Have you ever been invited to a party or a social event and then found yourself in the embarrassing position of choosing a cocktail without any idea what to choose? You could play it safe by asking for a classic margarita or a cosmopolitan. However, what if the Cointreau has just run out, and the bartender decided to use a different triple sec? On the other hand, you know exactly what triple sec you prefer, and you have a special liking for kamikaze, made with Combier, for instance, but, sadly, the party bar only offers Cointreau. Knowing the differences between Cointreau and another triple sec would be helpful in both situations. For this reason, we have gathered together everything you need to know about these orange liqueurs: main differences, their flavours and how they are used.
What is triple sec?
Triple sec is a general category for any orange liqueur manufactured by over a dozen brands. Triple sec is a strong, sweet, and colourless orange-flavoured liqueur made from dried peels of bitter and sweet oranges and ranges in alcohol content from 15% to 40% ABV depending on the brand – Combier and Cointreau are the two best-known brands of the triple sec style of orange liqueur.
Triple sec is a drier style – 'sec' is French for dry – of orange liqueur and finds its origins in France, but the origin of the liqueur’s name is still disputed. Some attribute triple sec’s name to a French translation of ‘triple dry’. Others say triple sec references triple distillation, but it doesn’t occur in its preparation.
Both the well-known brands Combier and Cointreau proclaim to be the world’s first triple sec producer. However, according to Combier, Jean-Baptiste Combier and his wife Josephine Destre created triple sec in 1834 in Saumur. In that period, orange liqueurs grew in popularity – especially after the Dutch introduced Curaçao – and the Combiers desired to create a new version of orange-flavoured liqueur that would be crisp and clean, with orange essential oils and true to the orange fruit. To achieve this, the Combiers used bitter oranges native to Haiti and sweet Valencia oranges.
Today, Combier is a very clean orange-flavoured liqueur distilled from West Indian orange peel and French sugar beets. Combier and Cointreau are both entirely clear, 80 proof, sweet, and pure in their orange-ness.
As mentioned previously, many brands of triple sec are now widely available, including Bols Triple Sec, De Kuyper Triple Sec, Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec, and so on.
What is Cointreau?
Cointreau is a type of triple sec — strong, sweet, and colourless orange-flavoured liqueur— produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou, near Angers in Maine-et-Loire, France. Cointreau and Combier are interchangeable, and the only fundamental dissimilarity is that Combier is slightly sweeter than Cointreau, which has a tiny bitter tinge in the finish. The orange peels used in the Cointreau production come from Brazil for the bitter and France for the sweet. Cointreau is 80 proof, which means it has 40% ABV, which is quite a high level of alcohol. Most other triple sec liquors are, in fact, around 15%-25% alcohol or 30 to 50 proof.
In 1875, Édouard Cointreau invented a new distillation process to obtain a triple sec, a transparent liquid three times more concentrated in aromas and less sweet than the products available at the time. Cointreau is the first registered ‘triple sec’ brand, attested by the deposit of 20 May 1885 at the clerk's office of the Commercial Court of Angers, which can be found in the departmental archives of the West.
What does triple sec taste like?
Much depends on the brand of triple sec chosen, but a generic triple sec is generally exceptionally sweet, orange-flavoured and more syrupy than Cointreau. Combier is slightly sweeter than Cointreau.
What does Cointreau taste like?
With warm spices adding complexity and nuance, Cointreau tastes balanced between bitter and sweet. The famous orange-flavoured liqueur has a fragrant aroma and a smooth and bitter aftertaste. Some people think it makes a Margarita sweeter, but it is dry. Cointreau brings depth and freshness to the cocktail.
What is triple sec used for?
Any triple sec is an excellent Cointreau replacement for cocktails and baking in equal quantities. You can drink triple sec neat, on the rocks, or as an ingredient in any number of cocktails. You can substitute triple sec for Cointreau in drinks like cosmopolitans, margaritas, kamikazes, long island iced tea, and sidecars. In baked goods, triple sec can be used in place of Cointreau. Triple sec is also an excellent substitution for any dessert that calls for Cointreau.
Cointreau can also be used to flavour scones, fruit cakes, glazes and sweetbreads. Cointreau is most frequently used in desserts and matches well with vanilla, chocolate, orange and cranberries. It is a good addition to chocolate mousse, pot de crème, or crème anglaise.