What is dirty coffee?

Dirty Coffee

Gaining in popularity, dirty coffee is starting to pop up on coffee shop menus across the U.S. For people who have never heard of it, however, the name can sound intimidating or even unappealing.

Simply put, dirty coffee can be described as hot espresso poured over top of cold milk. Since the beverage is not stirred, it is often served in a clear glass so that coffee drinkers can view the layers and inevitable swirling that takes place between the two ingredients. Not only does this concoction taste creamy and delightful, but it is also mesmerizing to watch.

Where It Was Created

From its origins in a small coffee shop in Tokyo, dirty coffee has become both trendy and sought-after all across Asia. Originally dubbed “The Dirty” by its creators, the idea behind this strong, creamy beverage has spread rapidly thanks to social media. In fact, it has started to make its way to coffee shops throughout the U.S.

How It’s Made

Making a dirty coffee is quite simple. In a clear glass mug or cup, cold whole milk is poured into the bottom. Then, a hot and fresh espresso shot is gently poured on top of the milk. That is basically it. There is no stirring or swishing involved.

Other variations have evolved that call for a milk-cream mixture or even a milk and whipped cream mixture to be used in place of the whole milk. Either way, however, the dairy is extremely cold and a hot espresso layer is poured on top.


The transparent glass that a dirty coffee is served in allows drinkers to see the beauty of the beverage. Because the milk layer is cold and the espresso layer is hot, two distinct layers can be seen in the cup before they slowly start to swirl and mix together. This creates a muddled and somewhat messy appearance, hence the name.


Dirty coffee offers a unique caffeine experience since there are two different temperatures in one cup. While the first few sips will lead to an intense, bitter espresso taste, the later sips will start to blend into something colder, sweeter, and creamier.

Differences Between Dirty Coffee and Other Beverages

While dirty coffee may sound like latte, that is not the case. Actually, there are distinct differences between this newly popular beverage and the others caffeine options offered at various coffee shops.

Dirty Coffee vs. Caffè Latte

A caffè latte is made with the same ingredients as a dirty coffee: espresso and milk. The process, however, is different. In a caffè latte, the milk is steamed and poured overtop a cup of freshly brewed espresso. It is then topped with the bubbles created by steaming the milk.

Dirty Coffee vs. Iced Latte

Essentially, an iced latte is the opposite of a dirty coffee. Where a dirty coffee involves pouring a hot espresso shot over ice-cold milk, an iced latte is made by pouring steamed milk over an espresso and ice cube mixture. Once the two ingredients have been poured into the cup, the coffee gets stirred, unlike a dirty coffee, which is unstirred.

Dirty Coffee vs. Dirty Chai Latte

A chai latte is made by combining steamed milk with spiced black tea. Where a dirty coffee uses cold milk and a hot espresso shot, the chai latte calls for hot milk. Chai lattes are often also topped with a foam, whereas the dirty coffee is not.

Making a Dirty Coffee at Home

A dirty coffee is not just something to enjoy at a coffee shop. It is easy to make one at home too. All you need is an espresso maker, a clear drinking glass, and milk.

For best results, both the milk and the glass should be extremely cold. Some recipes even suggest putting both of them in the freezer for 10 minutes. Once that has been done, brew an espresso shot into a separate mug.

For the last step, carefully pour the espresso shot into the cold glass, on top of the milk. To ensure that the two ingredients layer and do not instantly mix, use a spoon to help break the fall of the espresso pour. (Espresso can also be brewed directly on top of the milk, but the farther the espresso has to fall, the more likely the two ingredients will instantly mix.)


If you do not have an espresso maker, a French press, moka pot, or even a drip-style coffee maker can be used to make a strong brew that can then be poured over cold milk. The taste will not be as rich, bold, and bitter as an espresso shot, but the desired drink is still achievable.

There are other beverages that have been inspired by the original dirty coffee. While none can be classified as dirty coffee, that is where the idea came from. Essentially, any chilled non-coffee liquid that is layered with an espresso shot can be labeled as “dirty.”


This dirty coffee variation calls for just two ingredients: vanilla ice cream and espresso. In order to make this delectable beverage, simply place some vanilla ice cream in a clear, cold mug. Then, pour a freshly brewed shot of espresso on top.


This beverage is made just like a dirty coffee but with one addition: vanilla. After the glass and milk are chilled and ready to go, some vanilla syrup is added in before the espresso shot. This extra bit of flavor adds more dimension to this already flavorful beverage.

Increasing in Popularity

This Tokyo-created beverage has exploded with popularity all across Asia. With the help of the internet, dirty coffee is starting to make its way into American coffee shops and homes. Many variations are also starting to emerge thanks to this growing popularity.

Being easy to make and requiring just two classic ingredients, people can enjoy this beverage at home. Regardless of where you are sipping on this beautifully layered, swirling mixture, it is flavorful and unique. Tasting it and admiring it is all part of the dirty coffee experience.