How to Make Irish Coffee (A Simple Recipe)
Irish coffee is a great way to celebrate a holiday, or even just to end a long day… when it’s made well, that is. When it isn’t, it can become a cup of overly sweet, insultingly tacky crud.
The truth is, knowing how to make Irish coffee well can be tricky. You want a recipe that doesn’t end up ruining the stuff, right? We get it. Here’s our pick that maximizes the delectable aspects of this sweet-yet-strong drink, while still respecting the coffee that forms its essence.
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- 4 oz freshly brewed coffee
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1½ oz Irish Whiskey high quality
- 1–2 oz lightly whipped cream
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
AT A GLANCE
A few notes:
- Unsweetened cream is best, as the drink is already very sweet. You’ll want the whipped cream to complement, not compete with, the rest of the drink.
- While some recipes suggest espresso, regular brewed coffee is the way to go here.
- Get your ingredients ready beforehand and time your coffee brewing to have it as hot as possible.
- Preheat your vessel by filling it with hot water to help keep the coffee warm as you assemble the drink. (#4 on our list of ways to keep your coffee hot).
- Choose a stylish glass vessel. Believe it or not, using a traditional Irish coffee glass or clear Irish coffee mugs will affect the taste.
- Don’t skimp on the whiskey – use a top-quality brand such as Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.
How to make Irish coffee?
Classic and timeless – craved by many, but mastered by few. This is a simple yet authentic Irish coffee recipe that will pick you up and throw you down at the same time.
1. Brew strong coffee
You can make regular drip coffee, French press or espresso. As long as your brew is intensely flavored, you’re on the right path.
2. Add sugar
Combine the brown sugar and coffee in your cup.
3. Stir vigorously
Stir until completely dissolved.
4. Add Whiskey
Add the Irish whiskey and stir thoroughly.
5. Whip the cream
Lightly whip the cream.
6. Add the cream
Pour the cream over the back of the spoon very carefully.
7. Decorate (Optional)
Add a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg to garnish.
A Brief History of Irish Coffee
Irish coffee was brought to the United States in the early 1950s (1), where it was recreated at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco at the request of travel writer Stanton Delaplane.
However, while its popularity exploded from there, the beverage was not actually invented in San Francisco. Its creation dates back to nearly a decade earlier. In 1943 (or 1942 according to some sources), Joe Sheridan first invented the cocktail at his coffee shop in an airport in Limerick, Ireland. He was asked to whip up something to refresh a group of passengers who had returned after a flight had failed to reach New York due to some nasty winter weather.
When asked if the coffee was Brazilian, he replied that it wasn’t. It was “Irish coffee,”and the name stuck. You can get more on that story in Felicity Cloake’s article (2).
What’s In An Irish Coffee?
The Coffee – While you can use espresso, it’s a powerful addition to what is already a strongly-flavored drink. We recommend a batch of regular brewed coffee.
“Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat.”
The Sweetener– which is essential here, whether you’re a fan of sweet coffee or not. It’s not only for the flavor, though – it actually helps keep the cream floating on top! Some recipes use straight white sugar while others use brown sugar, molasses, or a combination of sweeteners.
The Whiskey – The star of this drink, Irish whiskey, is what really ties it together! Make sure you get the good stuff or you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot before you even start. PRO TIP: We recommend using Jameson whiskey (3).
The Cream – Irish coffee without cream is like peanut butter without jelly. However, the kind of cream used can vary dramatically from one recipe to the next. PRO TIP: If the cream is too stiff, pour a little liquid cream into it and fold gently – it floats like a dream and drinks like velvet.
The thing that does not vary, however, is the challenge of getting it to float (4).
For a perfect floating cream garnish, the Buena Vista Café ages its fresh, heavy cream for several days before lightly whipping it with a milkshake blender to just pump enough air into it so it’s frothy and light, but not stiff.
In general, if the coffee is very hot, the cream has a high fat content, and the cream isn’t over-whipped, you’ll have a better chance of getting it to float and not mix in on contact!
Variations on the Original
While there is no single best version, there are quite a few variations on this popular drink. Here are a few of them!
- Baileys Recipe – This version uses Baileys Irish Cream instead of (or in addition to!) whiskey and is sweeter with a fuller body.
- Buena Vista Recipe – This version, named after the California restaurant that popularized the coffee drink, uses two sugar cubes for the sweetener and is topped with lightly whipped cream.
- Kahlua Recipe – This one is simple: Kahlua, hot coffee, and Irish Whiskey or Baileys. For an extra flavor boost, top the whipped cream with chocolate shavings, which really make the Kahlua flavor pop.
- Irish Cream Coffee – This one uses half Irish whiskey and half Baileys. It’s topped with a Maraschino cherry, adding a splash of color.
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If you’re as excited about coffee recipes as we are, head over to our recipes library here. And if it’s the boozy nature of this drink that’s getting you excited – here’s our ultimate list of coffee cocktails – right here.
Irish whiskey, brown sugar, lightly whipped cream, and of course, coffee! Simple ingredients are thoughtfully put together to create an authentic, high-quality after-dinner drink. If you tried the recipe, we’d love to hear how it went for you. And with so many variations, tell us about any other versions you’ve tried. Leave a comment below!
The best whiskey for Irish Coffee is Jameson’s whiskey (for its sweet, malty, classic Irish flavor). Other Irish whiskeys have slightly different characteristics: Bushmills Black Bush, a premium bottling from one of Ireland’s premier distilleries, uses more malt whiskey in the blend and is aged in sherry casks. As a result, it has more baking spice on the palate.
For a smoother flavor, Jim Murray, author of The Whiskey Bible, names Paddy whiskey as “one of the softest of all Ireland’s whiskeys.” (5)
To float cream on any coffee drink, make sure the coffee is hot, add sugar for a little extra viscosity, and don’t overwhip the cream. Pour it gently onto the coffee, over the back of a spoon. (That stuff in the can? Forget about it.)
Yes, it’s Irish coffee is really Irish. In 1942 or ’43, Joe Sheridan first prepared this coffee cocktail for chilled travellers to his coffee shop in the airport in Limerick, Ireland. The drink was later popularized by the Buena Vista restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, but Ireland is its birthplace. Slainte!
The most popular coffee drinks in the world include espresso, cappuccino, latte, the Kopi Luwak, Irish coffee, and more. Read our article about various coffee types here.
- History of the Irish Coffee. (2019, January 03). Retrieved from https://www.irishwhiskeymuseum.ie/news/history-of-the-irish-coffee/
- Cloake, F. (2015, March 12). How to make the perfect Irish coffee. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2015/mar/12/how-to-make-perfect-irish-coffee-st-patricks-day-recipe
- Jameson Irish Whiskey. Retrieved from https://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en-us/
- Wolfinger, E. (n.d.). Irish Coffee. Retrieved from https://punchdrink.com/recipes/irish-coffee/
- Paddy Whiskey. (2018, August 17). Retrieved From https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddy_Whiskey