The Flavor Difference Between White And Black Russian Cocktails

The notion of a beverage made with alcohol and cream may sound off-putting at first due to the ingredients' vastly contrasting flavor profiles and textures, but drinks like Irish coffee, spiked eggnog, and white Russians prove that the combination is actually a mixological miracle. If you're a fan of '90s cinema, chances are you're already familiar with the white Russian thanks to its role in the cult classic comedy "The Big Lebowski." The Coen Brothers' film gave a huge boost to the previously overlooked cocktail's popularity, so much so that these days it has eclipsed its predecessor, the black Russian.


Black Russians are believed to have been created in Belgium in 1949. They're made with just two ingredients: Vodka and coffee liqueur (traditionally with KahlĂșa, but that's not a set rule). Since the black Russian only has two components, it's technically a mixed drink, not a cocktail. A little over a decade after people first started pouring black Russians, a mystery imbiber added a little extra something to their beverage, and the white Russian was born. The two bevs provide incredibly distinct drinking experiences, but the sole difference between them is an ounce of heavy cream.

Heavy cream makes all the difference

At first glance, a black Russian looks like a glass of cold, dark, rich coffee, and that's the expectation this mixed drink delivers on. If made with high-quality ingredients, the sharp taste of vodka cuts perfectly through the deep, robust flavor of your chosen coffee liqueur. Similar to an espresso (or cold brew!) martini, a black Russian has a silky, velvety texture, without the heaviness of cream. To make it, fill a cocktail shaker with ice and two parts vodka for every one part coffee liqueur. Mix and serve over ice, preferably large cubes that won't immediately melt and water down your drink.


To transform your libation into a white Russian, add an ounce of quality heavy or full cream into your mixed drink (or even plant-based cream if you don't drink dairy), and give it a quick stir. The cream adds a richness that is totally different than that of the coffee liqueur, imbuing the cocktail with a luxurious taste and texture. Cream also adds a hint of sweetness, and rounds out the vodka's sharp edges. The resulting creamy texture is much more indulgent than that of a black Russian, and is especially appealing as a dessert drink.

When to order each drink

Each of these drink variations is no doubt delicious in its own right, but there are some factors that may prompt you to choose one over the other. People who can't function without their first cup of coffee of the day may find a new go-to bar order in the black Russian. The traditional recipe offers a pure, straightforward espresso experience for those who crave a bitter bite, and by using different coffee liqueurs and flavored vodkas, you can craft a drink that would make any bartender proud. One of the best times to enjoy a black Russian is right after dinner, as you sit back and enjoy the night.


On the other hand, white Russians are definitely better suited for those with a bit of a sweet tooth, or who don't prefer the intensity of coffee. This decadent dessert drink is delicious any time, but laid-back house parties and cozy nights in are the ideal settings to indulge in a white Russian. Between the bold sophistication of the black Russian or the white Russian's comforting sweetness, you really can't go wrong with either option. Just be sure to keep some heavy cream on hand in case you want to mix things up.