Red Eye Coffee VS Black Eye VS Dead Eye 

You need to stay awake. Maybe you’re starting out on a long trip. Or you need to cram for exams and crave some additional energy. Or perhaps you just can’t decide between ordering a big cup of coffee or a wake-you-up shot of espresso.

We have the solution to keep you bright-eyed and alert. And you don’t have to choose between a coffee and an espresso. You can get it all in one energizing cuppa – a red eye coffee.

different brews

What Is A Red Eye Coffee?

Red eye coffee is the best of both coffee worlds, drip coffee, and espresso. It gives you the volume of a full cup of coffee with the heady punch of espresso.

In most coffee shops, a red eye coffee is a cup of coffee finished off with one shot of espresso, or at times two shots of espresso. The truly brave can order even more espresso shots.

So if you need that extra boost of caffeine or your brew doesn’t taste strong enough, reach for a red-eye coffee. You can probably order it at your favorite coffee shop. Or take the challenge and make it at home – we give you the recipe at the end of this article.

strong brew

Red Eye Coffee Origins

Red eye coffee got its start in the United States. It was born from the desire to cope with long-haul flights.

You’ve no doubt heard of red-eye flights.

When a person has a long flight – say, from New York on the East Coast to California on the West Coast – they may catch a late-night flight. In the morning, the weary passenger stumbles out of the plane, eyes red from a sleepless night. Hence the name red-eye flights.

Back when long-haul flights were a bit less comfortable than they are now (not that we’re saying they’re comfortable now), people didn’t even attempt to get some shut-eye. Their goal was to stay awake rather than doze off in those extremely uncomfortable plane seats.

dripped coffee

To stay awake all night, though, travelers needed a strong pick-me-up. They longed for a coffee that packed enough punch to get anyone through the ordeal of a long flight. The idea of red-eye coffee was born.

Of course, a red eye coffee isn’t just for flights. It’s ideal if you’re setting out on a long road trip and you need to stay awake behind the wheel. Or you’ll be the co-pilot on a cross-country trip, and your job is to keep the driver alert. Or the dreaded exam time that we mentioned.

Red Eye Coffee Caffeine Content 

The purpose of a red-eye coffee is to provide a powerful hit of caffeine. These drinks are meant to be a jolt into an all-nighter. So we’d be disappointed if red eye coffee didn’t offer us that pick me up.

But exactly how much caffeine does a red eye coffee have? Let’s do some math and figure it out.

Keep in mind that these are approximate numbers. The caffeine content in any particular drink depends on many factors – I’ll mention a few below. What I can give you is a ballpark idea of how much you can expect from a red-eye coffee.

too much coffee

A regular 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 96 mg of caffeine. A standard shot of espresso has 64 mg of caffeine. Join them together in one drink, and you can see that a red-eye coffee will give you a whopping 160 mg of caffeine.

Are you wondering what effect that will have on your body? Well, I can’t help you in that field. Every person reacts differently. You’ll just have to try it out and see.

If you feel alert, you’ll know the caffeine has done its job.

But if you get a migraine, the jitters, rapid heart rate, or feel restless or anxious after you down your red-eye coffee, your body is sending you signals that it has reached its limit of caffeine consumption. You might want to reduce the number of red eyes (or the number of espresso shots) so that your red eye doesn’t become a lethal dead eye.

When you do the math, you’ll realize that one red eye at 160 mg of caffeine by no means packs a huge dose. The FDA generally agrees that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is safe. 

So when you do drink a red-eye coffee, stay alert for how your body reacts (which should be easy with all that coffee in you). Make any adjustments as needed.

What can alter the amount of caffeine in your red eye? Keep these three factors in mind when calculating the caffeine content and what kind of jolt you’ll get from a red eye coffee:

  • Type of coffee beanRobusta coffee beans have more caffeine than Arabica beans
  • Roast level – at times, lighter roasts will pack a bit more caffeine than dark roasts, such as a French roast. The roasting process burns off some caffeine, so a longer roasting time generally means less caffeine.
  • Serving size – ask your barista what size coffee she’s offering you. A “cup of coffee” can vary wildly and may be anywhere from 6 ounces to 16 ounces or more.

