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Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: Five Differences & Cocktail Ideas for Each

Cosmopolitan cocktail. Cosmo, or a cosmopolitan, a cocktail made with vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and freshly squeezed sweetened lime juice. Classic American cocktail.

Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: Five Differences & Cocktail Ideas for Each

Cocktail aficionados love Cointreau and Triple Sec because of their versatility in both mixed drinks and recipes. However, key differences separate these orange-flavored liqueurs. Let us examine Cointreau vs. Triple Sec to explore their differences and discover their best uses in cocktails.

Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: How Are They Different?

Cointreau vs Triple Sec

Cointreau and Triple Sec differ in their origins, ingredients, and quality. Whereas Triple Sec is a catchall term for any orange liqueur, Cointreau is a specific premium brand with a higher alcohol content.

In fact, Cointreau is a type of Triple Sec; however, it is not the same as Triple Sec. Confused? Basically, Cointreau uses natural orange peels for a refined taste, while Triple Sec has artificial ingredients and flavors.

With that brief overview, let us take a deeper look at the key differences between the two liqueurs.

Sidecar Cocktail in a Martini glass with an orange peel on a dark background. Ingredients: Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice, sugar and ice. Shaker and lemon in the background. Sugar on the rim
While Cointreau is a type of Triple Sec, it is not the same as Triple Sec.

©Micaela Fiorellini/Shutterstock.com


Cointreau Triple Sec was made by Adolphe and Edouard-Jean Cointreau in France in the mid-1800s. Their family recipe for the liqueur, which remains a secret, sells an estimated thirteen million bottles every year.

On the other hand, Triple Sec originated in the Caribbean. The inspiration for Triple Sec is believed to have come from Curacao, a popular Caribbean liqueur. The name supposedly refers to the triple distillation process the liqueur undergoes during production.


While Triple Sec is made in different ways depending on the brand, its name actually refers to the production process. To make Triple Sec, the orange peels are dried and distilled three times, and this process is referred to by the name “Sec,” which means “dry” in French. This production process is standard despite the number of producers today. Additionally, many Triple Sec brands add artificial flavors to the liqueur.

As previously mentioned, Cointreau’s exact recipe is a family secret. The combination of sweet and bitter orange peels is a known ingredient in the making of Cointreau, even though its exact recipe remains a mystery. Supposedly, Spanish and Brazilian oranges make up Cointreau. It is unclear if Cointreau undergoes a distillation process due to the recipe being a secret.

Flavor Profile

Depending on the brand, Triple Sec has a fairly neutral citrus flavor. Whereas, Cointreau has a more complicated and balanced flavor due to its natural ingredients. Moreover, its more complex flavor makes it a favorite in a wide range of cocktail drinks. Yet, some drinkers opt for the uncomplicated orange taste of Triple Sec, particularly in less complex cocktails that require a milder citrus flavor.

Orange margarita cocktail with tequila, triple sec, orange juice, crushed ice and some salt on the rim of a glass, decorated with a slice of orange
Some drinkers prefer the more straightforward orange flavor of Triple Sec.

©Impact Photography/Shutterstock.com

Alcohol Content

Cointreau has a higher alcohol content (ABV) than Triple Sec. Cointreau's alcohol content is around 40% on average, while Triple Sec averages between 15-20%. Moreover, Cointreau’s ABV puts it closer to alcohol like gin and vodka. It is also important to remember that Triple Sec’s ABV varies depending on the brand.


While there are many Triple Sec brands, there is only one brand of Cointreau. Here is a list of some of the best and most popular brands of Triple Sec.

  • Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
  • Grand Marnier Orange Liqueur
  • Rhum Clement Créole Shrubb
  • Bols Triple Sec 30 Proof
  • Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec Liqueur

The prices for Triple Sec range anywhere from eight dollars to over forty dollars.

Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: Which One Should I Use?

For many people, the choice comes down to price. Cointreau is usually more expensive than Triple Sec. Additionally, its higher alcohol content might make Triple Sec a better choice. However, you'll get more flavor in your drink with Cointreau, which is why it is a popular choice for mixed drinks like margaritas and cosmos. If you're on a tighter budget, Triple Sec has a wide range of brands that still offer great flavors.

Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: Cocktail Recipes

Both Cointreau and Triple Sec are normally light and colorless in appearance. Some brands of Triple Sec, like Grand Marnier, have a brandy or cognac base that make it appear darker. If your cocktail recipe does not have a preference for Cointreau or Triple Sec (sometimes they will simply say “orange liqueur”), consider whether you are making a light or dark cocktail.

When making a gin or vodka-based cocktail, Cointreau and light Triple Sec brands should be fine. If mixing with brandy, Grand Marnier, or another darker Triple Sec brand might pair better. Also, brandy or cognac based Triple Secs can be enjoyed on their own, which is not the case with Cointreau or lighter brands of Triple Sec.

Margaritas, sours, highballs, martinis, and blended drinks all work well with Cointreau and Triple Sec. Here are a few recipes to consider.

Homemade Mai Tai Cocktail with Pineapple Cherry and Rum
Triple Sec or Cointreau make excellent Mai Tai cocktails.

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

In Summary

Infographic comparing Cointreau and triple sec.
Both drinks have an orange flavor.
  • Cointreau refers to a specific premium brand, while triple sec is a catchall term for orange liqueur.
  • Natural orange peels are always used in Cointreau, while triple sec often has artificial ingredients.
  • The exact recipe used in Cointreau is a well-kept family secret, while the manufacturing process of triple sec is known.

While both are delicious orange-liqueurs, Cointreau and Triple Sec have distinct differences. Triple Sec has many brands and varieties while Cointreau is made by one company with a secret family recipe. Cointreau's more natural and complex flavor makes it a popular premium brand of Triple Sec. However, Triple Sec is extremely versatile and typically less expensive. Cocktail lovers enjoy both liqueurs in a wide variety of drinks. Some Triple Sec brands, those made with brandy and cognac, can even be enjoyed on their own. The choice between them largely depends on personal taste preferences and how much you want to spend.

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Orange margarita cocktail with tequila, triple sec, orange juice, crushed ice and some salt on the rim of a glass, decorated with a slice of orange

Orange Margarita with Cointreau

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  • Author: MomsWhoThink.com


Units Scale
  • 2 oz Tequila
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz fresh orange juice
  • Ice cubes
  • Orange wedge and salt or sugar for garnish


  1. Run a lime wedge around the rim of a glass and dip it in salt or sugar to coat the edge.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and orange juice.
  3. Add ice to the shaker and shake well until the mixture is well-chilled.
  4. Strain the liquid into the prepared glass filled with ice.
  5. Add a lime or orange wedge as garnish.
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