What is a Red Eye Coffee?

What Is a Red Eye?

That’s a pretty good question. If this were a beer blog we’d be telling you about the classic “Red Eye” or “Tomato Beer.” If you aren’t totally up on all things red, a Red Eye is simply a glass of beer with some tomato juice and a pinch of salt. Apparently it’s a pretty cheap and easy hangover cure but don’t take our word for it as all we talk about here is coffee.

Red Eye Tomato

So, what is a Red Eye Coffee?

It’s actually pretty simple to make and is somewhat comparable to the “Red Eye Beer” in execution. A “Red Eye Coffee” combines one shot of espresso with normal drip coffee. Depending on what part of the country you live in and the coffee making tools at your disposal, you may find a regional variation. We’ll go over some of those in a paragraph or two but for now, let’s focus on the deal behind the red eye.

Red eye coffee

The History of The Red Eye

You’ve heard of it. You’ve probably even taken one or two of them. We’re talking about the dreaded ‘red eye’ flight. Thanks to the fine people who regulate the friendly skies, there are a number of flights that depart in the evening and land at their destination the following morning. These have been referred to as ‘red eyes’ for as long as major airlines have been booking them. The actual ‘red eye’ term comes from a somewhat more logical place than that. The term is a reference to the symptom one may develop from the fatigue that may result from late night flying.

red eye flight

Thanks to modern medicine – Visine gets the red out – and airline companies discovering that frequent flyers were happier upon landing after being able to sleep on a long flight, the term “red eye” is not used as often as it once was. Unless you are drinking beer or coffee.

Where were we? Oh, right. Red Eye Coffee.

red eye coffee

There are a number of variations on the theme and the most common happen to come from the amount of espresso that is added. For example:

A “Black Eye”, involving two shots of espresso added to coffee, got its name from the appearance of a black circle that shows up in your coffee cup when the shot of espresso is poured on top of the coffee that has already had cream added to it. 

A “Dead Eye”, involving three shots of espresso added to coffee, comes from the additional shots of espresso that are added to the cup of coffee. In other words, the supposed high concentration of caffeine will start to shut your primary organs down rendering dead. For us, multiple shots of espresso in a cup of coffee just gets us warmed up and ready to take on the rest of the day we didn’t fully sleep off.

dead eye coffee

The Variations On Red Eye Coffee Name

The Red Eye has a different name and sometimes a different spin added to it depending on the region you are in. The following list will help you to Google Maps your way to your favorite drink.


As a probable nod to the state’s huge petroleum industry, you will be ordering a “Sludge Cup.”

Pacific Northwest

Keeping it simple, a single shot of espresso in a cup of coffee is called a “Shot In The Dark.

Whitemoor Mine (wherever that is)

The drink is called a Wellard Coffee, a reference to the dog in Eastenders and that in order to be able stomach this drink you had to be tough.

Northern California

In parts of Northern California – probably the parts untouched by wildfires – the drink is known by the colorful and scary name of “Train Wreck.”

US Northeastern Coast

Don’t expect us to explain this one. In these parts you’ll be ordering a Mondo.

Ulysses, Kansas

If you happen to find yourself passing through this location, be sure to ask for an “Oil Spill.”

Various Places

Some places know the “Red Eye” as simply the Hammerhead.

The Caffeine Equation

The “Red Eye” contains a hefty amount of it. But think about this for a moment, if you are cramming all night for tomorrow’s exam or just want to be alert during the all-night party going on in the house next door, a “Red Eye” is going to make your heart skip at least one beat and sear your senses to the point where blinking may not be an option. Well, for some people, anyway. It really depends on the tolerance your body has for caffeine.

So here’s the breakdown for you for a Red Eye, Black Eye, and Dead Eye:

One Regular Cup of Coffee of 8 ounces (95 mg of caffeine)

+ One Shot of Espresso (64 mg of caffeine)

= 159 mg of caffeine = Red Eye

+ A Second Shot of Espresso (64 mg of caffeine)

= 223 mg of caffeine = Black Eye

+ A Third Shot of Espresso (64 mg of caffeine)

= 287 mg of caffeine = Dead Eye

What have we learned here?

You can’t ace that exam on coffee alone. You need the added blast of espresso to get you jittery and to frazzle your nerves. Combine your average cup of coffee with three shots of espresso a la “Dead Eye” style and you’ll be consuming 287 mg of caffeine. Sounds like a great science experiment to us.

Did Someone Mention A Green Eye?

Leave it up to the masterminds at Starbucks to come up with something they have named the “Starbucks Green Eye.” All it is – and we got this from their ‘super secret’ recipe book – is three shots of espresso in a regular cup of coffee.

starbucks green eye

Extra Caffeine = Extra Fun?

Coffee is a stimulant. Enough of it will give your central nervous system the workout of its life. Once the caffeine gets to your brain, it basically opens all the doors for business. You’ll be alert. If drinking a Dead Eye, make that crazy alert.  However, too much of a good thing can be harmful as a tad too much caffeine can cause you to suffer from anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, addiction, high blood pressure, increased heart rate and fatigue. 

Well, everything in moderation and you’ll be golden. We’re just comforted by the knowledge that if a couple of cups of coffee doesn’t launch us into the day we can always stop by the local coffee shop for a red, black or green eye, a cup o’ sludge, a train wreck, oil spill or a shot in the dark. Whatever you choose to call it, coffee and espresso make the kind of drink that will put a skip in your step, light up your mind and help you to ace that exam.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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