Cointreau vs. Triple Sec: The Similarities & Differences

Find out what makes Cointreau and triple sec similar and different, plus when to use each of them in your cocktails.

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Do you love making drinks with a little orange flavor added to them? If so, you’re probably no stranger to seeing triple sec and Cointreau in drink recipes. But how do you know which one to use? Are they interchangeable?

Find out in this post what Cointreau is, what triple sec, and if they are one in the same. We’ll also go over what the main differences are between the two, and when you’ll want to use each of them.

Before you pop down the to liquor store to get ingredients for your next margarita, read this post to know whether to choose Cointreau or triple sec!

What is Cointreau?

Cointreau is a type of triple sec, an orange flavored liqueur. Cointreau is a specific brand of orange liqueur produced in Saint-Barthelemy d’Anjou, France.

It has a sweet orange flavor and is colorless. It is most often used in mixed drinks and contains between 30 and 40 percent alcohol by volume, depending on the variety used.

Cointreau is made from a neutral alcohol that has been flavored with sweet and bitter orange peels. According to the Cointreau website, orange peels are chosen based on their aromatic qualities and each crop variety shifts from year to year.

The oranges chosen are specific to the Cointreau brand, because of the unique terroir that they are grown in France. After the oranges have been selected for the liqueur, they are then peeled and dried, then infused with the alcohol, sugar, and water. The resulting liqueur is then distilled.

What is triple sec?

Triple sec is an orange flavored liqueur that is sweet and clear. It’s used in many mixed drinks, and contains about 15 to 40 percent alcohol by volume. 

Triple sec is made by infusing alcohol, generally made from beet sugar, with the peels from bitter not-quite-ripened orange peels during the maceration process. 

The orange flavor comes from the essential oils that come out while the oranges and the alcohol combine for a few days. The liqueur is then distilled, and may be completed there or more beet sugar, water, or alcohol may be added.

Are Cointreau and triple sec the same thing? 

Cointreau is a triple sec, but a triple sec is not Cointreau. Does that clear things up?

Not really? Let me explain.

A triple sec is any orange flavored liqueur, and that would include Cointreau, a brand name type of triple sec. 

What’s the difference between Cointreau and triple sec?

There are some big and small differences between Cointreau and triple sec liqueurs. Let’s go through them in detail below.


Cointreau is a specific brand that is made in France, and has a unique blend of sweet and bitter orange peels that are native to the terroir where they are grown. Cointreau can’t be replicated by another brand, because the terroir and the way they make their liqueur is unique to their company.

Because Cointreau is unique to the way they make it and ingredients that are used, it is more expensive than other triple secs you can find on the market. 

Cointreau tastes both bitter and sweet with a clean finish. This brand of orange liqueur has about 40% ABV, or alcohol by volume. 

Triple Sec

Triple sec is any clear orange flavored liqueur that includes brand name options, like Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

Triple sec is often a term that is used to describe a lower quality orange liqueur than a name brand one, because it is easier to produce since it can be done anywhere with just about any orange peels.

Since this is the case, you can find a number of triple sec brands on the liquor store shelf that are quite inexpensive and are less quality than some of the name brand orange liqueurs available.

A generic triple sec can have an orange flavor, but it is much less nuanced in complexity. It tastes like a sweet citrusy liqueur, without many variations in flavor. You can find triple secs with a range of ABV values of 15 to 30%.

When should I use Cointreau vs triple sec?

When you’re looking at a recipe, you might see it calls for triple sec or Cointreau. But should you use them interchangeably? Let’s find out.

Cointreau is a higher quality orange liqueur with a strong and smooth flavor. You’ll want to use this for any recipe that calls specifically for this ingredient.

Triple sec has less depth of flavor and is more citrusy than strong or smooth, like Cointreau. You can use this in any recipe that calls for triple sec or Cointreau, but remember that it is a lower quality option.

In the case of most recipes, you can use the two interchangeably, but you’ll get more flavor out of your drink with Cointreau. If you can afford to pay a little more, use Cointreau as a triple sec and when a drink recipe calls for it. Use triple sec when you’re on a budget and need an orange liqueur to add to your drink recipes.

Popular Cointreau and triple sec cocktails

If you love the orange flavor of Cointreau and triple sec, you’ll love one of these recipes. Try one of the most popular drinks using orange liqueur below.

  • Margarita
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Sidecar
  • Beachcomber
  • Cointreau sour
  • Kamikaze
  • Mimosa
  • Mai Tai


In summary, Cointreau is a triple sec, but triple sec is not Cointreau. For most recipes, if you can afford it, opt for spending a bit more on Cointreau to add some strong and smooth flavor to your favorite cocktail recipes. If you’re on a budget, opt for a triple sec to get a similar yet less complex orange flavor to add to your favorite drinks.

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