How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee

How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee
The perfect Irish Coffee.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and you’ve imbibed your customary pint or three (or four or five) of Guinness and now you’re settled in at the bar, waiting for your designated driver to shuttle your tipsy self safely home. Good for you! Why not reward yourself with an Irish Coffee?

Now you may have experienced a sad, pale imitation of Irish Coffee1, be it enthroned in a place of honor at your local Irish pub, or found only far down the menu at your local bar… a cuppa joe, a jigger of whiskey, and a towering pile of whipped cream with — saints preserve us — a cherry on top. So, on second thought, maybe it’s better to wait till you’re safely returned to your own kitchen, where you can brew up an Irish Coffee that’s worth the wait.

To begin, we need to choose our whiskey.2 There’s one camp that swears by Jameson. There’s another that swears by Bushmills. Furthermore, these camps have a long history of swearing at each other.3 We are going to neatly sidestep this whole brouhaha by choosing Tullamore Dew, instead. No, not because we are diplomatic souls, but because Tullamore Dew is a better whiskey. (Whoops. There goes another argument.)

Having chosen our spirits, we can now choose our coffee. Why? Because unlike the folks behind the bar at the pub, we’re not going to use whatever mass-market, canned coffee they’ve got stewing on a hot-plate. Unlike them, we actually give a damn about the coffee. That’s why.

The flavors and aromas of Tullamore Dew are malty, somewhat sweet, with lemony notes and a hint of charred wood. I think these flavors play nicely with an Indonesian coffee, much as though the whiskey were the Central American component in a Central / Indo coffee blend. A medium-roast Sumatran coffee does the job nicely, though a darker-roasted Guatemalan coffee would do in a pinch. If you insist on Jameson for your whiskey — Jameson being a sweet, heavy-bodied whiskey — then reverse the recipe, use the Jameson as you would the Indonesian component and pair it with a mildly brisk coffee from Panama or Colombia, maybe a dark-roasted Costa Rica. And if you really, really want to use Bushmills, well… why not just have another Guinness and call it a night?

The Recipe:

The perfect Irish Coffee.

The perfect Irish Coffee.

  • One ounce Irish Whiskey
  • Five ounces fresh-brewed coffee
  • Two teaspoons light brown sugar
  • About two tablespoons heavy cream

Hardware:

  • Footed Irish Coffee glass, or whatever you’ve got that’s clear, heat-safe and holds 8 ounces.
  • Small bowl and whisk, or cocktail shaker
  • A tablespoon

The Prep Work:

Preheat your glass with hot water. Brew coffee. Pour a couple of tablespoons (per drink) of heavy cream into bowl and whisk lightly, only until the cream takes on some body. We’re not making whipped cream here, only thickening it a bit. (If you’ve got mad mixmaster skills and you’re serving a crowd you can do this with a cocktail shaker.)

Putting it all together:

Dump the hot water from your glass. Pour in one ounce of whiskey, and spoon in the brown sugar. Mix the whiskey and sugar together; they’ll warm nicely from the heat of the glass. Add fresh-brewed coffee to within an inch of the top of the glass. Pour slightly thickened cream over the back of a tablespoon to rest, gently, in a layer on top of the coffee. A tip: don’t skip the sugar, even if you’re not generally inclined to take a sweetened cup. The presence of the sugar helps to float the cream on top. Besides, it tastes wicked good.

Don’t stir! Much of the pleasure of this drink comes from the contrast of the hot, sweet, spirited coffee through the cooler layer of cream floated on top. If any of your guests should stir their Irish Coffee, a wicked penalty is simply to not make them another, no matter how much they beg.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!


Notes and Links

  1. There’s a bit of an historical kerfuffle over where Irish Coffee first landed in the United States. The Buena Vista Cafe, at the foot of the Powell & Hyde Street cable car line in San Francisco makes a good claim. So does Tom Bergin’s Tavern in Los Angeles. The original mixmaster, however, was Joseph Sheridan, chef at the seaport of Foynes, in County Limerick, Ireland. Foynes served as the port of call for flying boat service in the 1930s, and Joe took to welcoming chilled and weary airline passengers with hot coffee spiked with a slug of Irish Whiskey. We can well imagine this made Joe a popular guy.
  2. Let’s get this straight first off… Irish Whiskey is indeed spelled with an ‘e’. It’s the Scotch counterpart that’s lost its latter vowel… presumably wandering somewhere in the heathered highlands, even still.
  3. Bushmill’s is distilled in Protestant Northern Ireland, Jameson’s in the Catholic south. Order the wrong whiskey in the wrong pub and you’re likely to find yourself shown the door, at a minimum.

