Crème de Cacao 101: Everything You Need to Know

Chocolate lovers will adore Crème de Cacao, the chocolate liqueur that brings the tempting taste of chocolate to cocktails and desserts. If you have a bottle stashed in your liquor cabinet, keep reading to find out what it is and what to make with it.

A bottle of creme de cacao filled about halfway with caramel colored liquid sits beside a bottle of white creme de cacao filled three-quarters of the way with clear liquid

What is Crème de Cacao?

Meaning “chocolate cream” in French, crème de cacao is a sweet and syrupy liqueur with chocolate flavor.

Chocolate was first brought to Europe in the 1600s in the form of cacao beans from Mexico and South America.

According to Tales of the Cocktail, the first documented chocolate alcohol came from French monks. European monasteries experimented with making tonics and wormwood wines for medicinal purposes. One of these spirits was likely similar to today’s crème de cacao.

Today, it is readily available in both a chocolate brown color and a clear version, known as white crème de cacao, with the same sweet taste.

This chocolate spirit saw a boost in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s during a chocolate craze when a surge of dessert cocktails, like the smooth chocolate martini and the Brandy Alexander, took center stage.

Not only does it work in chocolate drinks, but it pairs well with other flavors like coffee liqueur and crème de menthe. Try it in a Grasshopper drink for a truly delicious mint chocolate flavor or with Galliano in the Golden Cadillac. Both are classic cocktails!

Another popular one is the 20th Century cocktail, which combines gin, lemon juice, Lillet Blanc and the white chocolate version.

A batch of roasted cocoa beans.

How it’s made

Spirits with chocolate flavor have a long history and have been made a number of ways.

Chocolate wine made with sherry, port, chocolate and sugar was popular in 18th-century New England

Early 19th-century recipes featured infusing whole cocoa beans with grain alcohol. Now, cacao is often distilled and then macerated in more cacao and infused with whole vanilla beans for aroma. The white version is made with clear chocolate extract or by infusing cocoa butter.

Homemade crème de cacao can also be made at home by infusing alcohol with cacao nibs. Other versions include adding chocolate extract, vanilla extract, vodka and simple syrup. For homemade white crème de cacao, the alcohol is infused with raw cocoa butter.

Creamy chocolate liqueur is another variation made by combining melted chocolate and milk or cream. This homemade white chocolate liqueur and this creamy chocolate liqueur are great examples. They are opaque in appearance, whereas crème de cacao is transparent.

A half-full bottle of arrow brand creme de cacao sits on a white marble surface

Dark crème de cacao brands

The dark variety of chocolate liqueur is best suited for cocktails where the desired color of the cocktail is brown.

Here are some of the top brands that should be readily available at your local liquor store:

  • Arrow Crème de Cacao Dark
  • Giffard Crème de Cacao (Brown)
  • Mr. Boston Crème de Cacao
  • Bols Crème de Cacao Brown
Bottle of Arrow creme de cacao liqueur filled with clear liquid on white marble surface

White crème de cacao brands

The clear version, AKA white crème de cacao, is preferred for drinks where you need a chocolatey flavor but the color matters, such as in the beautiful mint green Grasshopper. The dark brown variety would change the color of the drink and not in a good way!

  • Arrow Crème de Cacao White
  • Giffard Crème de Cacao (White)
  • DeKuyper White Crème de Cacao
  • McGuinness Crème de Cacao White Liqueur

How to drink it

There are lots of ways to drink this wonderful chocolate spirit, from delicious cocktails to desserts:

  • Sip it straight. Crème de cacao is meant to be enjoyed as a digestif (for after dinner) rather than as an apéritif (before dinner).
  • On the rocks. Pour it over crushed ice for a tasty sipper that your taste buds will love.
  • Use it in mixed drinks. It’s especially great in sweet drinks.
  • Mix it into shots. Sometimes it is used in shooter recipes like the Jellyfish shot. (However, there’s no chocolate liqueur in chocolate cake shots.)
  • Add it to coffee drinks. Feel free to stir it into hot coffee or a latte for a boozy mocha treat.
  • Pour it over desserts. You can also pour this chocolate-flavored liqueur over ice cream or in boozy desserts.
A gold rimmed, stemless glass on a gold coaster contains a creamy cocktail, the sides drizzled with chocolate. Lady Finger pastries garnish the drink

What to mix with chocolate liqueur

Whether you like dreaming up your own cocktail creations or making the classics, chocolate liqueurs have many complementing spirits. Here are a few drinks with cocoa flavor to try:

Coffee liqueur: Add crème de cacao to a coffee drink like a White Russian or an espresso martini instead of vodka — or simply stir it into coffee — to give it a mocha taste.

Mint liqueur: Fans of chocolate mint will love this combo. Mix it with crème de menthe, peppermint schnapps or peppermint vodka for a fresh flavor.

Whiskey: Chocolate and whiskey are a perfect pairing. Try this intensely flavored liqueur in a chocolatey Irish whiskey cocktail.

Peanut butter whiskey: Mix it in your favorite peanut butter drinks to give them the flavor of a Reese’s Cup.

Vanilla vodka: Vanilla and chocolate are a classic combo. Try these two together for a delicious cocktail.

Dairy: Chocolate and milk go hand in hand. You can use heavy cream, half-and-half, milk or even vanilla ice cream with this chocolate spirit.

Two grasshopper drinks on a marble countertop and garnished with chocolate shavings and chocolate cookie sticks.

Best crème de cacao substitute

If you don’t have this chocolate spirit on hand or can’t find it, no sweat! Here are some substitutes to try in your chocolate cocktail.

Substitute for the dark version

You can use a chocolate liqueur like Godiva. Some chocolate liqueurs are creamy, so keep that in mind if it would affect the appearance or flavor of your cocktail.

Irish cream liqueur like Baileys also contains a hint of chocolate, so it could work as a substitute too.

You could also use a coffee liqueur like Kahlua. It will have more of a dark espresso flavor but in most cases it will be fine!

In a pinch, you could make a poor man’s version by shaking up some chocolate syrup and vodka.

Substitute for the white/clear version

White chocolate liqueur like Godiva would work in lieu of the white version in most cocktails. But keep in mind that chocolate liqueurs are creamy and could affect the appearance or flavor of your cocktail.

If you need something clear, vanilla vodka would work as an easy substitute.

Closeup of a chocolate old-fashioned cocktail in a rocks glass with chocolate rim and chocolate out of focus in the background


What is the difference between crème de cacao and chocolate liqueur?

While both are sweet chocolate spirits, the crème de cacao and chocolate liqueur have some differences. Chocolate liqueur is thick and creamy. Crème de cacao, on the other hand, is transparent and comes in a dark brown version and a clear version known as “white” crème de cacao.

Is crème de cacao the same as Kahlua?

No, crème de cacao is a chocolate liqueur and Kahlua is a coffee liqueur. However, dark crème de cacao can be substituted for coffee liqueur in a pinch.

Is crème de cacao the same as Godiva liqueur?

No. While they both have chocolate flavors, Godiva liqueur contains cream. Crème de cacao does not. For the best experience, don’t substitute one for the other unless it won’t affect the color, taste or texture of your cocktail.

Chocolate dessert cocktail recipes

Grab your cocktail shaker and try one of these dessert drinks. Hope you discover some new favorite recipes!

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