What is Cointreau?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cointreau is a form of triple sec produced by the Rémy Cointreau distillery in France. This liqueur is usually viewed as a premium triple sec, and it may be sipped as a standalone beverage or blended into mixed drinks. Many bars stock Cointreau, and it is also available through liquor stores in many regions. If a recipe calls for this liqueur and it is not available, generic triple sec, Grand Marnier, or Curacao will make an adequate substitute. Consumers may want to be aware that this product is one of the less sweet members of the triple sec family.

Cointreau is usually used to make Cosmopolitans.
Cointreau is usually used to make Cosmopolitans.

The precise manufacturing method for Cointreau has been a closely guarded secret since the first bottle was sold in 1875. However, extrapolating from the techniques used to make other triple secs, it can be assumed that manufacture of this liqueur starts by steeping the dried peels of bitter oranges in alcohol, and then running the alcohol through a distiller. Cointreau has an alcohol content of 40%, which is unusually high for triple sec, due to the distillation process used.

Cointreau is made with bitter orange peels.
Cointreau is made with bitter orange peels.

Rémy Cointreau claims that it uses both sweet and bitter oranges in the manufacture of Cointreau, creating a liqueur which mingles the traditionally tart flavor of traditional triple sec with a more mellow sweetness from sweet oranges. The oranges used to produce it come from Brazil, Haiti, and Spain, and presumably the fruit is routinely tested to ensure that the flavor stays consistent, since consumers have come to expect a particular flavor from their Cointreau.

As with more generic triple secs, Cointreau can be used in mixed drinks like Black Bottoms and Wolverhampton Wonders, but some people view this as a waste. This high-quality liqueur makes an excellent digestif or aperitif, especially when paired with chocolatey and slightly bitter sweets like dark chocolate tortes. Cointreau also tends to be less cloying than traditional triple secs, which are often heavily sweetened to temper the bitterness of the orange.

Some people claim that Cointreau is so distinct that lumping it in with other triple secs may do it a disservice. The flavor of this liqueur is certainly very different from that of other beverages in the same family, and people who are not accustomed to using it may want to consider tasting it first to ensure that it will provide the expected flavor.

Cointreau is frequently blended into mixed drinks.
Cointreau is frequently blended into mixed drinks.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A friend introduced me to Cointreau on my birthday a few years ago, and now I just love it. It's by far my favorite drink. There's just something about the orange flavor that is unlike anything else I've had.

I'm far from a big drinker, but a little bit of Cointreau liquor on special occasions is perfect.


I know I can't possibly know the exact way that Cointreau was originally made, but I think it would be fun to try my hand at making some homemade Cointreau.

I have friends who make their own beer, and I think they would be impressed if I could pull this off.


I love that the process of making Cointreau has been such a well kept secret! Can you believe it's been that way for over 125 years?

Maybe it's silly of me, but I think it adds a bit of romance to it, knowing that it's a secret. It makes it more special.

That's why my husband and I always share a Cointreau drink on our anniversary. It's become a fun little tradition.

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