How does Red Eye coffee taste?

The flavor of this drink is a mix between the mild sweetness of a cup of coffee and the bitter strength of a shot of espresso. The particular flavor you will experience in your drinks will depend on what coffees you brewed.

  • If you use a lighter roast to brew your coffee, you’ll get more fruity acidity.
  • If you opt for a dark roast, expect a deeply sweet and smoky flavor.
  • If you use a nutty coffee, expect the nuts to shine through.

What you can count on getting is a strong cup of caffeinated muscle to get you through a long night or help you recover after a tough one.

If you like your coffee with sweetener, be prepared to add more sugar than you would for the same size cup of regular coffee. You can also add other flavorings such as cinnamon, creamers or milk, or your favorite syrup.

single shot

Train Wreck, Sludge Cup 

As you travel around the United States, you’ll want to know how to order your eye-opener. The drink goes by different names, and you’ll find regional differences all over the country.

You might hear this coffee referred to as a Hammerhead. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest (or anywhere along the West Coast), ask your barista for a “shot in the dark.” 

If you’re way up north – as in Alaska – you’ll need to ask for a “sludge cup.” Undoubtedly, the strong drink reminded coffee lovers of the region’s petroleum industry –  or an oil spill.

You can also order something called a train wreck in Cali and expect a local version of the brew.

Red Eye VS Black Eye Coffee VS Dead Eye

Red eye coffee generally has one shot of espresso. However, check out the menu carefully before you order it. Some coffee shops add extra shots of espresso but still call it a red eye.

When two shots of espresso are added to a cup of coffee, it often goes by the name of black eye coffee. Why is it called a black eye? Because two shots of espresso and a cup of coffee may be so potent it could feel like being knocked awake! 

We don’t think anyone has actually had a problem drinking a black eye coffee since a black eye coffee would still only amount to 224 mg of caffeine – just over half the caffeine content that doctors approve of in one day. So even a dead eye coffee might not be as lethal as legend has it.

brewed cuppa Joe

Want to super charge it?

Then you’ll need a dead eye. Which isn’t 1 or 2 shots of espresso, but three. Yup…You’re going to feel super buzzed after drinking a dead eye coffee!

But there’s more than just a dead eye that uses a triple shot.

If you’re in any Starbucks around the country, order their green coffee. Be aware that although it sounds eco-friendly and healthy, a Starbucks green coffee has three shots of espresso dropped into your cup of coffee! A supercharged Starbucks alternative to the traditional dead eye!

Are you searching out these mega quantities of caffeine levels to sharpen your focus, perhaps as you’re studying for something? 

Well, keep in mind that while lower caffeine levels (up to 300 mg) may help you stay alert and concentrate better, vast amounts of caffeine may actually interfere with your focus or your ability to retain what you’ve studied.

So maybe a Starbucks green coffee isn’t going to be your regular brew, but it’s something you might want to try if you’re used to the buzz. 

How To Make A Red Eye Coffee

You can make a red eye or black eye coffee at home in no time, even if you haven’t yet had your morning shot of caffeine.

You will need a drip coffee maker like a Keurig and either an espresso machine or any coffee machine that makes espresso. 

  1. Brew a cup of coffee.
  2. While you’re brewing, pull a shot of espresso (if you want to make a black eye coffee, pull two)
  3. Pour the coffee into a mug or a to-go cup and add the shots of espresso.
  4. Add the desired milk or cream.
  5. Sweeten to taste, if necessary.

Wrapping Up

Regardless if you’re settling for a red or dead eye, it’s going to be much more of a caffeine boost than your traditional cuppa.

Sure, a dead eye is really going to be pushing the boat out, but hey, if that’s what you want, we’re not judging! 

Karen Attman

Karen Attman

The Coffee Lady

Karen Attman is a published author and specialty coffee expert. Otherwise known as the coffee lady, Karen is the Latin American Coffee Academy founder and has previously written about coffee for CNN, Sprudge, and Eater.