do so in small circles and focus the flow of the water in the middle where the paper filter is pointed. Wet the edges of the filter occasionally.
  9. If you’re pouring slow enough, there will be a consistent stream of water to coffee, and it won’t pool up in the filter. But if you’re not used to it, you can do it by batch and wait for the coffee to drip to the carafe. A standard drip time is less than three minutes.
  10. Once you have your drip coffee, add your cream and/or sugar if desired. Then, take an espresso shot and pour it over your drip coffee. You can make your own espresso shot by brewing espresso beans or just use a coffee machine.
YouTube player

Additional Tips to Making Red Eye Coffee

  • Make sure that your water is filtered. For coffee enthusiasts, you’ll definitely taste a big difference if you use mineral water or tap water.
  • Grind your own coffee beans. The flavor would be more pronounced compared to pre-grind beans and you’ll get to control how coarse it is depending on which type of coffee you’re going to make.
  • Don’t skip the blooming stage. Not letting your coffee bloom will highly affect the taste and mouthfeel of your coffee. Think of it as your coffee being “constipated”.
  • If you don’t have a dripper, you can directly put the filter on a bigger mug and just secure the sides so it won’t fall down.  It’s a great hack if you don’t want to buy a dripper right away.
  • Don’t overdilute your espresso shot. If you really want that caffeine kick, don’t water down your espresso shot.

Is Red Eye Coffee Stronger than Espresso?

Focus what is red eye coffee

Since red eye coffee is basically a standard cup of coffee with extra shots of espresso, the former is definitely stronger than the latter.

In comparison, a single serving of espresso clocks at approximately 64 mg. For red eye coffee, a cup of brewed coffee is about 95mg plus the number of espresso shots that you chose to have.

The same goes for the taste. For non-coffee drinkers, the red eye coffee will definitely be one of the most bitter coffee that they’ll ever taste. If you want to imagine what sludge and oil spills taste like, then this might be the closest you’ll ever get.

Avid coffee drinkers won’t bat an eye at the idea of straight-up “train wreck” as coffee. For others, it might be questionable considering that you could choose another more enjoyable coffee drink. One this is for sure though, if you need a quick, no-fuss caffeine hit to survive the day, red eye coffee won’t disappoint you.

Like this Article? You Might want to Read: How to Make Turkish Coffee at Home