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Jul 30, 2023

My mother was neither a drinker nor a smoker; although, she tried over the years to be both. Her problem? She didn't like the taste of alcohol and she couldn't inhale. A few times someone would actually try to teach her to inhale, but she somehow managed to simultaneously hold the smoke in her mouth while breathing in only through her nose. It was like a carnival trick, honestly.

I think she wanted to be like our Grandma Bah, her maternal grandmother (my great-grandmother), whom she absolutely adored and was the only person who smoked in our family. Grandma Bah cussed, smoked, drank lots of Coca-Cola and was unorthodox in countless ways, but she was not known as a drinker.


I don't know what it was that made mom feel like having a drink was edgy and rebellious. She even said it: "Have a drink," like it was this elusive thing that only cool people did. It was certainly outside the norm in our household. It was also the late 70s, a lot was happening and I'm sure she felt far removed from all she saw on the evening news while living in our small, Mississippi town on the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama.

Grandma Bah smoked More cigarettes — they came in a red package and I remember seeing my mother happily puffing on one of those long, skinny, dark brown things. Unlike Grandma Bah, the consummate smoker she was, mom held her cigarette awkwardly, rigidly and totally unnaturally between her perfectly straight first and second fingers, its tip aglow; but she loved it! All she she did was fill her mouth with smoke and blow it out, but that was enough. She was smoking. Those two would laugh, tell stories and cut up til close to sunrise. It was something to witness.

Fast forward to the mid-80s and my mother finally found her drink . . . the White Russian. Thankfully, mom never did develop a real taste for alcohol, but once she discovered the White Russian, that's what she would order when we went out to a restaurant.

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She was thrilled when she found this recipe and shared it with everyone she knew. Soon she began bottling up her brew in adorable little bottles she found in vintage shops and antique stores that she cleaned up and affixed with handmade labels. Like so many things she made, the packaging became as lovely as the contents.

For the longest time, I kept a bottle or two of her homemade Kahlua on hand in my liquor cabinet. If stored properly, it keeps indefinitely, so I was rarely without. At some point, though, my home-brew making fell by the wayside and I think it is time to bring it back. We are now coming in to the peak weeks of hurricane season, so what better time to have some stashed away for ourselves and to share with neighbors. It is the simplest thing to make and people really do love it.

Everything is better homemade, right? Well, most things, anyway . . .

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More than the taste of this homemade Kahlua, it is the making of it that I remember most. There is no telling how many gallons mom and I made together, bottled and gave away over the years. I have great memories of us laughing until we could hardly catch our breath during our many mishaps made mostly while trying to pour our concoction into whatever precious bottles my mother had found and wanted to use. Sticky messes, the aroma of coffee permeating the house, planning the next thing we would do, sharing the work of cleaning up while also casually sharing what was on your minds — there is just something about kitchen time, about creating something delicious together.

Now is the perfect time to make this Kahlua, especially with the holidays arriving before you know it. You won't believe how much you like Kahlua once you have this homemade version on hand and with a little effort (finding the right sized bottles) and artistic flair (make cute labels for said bottles), your holiday gifts will be in the bag before Thanksgiving.


750 ml vodka

4 cups sugar*

2 ounces instant coffee

3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract


Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.

Stir in sugar and remove from heat once dissolved.

Add jar of instant coffee and vanilla.

Allow to fully cool, then add vodka.

Strain through a fine sieve while pouring into glass container with a good fitting lid.

Cook's Notes

-The original recipe called for a whopping five cups of sugar! But we never made it that sweet. Pare down the sugar as much as you like or use an alternative sweetener of your choosing.

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