Though triple sec and Cointreau are both orange-flavoured spirits made from distilling orange peel, they are not the same -- and a difference in price is not the only reason. Triple sec and Cointreau are used in numerous cocktails for their flavour and sweetness. Learning the differences between the two drinks is a good idea if you are unsure about which one to purchase.
Similarities and Distillation
The name "triple sec" means triple distilled and is not a brand name. Cointreau is a brand, and its distillation process has not been completely detailed by the company. This means that Cointreau could be distilled three times but isn't necessarily. Both triple sec and Cointreau are distilled from orange peels and are classed as orange-flavoured liqueurs. As a result of their similar tastes, the liqueurs can be used as substitutes for each other in many cocktails.
Triple sec is a Caribbean drink, and as a result, it uses oranges from the Caribbean in its triple distillation process. Cointreau uses orange peels from around the world in its recipe, including countries such as Brazil, Haiti and Spain. The orange peels are then dried and macerated in red copper stills to extract their oils. The variety of oranges used in Cointreau are one key difference, although both triple sec and Cointreau use a combination of sweet and bitter oranges to make their liqueur.
A key difference between the two liqueurs is the strength. Cointreau is 40 per cent alcohol, the same content as many rums and whiskeys, and different brands of triple sec are generally between 20 and 25 per cent alcohol. This difference arises from the fact that after the distillation process, triple sec is mixed with water, which greatly decreases its alcohol content. The orange peel in Cointreau is also mixed with alcohol, sugar and water, but not in the quantities required to cut the alcohol content in half.
Cointreau is much more expensive than triple sec. It is important to note that many companies make triple sec, but there is only one Cointreau. This partially explains the difference in price. One bottle of triple sec may not taste as well when compared with another, and it may be made using cheaper methods or materials. Cointreau, however, is always produced by Remy Martin. One website sells a one litre bottle of triple sec for £7.70 and a 375-ml bottle of Cointreau for £16.20, as of February 2011.