14 Comments

  1. Nice recipe – we’ll link to it since we don’t really have a better one!

    But on those footnotes, I’m not sure how the folks in SF and LA expect the rest of us to believe that the Irish landed in the East in the late 1840s, spent a few years there, then began heading West to search for gold and work but never thought of mixing coffee and booze until they landed in California. No self-respecting Irishman would buy that malarkey.

    Reply
  2. Sounds to me like just the thing. I have a small crowd for dinner and this might be the perfect happy ending.

    One thing — I have a bottle of Redbreast pot still whiskey. How will that do? And what coffee would you match with it?

    Reply
  3. Hi, Rich!

    Firstly, congrats on your win in the ‘Spro throwdown. I bet you never saw that coming. ;)

    Secondly, as one who’s got at least one Irish ancestor who emigrated to these United States circa 1790, I share your belief that it wouldn’t have taken another half century to mix booze and coffee. Given my ancestry, I’d be surprised if it took more than half an hour. ;)

    Reply
  4. Payton:

    If you’re in the habit of serving Redbreast Irish Whiskey to your friends, it’s little wonder that you’ve got a crowd on St. Pats. (I’m looking for *my* invitation, I presume it’s still in the mail.)

    That said, when it comes to a pure, pot still Irish like Redbreast, I’d forgo the coffee altogether, pour a couple of fingers in a glass and toast your great good fortune.

    Reply
  5. Not sure how I stumbled onto your blog, but glad I did! Your Irish Coffee recipe sounds delightful, but I have felt for several years that I am the Irish Coffee queen! However, these things are quite subjective.

    For me, Jameson is fine and I also add a shot of Kahlua before adding the coffee (fresh ground of course). Before pouring, I coat the rim of the brandy snifter with a fairly thick cinnamon sugar. And just to placate my insatiable sweet tooth, I use good old-fashioned whipped cream. Yep, shot straight out of the can.

    But alas, summer is coming and it’s back to Margaritaville.

    Reply
    • No self respecting Irish coffee queen would dress it up with liqueur and cinnamon – and NEVER top it off with canned cream..*shudder* Thats like those who think it makes it more Irish to put Creme de Menthe on the top.
      If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      Reply
  6. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on pairing coffee for an Irish Coffee but it sounded like gobbley gook. I really could not understand which coffee you actually preferred with Tullamore Dew>

    Reply
  7. Bushmill’s is distilled in Protestant Northern Ireland, Jameson’s in the Catholic south. Order the wrong whiskey in the wrong pub and you’re likely to find yourself shown the door, at a minimum.

    I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Bars and pubs in the Republic serve a full range of Irish whiskey selections, including both Bushmills and Jameson. So do pubs in Belfast – you can get both (and a million other kinds of whiskeys) at the Duke of York where Gerry Adams used to serve behind the bar.

    Come visit, I’ll be happy to buy you a proper Irish coffee :)

    Reply
  8. I freely admit, Sabrina, firstly that my expertise is coffee and not Irish lore, and secondly that what I *do* know of the Irish body politic is colored by years under the tutelage of Irish Catholic priests in seminary. Which means my understanding of Irish affairs in now — good grief! — some 25 years behind the times.

    And fair warning… I intend to take you up on that offer. :)

    Reply
  9. Irish? Coffee.
    Espresso pot – Italy
    Coffee – Indonesia etc
    Cream – Jersey
    Whiskey – Irish

    Taste fantastic – I am still looking for the perfect Irish Coffee just hope I don’t find it.

    Reply
  10. Probably it is “just not done,” but I use Powers Whiskey (my favorite) and flavorful enough to charge through the coffee. I use a good Columbian coffee and natural sugar. But while lighly whipping the cream, I toss a half ounce of whiskey in the cream! Adds a lovely smell to the cream to greet the nose and fortify the soul.

    Reply
  11. I live in Kenya and we produce great coffee here…..why not try it ?

    I agree with you about Tullamore Dew, but maybe a wee shame to ‘waste’ it mixed with coffee. Bottoms up, I say !!

    Reply
  12. Awesome recipe. We will try at Christmas.

    Reply

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