For coffee fans or anyone keeping an eye on the ready-to-drink (RTD) category, there’s plenty of excitement percolating in the hard coffee space. In the 52 weeks ending July 18, 2020, sales of boozy java spiked an incredible 11,000 percent.
Admittedly, there’s a long way to go before hard coffee makes the same kind of waves other “hard” beverages have in recent years, with the category worth just under $20 million last summer. Still, there’s much cause for celebration if you enjoy convenience, caffeine, and alcohol.
The growing range of hard coffees adds a new dimension to the single-serve, RTD beverage category. But not all boozy coffees are created equal. Some arrive rich, creamy, and sweet; others are perfectly placed for those who drink cold brew dark, on ice, and year-round; and some blur the lines between spiked coffee and canned cocktails. With alcohol levels ranging from 4.5 percent ABV to 14 percent, there’s something for everyone.
Ready to find out what all the buzz is about? Here are seven of the best RTD hard coffees, tasted and ranked.
7. RumChata Cold Brew FrappaChata
The first of a few coffee-cocktail hybrids to make the list, FrappaChata stands out for not being packaged in single-serve form. As hard coffees go, it’s delightfully decadent. The texture recalls lightly whipped cream, while the palate serves equal doses of rum, vodka, and coffee. Though lacking the portability of its canned competitors, this hard coffee makes up for it with its versatility. Serve over ice, blend with ice, or use as a cocktail mixer — the choice is yours.
6. Cutwater White Russian
To all of those who’ve wondered what the Dude’s favorite cocktail would taste like in canned form, the wait is over. Cutwater’s canned White Russian is more cocktail hybrid than full-on hard coffee (it actually doesn’t contain caffeine), but it offers a wonderful RTD option for when you want something more luscious than a canned Marg or Mojito. Along with the cocktail’s signature vodka, coffee, and cream notes (it’s made with coffee cream liqueur), this White Russian delivers a delectable kiss of milk chocolate.
5. Newground Hard Nitro Cafe Latte
Cracking open Newground’s Cafe Latte releases a deep, inviting fizz, signaling that its nitro widget is busy creating silky, pillowy foam. The effects are best observed when poured in a glass, but the velvety texture can still be appreciated when sipped directly from the can. This malt-beverage-based spiked latte captures the very essence of creamy dairy and freshly brewed coffee, with just a hint of booze arriving on its finish.
4. BOMANI Cold Buzz Alcohol-Infused Cold Brew Coffee
Of all the canned hard coffees available, BOMANI’s Cold Buzz does the best job of emulating the bright, fruity notes of the cold brew served in third-wave coffee shops. The palate skews surprisingly more toasty than its citrusy nose leads you to expect, while its finish and overall profile are bone dry — a notable outlier in this category. At 110 calories per 12- ounce serving, this is as close as hard coffee comes to “better for you” beverages like hard seltzer on the nutritional front.
3. Kahlúa Espresso Style Martini
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the best-known brands for coffee-flavored booze offers one of the finest hard coffees going. This canned Espresso Martini is another option that benefits from a Guinness-style nitro widget, delivering picture-perfect foam, roasted Arabica coffee notes, and generous sweetness. Kahlúa says each 200-milliliter can should serve two, though we doubt anyone who tries it will be willing to share.
2. Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee
PBR’s hard coffee is dangerously easy to drink. With the texture of a rich milkshake, each sip serves chocolate milk and vanilla, followed by a pleasant undercurrent of coffee. The profile is a fine exhibition of balance, with the sweet and creamy notes hitting at just the right pitch, and alcohol that’s so well incorporated, you’ll forget this coffee is spiked.
1. Rebel Hard Coffee Mocha Latte
It’s hard to pick a favorite from Rebel Hard Coffee’s impressive lineup, which includes Hard Cold Brew and Vanilla Hard Latte, but the Mocha Hard Latte is likely the most crowd-pleasing. Like many other RTD hard coffees, this drink offers creamy richness, a strong coffee core, and the perfect level of sweetness. But it stands out from the pack with its depth and complexity: The cacao notes are pleasantly bitter, as if a wedge of dark chocolate has been freshly grated on top. The coffee character exhibits layers of bitterness, toast, and vanilla. There’s even a whiff of fresh cream on the nose. This is everything you seek from a fine latte, canned and with a splash of undetectable alcohol.