What Is Dirty Coffee And How to Make It

Have you seen pictures of dirty coffee on social media and wondered how the beautiful layer of coffee floats on top of the milk? However, you will be surprised that the secret of it does not lie in adding extra ingredients.

Let’s learn how to make dirty coffee at home, so you can enjoy this delicious drink whenever you want!

What is dirty coffee?

Dirty coffee meaning does not have to do with anything dirty. Similar to the dirty matcha latte, the dirty coffee name comes from the marbling effect that the espresso creates while slowly cascading into the milk.

There are two ways of making dirty coffee. One way is to pour an espresso shot over the back of the spoon to create coffee and milk layers. You can also prepare this beverage by putting the glass of cold milk directly under the espresso machine’s portafilter spout and letting the espresso drip into the milk.

With either method, there’s no way to control exactly how it will turn out. Each serving of coffee is an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind beverage.

dirty coffee in a glass

The effect espresso creates while slowly mixing with the milk is fascinating. So if you want to make dirty coffee at home, use a clear mug or glass to observe all the magic!

Dirty coffee is a lukewarm drink. There’s no consistent temperature with hot and cold gradually combining. That said, you probably won’t burn your tongue on the first sip like you might drinking espresso straight.

While you can linger over a cup of hot coffee for a long time, the beautiful layer effect of the coffee is ephemeral. So if you sip it rather than gulp it, the layers of this hot and cold drink will stay visible a little longer.

Dirty coffee is believed to have been invented by Bear Pond Espresso in Tokyo, Japan. Later, Luckin Coffee, a chain of coffee shops based in China, played a role in popularizing it in Asia.

However, you may struggle to find dirty coffee in your favorite coffee shop as it has hardly reached the United States. The Undertow on the Starbucks secret menu is similar to it. However, it contains flavored syrup, while authentic dirty coffee does not.

Of course, there is always room for innovation, such as adding cream to the milk to make the coffee taste sweeter. If you prefer your coffee milkier, you can add a single espresso shot or use a double shot for a more caffeinated drink.

making dirty coffee

Dirty coffee vs. iced latte

A latte contains the same ingredients as dirty coffee – espresso and milk. However, there are a few differences in the preparation and serving.

Firstly, lattes are made with steamed milk rather than chilled milk. Ice cubes are the cooling ingredient of an iced latte, while dirty coffee contains only cold milk and no ice.

Occasionally, when you order your iced latte, you may spot a barista frothing cold milk with a French Press or a handheld milk frother to keep it chilled so it wouldn’t melt the ice as fast. I have to admit, this is my favorite recipe for an iced latte. However, it is more of an exception than a rule.

The milk texture is the other difference between the iced latte and the dirty coffee. Unlike dirty coffee, an iced latte contains milk froth at the top.

And lastly, the order you add the ingredients into a glass makes a difference in the appearance of these similar coffee drinks. When preparing an iced latte, you pour or brew espresso directly over the ice cubes and then add milk. With dirty coffee, the milk goes first, and then espresso is poured or brewed over it.

While many lattes are customized with sweeteners and flavored syrup, you shouldn’t expect (or request, for that matter) any add-ins in your dirty coffee.

In theory, the distinction between dirty coffee and an iced latte sounds pretty clear. Still, when it comes to ordering those drinks, it ultimately depends on a coffee shop and a barista what recipe (or modification of it) they serve to their customers. I ordered dirty coffee that came out with ice and countless iced lattes with espresso poured on top of plain cold milk. So there is no right or wrong here; there is the way you like your coffee, so don’t be afraid to mention it to the barista so they prepare it the way you’d enjoy it the most.

iced latte in glass

Dirty coffee vs. dirty chai latte

A dirty chai latte combines the intense flavor of masala chai with espresso’s power. It is made of chai tea, steamed milk, and a shot of espresso. Like any other latte, it’s then topped with foam.

With very rare exceptions, dirty chai latte contains sugar as it comes in the mix with the tea and spices. On the other hand, dirty coffee does not contain any sugar or other sweetening agent unless you choose to add some yourself.

