Irish Coffee is a favorite after dinner drink all over the world and consists of sweetened coffee with a shot of Irish whiskey, topped off with a layer of lightly whipped cream.
But did you ever wonder how on earth Ireland became famous for a coffee cocktail rather than a tea based tipple?
In years gone by we were a nation of tea drinkers and coffee was a special treat in many homes. The answer to the origins of Irish coffee lies in the west of Ireland, in Foynes, County Limerick.
The History of Irish Coffee:
In the 1940’s Foynes was an airbase for Flying Boats travelling between America and Europe. For many passengers, short refueling stops turned into overnight stays because of Ireland’s notoriously bad weather conditions. And so, a new restaurant was opened in Foynes to cater for these new Irish visitors.
On a stormy winter night in 1942, a flight to New York had to turn back for Foynes where the restaurant chef, Joe Sheridan was instructed to prepare something warm for their returning American guests.
And that’s when the magic happened. Joe sweetened some freshly brewed, rich coffee with brown sugar, livened it up with a dash of Irish whiskey, then crowned it with a floating layer of whipped cream.
When asked by a passenger if this drink was Brazilian coffee, Joe Sheridan proudly proclaimed it to be “Irish Coffee.” And so the famous beverage was born.
Irish Coffee was created to warm up cold Americans, and it continues to warm coffee lovers throughout the world to this very day.
Irish coffee was added to the menu at the Foynes restaurant for all to enjoy. But how did this newly invented Irish beverage gain such international acclaim?
The answer lies in the western United States, not the west of Ireland. A travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, brought the recipe back from Foynes to the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco.
The chef there had little success preventing the cool cream from sinking and making the coffee a murky brown, creamy mess.
The Buena Vista Cafe came looking for Joe Sheridan in Ireland where they found him at the newly opened Shannon Airport. Joe moved to San Francisco where he perfected the Irish Coffee and the drink gained international fame.
And the lesson of this story is that a classic Irish Coffee is not easy to make. In fact, a good Irish coffee is very hard to find. I have even heard it rebuked as an awful drink.
Now being a tea drinker myself, I am no connoisseur of this famous concoction, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a mean Irish coffee for my husband to enjoy.
I believe this famous Irish cocktail’s poor reputation can be directly linked to times when inferior quality core ingredients are used to blend this classic drink.
And so I thought today I would create a quick list of Irish coffee making tips.
Irish Coffee Making Tips:
Instant coffee is a no-no. You need a slightly bitter coffee, sweetened with a caramely brown sugar.
Cheap whiskey is another culprit for producing mediocre Irish coffees. In my opinion only a good fiery Irish whiskey will do. Paddy is a favorite in our house, but is not easily found in the United States. Jameson or Bushmills are perfect for Irish coffee making, and they also make an amazing Irish hot whiskey.
And finally the cream is often the cause of an Irish coffee fiasco. Whatever you do, please never produce one of those cans of ready whipped cream and spray it on top of your Irish coffee. Lightly whipped cream must be poured over the back of a spoon, and never squirted in spirals through a pressurized nozzle.
The goal is to create a concoction that resembles a perfectly poured pint of Guinness, the other famous Irish beverage.
But do not despair. My warnings may have frightened you from attempting to become a supreme Irish coffee maker, but rest assured my tutorial in today’s blog post will transform you into an Irish coffee making expert.
Ingredients for Irish Coffee:
- Whipping Cream
- Strong Coffee
- Brown Sugar
- Irish Whiskey
- Cocoa powder to dust (optional – not a traditional ingredient but a decorative touch.)
Pre-heat a clear glass or Irish coffee glass by pouring in some very hot water. Let it stand for a minute to heat the glass then empty out the water.
Next add 2 teaspoons of brown sugar to the heated glass.
Top up the glass to about two third’s full with freshly brewed rich coffee. You have to leave room for the whiskey and cream so don’t fill the coffee to the top of the glass. Stir the coffee well to completely dissolve the sugar.
Next comes the all important step to make this a true Irish coffee. A generous measure of Irish Whiskey is added and the brew is stirred yet again.
Now it’s time for the cream and this is the most technically difficult step in the whole process.
The fresh cream must be whipped but must still have a pouring consistency. ‘Half-whipped’ cream is the best description.
Never pour the cream directly onto the coffee. First make sure the coffee is completely still after all the stirring steps.
Take a spoon and hold it upside down over the top of the coffee. Gently pour the cream over the back of the spoon until a clearly visible white layer forms at the top of the glass.
Irish Coffee should look just like a perfectly poured pint of Guinness. Just like the head on a pint of Guinness, the top creamy layer of an Irish Coffee must float and not mingle throughout the dark coffee.
The more distinctly definite the line between coffee and cream, the more perfect the Irish coffee.
Feel free to dust the top of the Irish coffee with a little cocoa powder if you wish, but this is an added extra, deviating a little from the original Joe Sheridan creation.
You can also use a stem glass if you wish.
Printable Recipe for Irish Coffee:
Here’s the printable recipe if you would like to add this to your cooking or cocktail files.
- 2 cups black coffee
- 4 teaspoons brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons whiskey
- ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder optional for decorating
- Brew the black coffee.
- Pre-heat two heat proof clear glasses or Irish coffee glasses by pouring in some very hot water. Let them stand for a minute to heat the glasses, then discard the water.
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of brown sugar to the bottom of each glass.
- Pour coffee into each glass until about ¾ full.
- Add a shot of whiskey to each glass.
- Whip the cream with a balloon whisk or electric mixer until thick but still pourable.
- Pour the cream over the back of a spoon onto the top of each coffee. The cream should form a floating layer.
- Decorated the top with a dusting of cocoa powder if desired. Serve immediately while hot.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
But be fair warned, when my Irish coffee lesson is learned and practiced your Irish and not so Irish neighbors may become frequent visitors in search of the perfect nightcap.
And as you shoot the breeze, chatting over warm Irish coffees, you can impress your guests by throwing in a few Irish coffee quotations into your conversation.
Here are some of my favorites.
“Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass
all four essential food groups:
alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.”
~ Alex Levine
“Put some whiskey in my coffee,
Because it’s Ireland somewhere.”
~ Author Unknown
“I like my men like I like my coffee,
Hot, strong and Irish.”
~ Author Unknown
Wishing you all the best of luck making Irish coffees this year. I hope your cream floats to the top as you pour it over the back of a spoon.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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