Red Eye Coffee: Caffeine in a Cup

Looking for an extreme caffeine boost? Today we share all we know about the famous Red Eye Coffee drink!

If you’ve never pulled a 12-hour shift, gone out to a party, and then showed up for another full day of work the next morning, you could be forgiven for not knowing what a red eye coffee is. 

A red eye coffee, one shot of espresso poured over a cup of drip coffee, is the signature caffeinated drink of choice for hospitality workers who need an extra kick to get them started. Its catchy name comes from the drinkers’ bloodshot eyes as they order, desperate for caffeine to get them through the next few hours on little to no sleep.

However, that doesn’t mean you need to be a hospitality worker to enjoy a red eye coffee. Keep reading if you have a hankering for coffee with an extra something-something. We’ll go over the best way to make the drink, where it comes from, and why you should give it a try.

Origin of the Red Eye Coffee

The true origin of the red eye coffee is still debated today.
The true origin of the red eye coffee is still debated today.

The true origins of the red eye coffee are murky, to say the least. While the name is certainly an American invention, who’s to say whether it was the U.S. or another country to first pour the drink. 

However, the legend surrounding the beverage points to the name as proof that it was invented by a frequent flyer. According to the story, a businessman got tired of his overnight (red eye) flights from New York to Los Angeles messing with his sleep schedule. 

In response, he started ordering a coffee before his flight that included regular drip coffee and an extra shot of espresso to get him through the night. And so, the “red eye” coffee was born. 

Whether or not a red eye coffee actually cured his sleeping issue is up to you. However, the drink’s popularity is undeniable, especially among people who work nights or like to party hard the night before a morning shift. It definitely has enough caffeine to get you through whatever you have going on, and probably beyond that as well. 

The red eye moniker hasn’t stuck around because of some overnight flight, though. The drink became synonymous with overtired and overworked hospitality employees who stumbled into a cafe with bloodshot eyes, begging for caffeine. If cafes had IV drips of caffeine, we’re sure they would order that instead. However, a red eye coffee will have to do. 

How to Make a Red Eye Coffee

Red eye coffee drinks are fairly easy to make at home.
Red eye coffee drinks are fairly easy to make at home.

Red eye coffees are incredibly easy to make, so long as you have a drip coffee pot and espresso machine on hand. 

  • Step 1: Pour a regular cup of drip coffee. The better the beans, the better the coffee. For a red eye, we suggest brewing coffee with a more subtle flavor to offset the kick of the espresso. Using a light roast will give the drink a more complex flavor, while a dark roast will bring out the caffeine’s intensity. 
  • Step 2 (optional): Add milk to your drip coffee, if you’d like. Red eyes are incredibly intense, and milk or a dairy substitute will mellow the drink out nicely. 
  • Step 3: Pour your shot of espresso directly over the drip coffee in your mug. It’s important not to pour the coffee and espresso separately, as the crema from the espresso will break after you pour it into the coffee. The type of coffee bean you use in this step doesn’t matter as much as the drip coffee, and you can use the same one if you prefer. 
  • Step 4: Enjoy responsibly! Red eyes are obviously chock full of caffeine. One is probably enough for the entire day. If you need more, be sure to check if your pulse is spiking. If it is, it’s probably time to take a break!

Red Eye Coffee Variations

Red eye coffee packs a big caffeine punch in a small cup!
Red eye coffee packs a big caffeine punch in a small cup!


There are a few variations on the original red eye recipe that have developed a reputation in their own right. Some people learn of a red eye coffee and think, “That’s too much caffeine! Who can drink something like that?” However, others wonder, “Yeah, that’s good. But how can we make it stronger?” These are the drinks those people came up with. 

If you’re looking for an even bigger caffeine punch to the brain, keep the following red eye coffee variants in mind the next time you’re ordering your morning brew:

  • Black Eye: Black coffee with a double shot of espresso poured over the top. Sometimes considered to be a coffee with milk and a double shot of espresso on top. The espresso sits in the milk and forms a “black eye”. 
  • Dead Eye: Black coffee with a triple shot of espresso poured over the top. This red eye variant is not for the faint of heart, mostly because you might faint after having this much caffeine in one go.
  • Cafe Tobio: Equal parts black coffee and espresso. Think rocket fuel but even more intense.  
  • Green Eye: Green tea with a shot of espresso poured over the top. This one might sound a bit wacky, but trust us when we say it is surprisingly delicious. How else can you get your daily dose of antioxidants and caffeine in a single drink? 

How Much Caffeine Is in a Red Eye?

A red eye combines two caffeinated drinks into one.
A red eye combines two caffeinated drinks into one.

Since a red eye combines two caffeinated drinks into one, it’s understandable to wonder how much caffeine is actually in one. The answer might surprise you. 

Let’s start with a cup of coffee. An eight-ounce regular cup of coffee contains around 95 mg of caffeine. Then, a one-ounce shot of espresso contains about 63 mg of caffeine. Combined, a red eye has a caffeine content of 158 mg. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended maximum daily dose of caffeine for an adult is around 400 mg. That means that a single red eye is around one-third of your daily maximum intake. Be careful how many you drink, especially if you prefer black eyes or dead eyes!

Can I Order a Red Eye at My Local Cafe?

Most local coffee shops will know how to whip up a red eye.
Most local coffee shops will know how to whip up a red eye.

Whether it’s Starbucks or a mom-and-pop artisanal coffee shop, we’re sure that the baristas can whip you up a red eye coffee. If you’re on the East Coast, simply ask for a red eye and the barista should know what you want. 

However, some places call the drink by a different name. For example, in Northern California, they call it a Train Wreck, while in other areas they might call it a Hammerhead. No matter what they call it, just ask for a black coffee with a shot of espresso on top and you should be good to go!

Brewing A Red Eye Coffee at Home

Brewing a red eye at home is relatively easy, especially if you have the right brewers.

Waking up to the aroma of espresso is the perfect way to start the day. Espresso is a key ingredient in making a red eye. If you are considering an espresso machine and are taken aback by the high prices, do not worry. You can still find an excellent espresso machine on a budget, so you can enjoy a red eye any time day or night.

Our top pick for affordable espresso machine is the Essenza Mini, for additional recommendations be sure to check out our article on best cheap espresso machines.

Try Out a Red Eye Coffee Today!

If you need an extra boost to get through whatever activities you have planned for today, consider brewing up a red eye! They’re super easy to make and the perfect way to power through a full day of work or play. Having a party with friends? Brew up a big batch of red eye in a pitcher and pass them out! The options are endless!

Wishing you a high energy, caffeinated cheers!

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