Crème de Cacao vs. Chocolate Liqueur

by Dennis Mayer | February 28th, 2013 | Ask the Bartender

choc cocktailI found an interesting recipe that called for crème de cacao.  When I went to purchase it, I was surprised to find that it was a clear liquid.  I had envisioned a tan, creamy beverage.  Upon further investigation, I saw that the beverage I had envisioned was chocolate liqueur.  I bought only the creme de cacao, as that was what my recipe needed.  I’m curious, though, what is the difference?

Good question. I can’t really answer it completely, because there are a ton of different products out there sold as chocolate-flavored liqueurs, and they’re as different as all the different chocolate bars sold.  But first, let me explain the crème de cacao.

Now, there are several classic liqueur recipes sold as “crème” liqueurs. Their names don’t mean they include any cream, but rather that they have a thick, creamy texture from all the added sugar in the liqueur. You have  crème de cacao, crème de menthe, crème de noyaux (almond flavored), crème de violette, and crème de cassis (black currant), among others, and for a long time, if bartenders wanted to add a simple base flavor to a cocktail, these crème liqueurs were the best way to do it. They still are, though these days, we wouldn’t consider these crème liqueurs to be “premium” — probably a fair point, since I doubt they are made with particularly great ingredients, but I think the actual reasoning is as much for marketing purposes as anything else. I digress.

Now, crème de cacao, specifically, comes in two different color varieties — clear, and dark. You apparently bought the clear. While there may at some point have been a difference in the recipes, at this point, in mass-produced products, the dark crème de cacao has food coloring in it. Otherwise, they’re identical.

Chocolate liqueurs can run the range from a dark, bitter, raw-cocoa flavor to a sweet milk-chocolate mixture akin to, well, chocolate milk. Kahlua and Frangelico are coffee- and hazelnut-flavored, respectively, but both can read in a cocktail as chocolate. (A “birthday cake” shot is made with two parts citrus vodka to one part Frangelico, served with a sugared lemon wedge, and tastes just like yellow cake topped with chocolate icing.) Godiva makes a good milk chocolate liqueur that we use regularly at one of the places I work. The end result when working with this stuff is usually something along the lines of a chocolate martini, which would use two parts vodka (either regular or vanilla-flavored), one part chocolate liqueur or creme de cacao (preferably the dark variety, but only because of the color), a dash of Kahlua, and a splash of Bailey’s (which you wouldn’t use if you were working with something that already had a cream or milky base, like the aforementioned Godiva milk chocolate liqueur.) One of my former places of work had a “white chocolate” martini on the menu that was nothing but Ketel One and white crème de cacao, and packed a lot of chocolate punch for a drink that was disarmingly clear.

  1. John says:

    This is a really good breakdown of both creme de cacao and chocolate liqueur. I definitely want to try the birthday cake shot. I saw it on Tipsy Bartender a while ago and it seems really good.

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