Like other lattes, a dirty chai latte can be served as a hot drink or as a cold drink poured over ice. However, dirty coffee is served neither hot nor cold. This drink is a unique combination of hot espresso and cold milk.

Another key difference between those two beverages is that the dirty coffee recipe does not include spices or cinnamon, which is often sprinkled on top of the dirty chai latte.

dirty chai latte

Dirty coffee vs. Dalgona coffee

Dalgona coffee is another social media sensation that started in Asia. It is named after a type of sugar candy popular in Korea.

Dalgona coffee is prepared by whipping instant coffee powder with sugar and hot water until it becomes creamy and then spooning it on top of milk.

Dirty coffee and Dalgona have a similar appearance: both contain milk at the bottom and a coffee layer on top.

The main difference between dirty coffee and Dalgona is the type of coffee used. While Dalgona is made with instant coffee powder, dirty coffee is made using freshly ground coffee beans.

Another significant difference is that you do not add sugar while preparing dirty coffee, which is an integral part of Dalgona.

dalgona coffee with a whisk

How to make dirty coffee at home

Making dirty coffee with a drip coffee maker wouldn’t work, as it won’t be concentrated enough to hold its own as a layer. You also wouldn’t want to use instant coffee for this.

While ultimately, you’d need an espresso machine to prepare a dirty coffee at home, you can still make an imitation espresso shot with a Keurig, AeroPress, or Moka Pot or even brew strong coffee with a pour-over filter.

The grind of coffee beans you use will depend on your brewing method. For an espresso machine, you’ll want the usual fine espresso grind. Meanwhile, a Moka Pot does better with medium-fine coffee grounds. Either way, dark roast coffee beans will help you achieve maximum contrast between milk and coffee.

The advantage of being a home barista is having full control over what you put in your coffee and creating a delicious beverage to your taste.

man preparing espresso at home

For dirty coffee, you can use any milk of your preference, but full-fat milk makes the drink thicker. It should enhance the unique mouthfeel this beverage is known for.

You can also add some heavy cream to the milk. Even though the original dirty coffee recipe does not contain any coffee add-ins, the natural sweetness of cream creates balance for the bitter espresso.

Do dairy substitutes work in dirty coffee, you may wonder? A challenge with plant-based milk is that it tends to be more watery than dairy milk, and you do want a bit of heft here. However, some milk alternatives are better than others for making coffee drinks.

Oat milk can be used for making this coffee and adds some natural sweetness. However, nut milk has more fat, which is vital for giving dirty coffee a creamy texture.

Coconut milk is the creamiest non-dairy milk. You can even add some coconut cream to thicken it further. Coconut is also botanically different from tree nuts most people are allergic to, so it might be the winner for a dirty coffee that minimizes common allergens.

Yield: 1 serving

Easy Dirty Coffee Recipe

dirty coffee in a glass

Follow this simple recipe to make dirty coffee at home. Ideally, you'll need an espresso machine to make a shot of strong coffee. However, AeroPress or Moka Pot can serve the purpose.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Brew Time 2 minutes
Total Time 12 minutes


  • 6 fl. oz (180 ml) milk
  • 18 g ground coffee


  1. Pour 6 ounces of milk into a glass or a clear cup. Set it in the freezer.
  2. The milk must sit in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you're fast at preparing your espresso, you may need to wait a few minutes to let the milk chill before you start the next step.
  3. Prepare and pull a double shot of espresso using an espresso machine or equivalent.
  4. Remove the chilled glass from the freezer.
  5. Pour milk into the glass.
  6. Carefully pour the espresso over an upside-down tablespoon into the milk.

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Dirty coffee is a refreshing drink you can enjoy any day. It does not contain any coffee flavorings to overwhelm your taste buds so that you can appreciate the taste of the coffee. There’s no cheating in going from merely interesting to a truly delicious drink. It’s just you, coffee, and milk!

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