What Is a Red Eye Coffee? Red Eye vs Black Eye vs Dead Eye?

Clint Doerfler
Clint Doerfler
Updated: June 29, 2022
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With so much confusion surrounding these coffee drinks, it’s time to give a proper definition to these three commonly confused terms.

So what is a red eye coffee? Perhaps we should first explain why these even came about in the first place.

As with most things, our bodies become acclimated to caffeine over time, so while a couple of cups of coffee might be a jolt to a newbie, it might put some of us to sleep.

So, what’s one to do? Some might say to just keep making more trips to the coffee maker.

But, what if we said you could fashion a potent cocktail by adding some espresso to your regular cup of coffee?
“A red eye coffee, black eye coffee, and dead eye coffee simply refer to how many shots of espresso are added to a regular cup of brewed coffee. Referencing the order above, you would add one shot, two shots, or three shots of espresso, respectively.”
Read on to find out more about the caffeine content in each and how you can craft your own version at home.

The Origin Behind the “Red Eye” Coffee Drink…

The origin behind a red eye coffee drink
So why do people call it “red eye”, anyway? The most common usage of the term “red eye” refers to long-haul flights, in which a flight departs at night and isn’t scheduled to arrive until the next morning.

The term “red eye” comes from having red eyes, a symptom of fatigue. The passengers of these flights aren’t expected to get much sleep, so a red eye coffee acts as the ultimate pick-me-up for those who are suffering from complete exhaustion.

This drink is also sometimes referred to as the “Third Rail” or the “Atomic Blast”.

We’ll explore red eye coffee and the other two versions of these drinks below in further detail. We’ll cover caffeine content as well as how to best create these energy monsters.

What Is a Red Eye Coffee?

Start With Regular Coffee, Then Add a Shot of Espresso

A red eye coffee is a very basic beverage.

It’s just regular brewed coffee with an added shot of espresso and can be served either hot or cold (iced red eye coffee). The drink gets its extra caffeine kick and flavor from the additional shot of espresso that’s added to it.

To make a red eye coffee, simply pour fresh coffee into a pre-heated mug, then pull a shot of espresso directly into it. Done!

What Is a Black Eye Coffee?

"Better Make It a Double (Shot)."

A black eye coffee, similar to a red eye coffee, is made with two shots of espresso rather than one.

Now you may be wondering where that name came from.

It’s been dubbed a “black eye” coffee because of the appearance of a dark-colored ring in the cup after the two shots of espresso are poured in.

What Is a Dead Eye Coffee?

"Oh, Won't You Gimme Three Shots..."

So, since a red eye coffee and a black eye coffee contain one and two shots of espresso, you can probably guess how many a “dead eye” coffee contains.

Yup…three shots of espresso. Now don’t go having a panic attack.

Considering the amount of caffeine in it, it’s no wonder they call it a “dead eye” coffee—that might be how you end up after drinking it.

Only kidding, of course. You can handle it, right?
Guy after drinking a dead eye

Green Eye Coffee?

Starbucks also refers to the “dead eye” as a “green eye” coffee. Maybe because it doesn’t sound so macabre and it also mentions a color in their brand. How convenient.

A Starbucks dead eye is also sometimes referred to as a “triple red eye”.

Now you know what red eye coffee, black eye coffee, and dead eye coffee are. Keep reading to find out how much caffeine is in each of these “jacked-up” drinks.

How Much Caffeine Is in a Red Eye Coffee vs. Black Eye Coffee vs. Dead Eye Coffee?

Made by combining two caffeine-rich beverages in one, it’s no surprise these drinks offer a powerful pick-me-up.

But how much caffeine is in each?

Well, let’s start with the fundamentals.

Eight ounces (roughly 240 ml) of regular brewed drip coffee contains about 96 milligrams of caffeine on average, according to the USDA. (Source)

One ounce (about 30ml) of espresso, on the other hand, contains roughly 64 milligrams of caffeine per shot, also according to the USDA. (Source)

When you combine the two, you get a very mighty cup of coffee that provides the following levels of caffeine:
  • Red Eye coffee: 96mg + 64mg = 160mg of caffeine
  • Black Eye coffee: 96mg + (64mg x 2) = 224mg of caffeine
  • Dead Eye coffee: 96mg + (64mg x 3) = 288mg of caffeine
If that’s not enough to perk your ears up, I don’t know what will.

