They might not grow any coffee in Ireland, but we still have the Irish to thank for one of the world’s most perfect coffee drinks: Irish coffee.
What makes this coffee drink so perfect? There’s nothing it can’t do: It’ll perk you up, calm you down, warm you to your bones, and give you something complex yet comfortable to sink into, flavor-wise. An excellent Irish coffee can be a fantastic end to a meal or a relaxing drink to sip on while swapping tall tales with good friends. In this post, we’ll talk about what makes an authentic Irish coffee, share a bit of its history, and offer both a classic Irish coffee recipe and an iced version.
What is Irish Coffee?
Traditional Irish coffee is a hot drink made with stronger coffee, sugar, Irish whiskey, and gently whipped cream. Balancing the sweetness of the sugar with the fiery kick of the alcohol is key; rich, black coffee supports the flavors, and the cool, perfectly textured cream creates the drink’s iconic mouthfeel.
Irish whiskey is a key ingredient, and it probably goes without saying that the best whiskey makes the best Irish coffee (Your mileage may vary when it comes to “the best” here: as with any other flavor experience, you’ll want to find out what you prefer. Irish whiskey runs the gamut of flavor profiles, from peaty and smoky to fruity or floral, all along the spectrum of sweet and bitter).
Single malt Irish whiskey is usually triple-distilled and made solely from unmalted barley (American whiskey is often made from rye, wheat, or corn). Potstill Irish whiskeys combine malted and unmalted barley with other cereal grains (e.g., wheat, corn). Irish grain or “single grain” whiskeys are actually made with a blend of cereal grains. Blended Irish whiskeys are the result of combining two different types of the whiskeys mentioned above, such as single malt and grain whiskey. While there’s no “perfect” whiskey type for Irish coffee, we do like to stay true to the spirits that the island has to offer.
Some variations of the drink include Irish cream liqueurs, such as Baileys Irish Cream, in place of or in addition to the whipped cream, but coffee-lovers may prefer the more coffee-forward flavor that the original recipe calls for.
History of Irish Coffee
Yes, the Irish are known more for being tea drinkers than coffee drinkers, but that didn’t stop Irishman Joe Sheridan from inventing this legendary drink at his restaurant in the Foynes Airbase in the 1940s. During World War II, Foynes became a significant civilian airport, as well as a central terminal for flying boats or seaplanes. Passengers were often treated to western Ireland’s less-than-hospitable winter weather, and Chef Sheridan sought to offer travel-weary guests a bit of respite.
Realizing that many of his customers were American, and, therefore, probably coffee drinkers, he combined a favorite Irish drink with a favored American one, pouring a shot of whiskey into strong, sweetened hot coffee topped with whipped cream. The story goes that one of his satisfied customers asked, “Is this Brazilian coffee?” to which Sheridan replied, “It’s Irish coffee.”
After several years slinging the blarney beverage in Ireland, Sheridan moved to San Francisco to begin working at the Buena Vista Café, which is credited with popularizing Irish coffee within the United States.
How to Make The Perfect Irish Coffee
Purists may insist that Irish coffee can only be served hot, but we at Trade, think it can be a lovely drink served chilled on the rocks, as well.
Hot Irish Coffee Recipe
- 1 tsp packed brown sugar
- 8 oz strong, hot coffee
- 1 ½ Irish whiskey
- Gently whipped heavy cream (don’t even think about the canned stuff)
In a mug or Irish coffee glass, dissolve the brown sugar in the hot coffee. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, gently stir in the whiskey with a spoon. Turn the spoon over so that the bottom of its bowl is facing upward and its tip is nearly touching the surface of the coffee, then gently pour the cream over the back of the spoon to fill the mug or glass. This helps the cream float on the top of the coffee rather than sink in. Serve or drink immediately.
Iced Irish Coffee Recipe
- ½ oz brown sugar simple syrup
- 8 oz iced coffee or cold brew diluted to taste (on the strong side)
- 1 ½ oz Irish whiskey
- Gently whipped heavy cream
In a small mixing bowl or separate glass, combine the coffee and simple syrup until well mixed. Add the whiskey, stir, and then pour the liquid into an ice-filled glass, leaving about ½ an inch of room at the top. Turn the spoon over so that the bottom of its bowl is facing upward and its tip is nearly touching the surface of the coffee, then gently pour the cream over the back of the spoon to fill the mug or glass. This helps the cream float on the top of the coffee rather than sink in. Serve or drink immediately; it’s preferable to sip this directly from the glass rather than use a straw to enjoy the balance of flavors.
Fresh whipped cream is the finishing touch and should be treated with the same respect as the whiskey and the coffee. When whipping the cream, remember not to make it too stiff in texture: you want it to be pourable into the glass mug.
You can also make Irish coffee using an Americano as your base: Simply dilute your espresso to a level that is still somewhat strong, so the flavor cuts through the sugar, alcohol, and cream. This also applies to making an iced American–based Irish coffee.
Choose your coffee (subscription) wisely: You’ll want a somewhat strong-tasting coffee base, better suited to beans and roasts that tend toward nutty, chocolatey, or toasty flavors. For example, a lighter, brighter Washed Ethiopian might disappear under the other flavors. A sprinkle of cinnamon or fresh nutmeg isn’t exactly traditional, but it sure is nice.
The fun doesn’t stop at Irish Coffee! Interested in learning how to make Cuban coffee? Here at Trade, we not only have you covered with these related recipes, but also with the best coffee to make from the comfort of your own home. All that’s left to do is find your perfect coffee match.