Learn how to make Irish Coffee with this easy, step-by-step recipe … it’s the perfect treat for holidays (like St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas), as an after dinner drink, or for a festive breakfast!
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Have you ever had a traditional Irish Coffee?
I used to live in San Francisco, and every once in a while, my husband and I would take the cable car down to The Buena Vista Cafe. We’d order an Irish Coffee (or two), then walk along the Bay or take the ferry to Sausalito.
It was the perfect way to spend a relaxing day!
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, I thought it would be fun to share this classic coffee and whiskey drink with you. There’s no need to relegate this festive drink just to St. Paddy’s day though, because it’s great year round.
Coffee and whiskey is a traditional drink that’s guaranteed to start your day off with a bang!
The cocktail is the perfect combination of hot and cold flavors, and the whiskey adds a potent kick. It’s actually kind of bracing, and despite its look, not too sweet.
This coffee cocktail is so beloved, that there’s even a holiday dedicated to it. You can celebrate National Irish Coffee Day on January 25, if you feel so inclined!
History of Irish Coffee
This classic coffee whiskey drink has an interesting history.
The Buena Vista in San Francisco is often considered the birthplace of Irish Coffee. Did you know that it was actually created in 1943 by Joe Sheridan, the chef at a restaurant in Ireland’s Foynes Airport though? Hoping to warm up passengers stranded at the airport, he served the travelers hot coffee with whiskey and topped it off with cream.
But the drink really took off when Stanton Delaplane, a reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, tried Sheridan’s concoction at Foynes Airport. After returning home, he and Jack Koeppler (owner of The Buena Vista) perfected the Irish Coffee recipe … and the rest is history!
If you ever visit San Francisco, a stop at The Buena Vista is a must. You’ll love the warm atmosphere and the old school waiters almost as much as the drinks!
Irish Coffee Ingredients
Now that you know a little about this coffee drink’s history, let’s talk about what’s in an Irish Coffee:
- Coffee – I recommend using a medium roast coffee … anything too dark or bitter will overpower your drink.
- Sugar – This recipe calls for sugar cubes (it’s what they use at The Buena Vista), however you can substitute 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, if you prefer. Use all granulated sugar, or use a combination of granulated and brown sugar, which will add a deeper flavor.
- Irish Whiskey – I used Jameson for this recipe … see below for more ideas.
- Heavy Cream – The whipped heavy cream is what makes this drink special (that and all the whiskey!), so don’t skip it. It’s unsweetened though, so don’t substitute the canned stuff.
You will also need a mug. I definitely recommend investing in Irish Coffee mugs … they are so fun and festive! These are the glasses used at The Buena Vista, but glass mugs like the ones I chose work perfectly, too. Just make sure to use something clear that will show off the layers of coffee and cream.
What’s the best whiskey for Irish Coffee?
I used Jameson for these Irish Coffees, but feel free to use your favorite Irish whiskey. Personally, I wouldn’t use anything super expensive, since you’re mixing it with other ingredients anyway.
If you want to make your coffee and whiskey just like The Buena Vista does, then you’ll want to choose Tullamore Dew whiskey.
Baileys Irish Cream can also be used. To make an Irish Cream Coffee, use half whiskey and half Baileys. Or replace all the whiskey in this recipe with 100% Baileys to make a Baileys Irish Coffee.
How to Make Irish Coffee
Now that you know what goes in this fun drink, and a little bit of the history behind it, let’s make one! It’s super easy.
It’s worth mentioning here that I didn’t include exact proportions for the ingredients in the recipe card (except for the whiskey). The amount of coffee and cream you need will vary depending on the size of your glass anyway.
Start by adding a generous amount of cream to a small bowl, then whip it until thick. I whipped mine by hand, but a mixer can be used. You want the cream to be very thick, but still pourable … go for a very soft peak, and you should be good.
Although this drink looks like a confection, it’s really not that sweet. So there’s no need to add sugar to the cream.
Start your coffee brewing, then fill your mugs with hot water. Let the water sit in the glasses for about two minutes or so.
The hot water will warm up the glasses, ensuring that your coffee whiskey drink stays hot.
Water from the tap is fine for this (it doesn’t have to be boiling), as long as it’s quite hot.
After two minutes, dump out the water (no need to dry the mugs). Then, add two sugar cubes (or two teaspoons sugar) to each mug.
Fill the mugs 3/4 full with hot coffee. Stir until the sugar is melted.
Again, this isn’t a very sweet cocktail. If you think you might like a sweeter drink, taste the coffee and add more sugar, if you prefer.
Whiskey comes next! Stir in 1 1/2-ounces of the good stuff.
You’re almost done!
That beautiful, creamy collar of whipped cream is the finishing touch.
Adding the whipped cream to the whiskey and coffee is the only semi-tricky part of this drink. But I’ve got a simple hack that will make it easier for you.
First of all, make sure the whipped cream is really thick. Then, grab a spoon.
Slowly pour the cream over the back of the spoon into the coffee.
If you take your time, the cream should magically float on top the coffee. Trust me though, it’s going to taste amazing, whether your results are as perfect as mine or not!
Doesn’t that Irish Coffee look inviting and delicious?
The first sip is always my favorite. I love the contrast between the cold cream and the hot coffee. And then the whiskey hits you! Ha … not a bad way to start the day!
The recipe below is for one drink, but Irish Coffee is quick to make for a crowd, too. In fact, that’s the way they do it at The Buena Vista!
Simple line up your glasses in a row and make the drinks assembly line style. Easy peasy!
Whether you’re serving a crowd or sharing it with a friend, this easy Irish Coffee recipe is one you need to have in your back pocket for any occasion!
- heavy cream
- 2 sugar cubes
- hot coffee
- 1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
- Place a generous amount of heavy cream in a medium bowl. Whip using a whisk (or mixer) until very thick, but still pourable.
- Fill a glass mug with hot water. Let sit for a couple minutes to warm mug.
- Discard water, then add sugar cubes to mug.
- Fill mug 3/4 full with coffee. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Add whiskey to coffee.
- Top off mug with heavy cream while pouring it gently over the back of a spoon. Reserve any leftover cream for other drinks.
- Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Loved this Coffee and Whiskey drink?
If you enjoyed this coffee cocktail, give these recipes a try, too!
And while we’re talking drinks, you can check out all my cocktail recipes here.
Have you ever had an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista Cafe?