If you’re unsatisfied with those totals, you can always add more caffeine by using stronger varieties of coffee.

However, keep in mind that the daily intake of caffeine consumption should not exceed 400 milligrams. This amount of caffeine has been determined to be safe for a healthy adult. (Source)

Just remember, if you start to feel very anxious, nervous, or restless, it might be time to take it down a notch. (Source)

How Can I Make a Red Eye Coffee at Home?

Now that we know the difference of each “eye”, let’s get down to how you can craft these up at home.

Red Eye

For a red eye coffee, you want to mix your favorite brewed coffee with one freshly brewed espresso shot.

Make your regular drip coffee the way you normally would—using your favorite coffee maker, pour-over device (like the Hario v60 or Chemex), French press, etc.

Whatever you like. This is your world.
This is your world
The good news is, even if you don’t own an espresso machine, you can still make a red eye, black eye, or “green” eye at home.

Both the AeroPress and Moka pot make a pretty “convincing” espresso that can be substituted for the real thing.

Once you’ve got that espresso shot made, just pour it right into your mug of regular drip coffee.

If you do happen to own an espresso machine, brew a single shot of espresso directly into your cup of regular coffee.

Black Eye

Not the black eye we're referring to
Not quite the “black eye” we’re referring to
Follow the same instructions above, except use two shots of espresso instead of just one.

Dead Eye (Green Eye) (Triple Red Eye)

Same thing, but using three shots of espresso this time. After you drink that, maybe you can organize a couple of junk drawers or something.

What Does a Red Eye Coffee Taste Like?

What does a red eye coffee taste like? And what about a black eye or a dead eye coffee?

The answer is all three have distinct tastes of one another based on the number of espresso shots in each.

Other factors play a huge role in the taste as well—coffee roast level, the origin of the bean, grind size, extraction time, etc.

There are, however, some common characteristics of each.

A red eye tastes like strong drip coffee with a punch of espresso (not sure how else to explain it). You can definitely taste the espresso, though.

A black eye is more of the same, but it has an even stronger taste, as you probably guessed.

And a dead eye? It’s the heaviest on the caffeine kick and taste (not to mention that name).

A darker roasted coffee brings out more of a bitter and smoky taste, where a lighter roast might taste more fruity and floral.

Most coffee houses use a medium roast coffee to make their Red Eye, Black Eye, and Dead Eye Coffees. This balances out the flavors when the drip coffee is mixed with the espresso shots.

Adding an espresso shot to your cup of drip coffee will boost the caffeine level and intensify all the flavors.

Red Eye, Black Eye, and Dead Eye Coffees can be overpowering for some, so it’s not uncommon for many to add sugar (or honey), milk, and/or creamer when drinking one of these strange brews.

Is It Possible To Get the Red Eye, Black Eye, and Dead Eye Coffees at Starbucks?

Yes, you can buy these caffeine-packed coffees at Starbucks if you don’t want to make them yourself.

However, the barista may not have ever heard of them before. If they don’t understand what you’re ordering, you can always order it like a coffee with one or multiple added espresso shots.

You can also order the Green Eye, which is the same as the Dead Eye coffee. That should give you enough juice to power through just about any boring task!

Wrapping Up

So, if you waited until the last minute to write that essay paper, or perhaps you’d like to make good time driving cross-country, there’s an “eye” coffee for you!

If you made your own “improvised” version at home, we’d love to hear about it!

Share the details as to how you pulled it off—brew methods (AeroPress, Moka pot, French press, espresso), what kind of beans, grind size, extraction time, etc.

We’re always interested to hear about innovative experiences.

To being bright-“eyed” and bushy-tailed...
Clint Doerfler
From a very young "growth-stunting" age, Clint Doerfler has had a deep-rooted love for coffee. As a result, he founded Coffee Gear Gurus® to share his passion for incredible home brewed coffee with others. When he's not watching true crime shows with family or playing music, he's devoted to helping fellow coffee feins make amazing coffee at home - regardless of their experience.
This article was last updated: June 29, 2022

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