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Irish Coffee Recipe

Kick start your day (or keep a long day going) with a classic Irish Coffee. Surprisingly easy to craft at home, the boozy caffeinated beverage will wake you up (or keep you up) and make you happy after just a few sips.

Irish Coffee Next to Coffee Beans

Don’t be fooled by Irish Coffee.

Despite its innocent name and frothy topping, a classic Irish Coffee packs a devilish wallop thanks to its double whammy of freshly brewed coffee and potent Irish whiskey.

In other words, drink your Irish Coffees with care. The combo of caffeine and alcohol can make you sensible and senseless at the same time.

What Is Irish Coffee?

Irish Coffee in Glass with Black Background
You don’t have to fly to Ireland to drink an Irish Coffee. We crafted this one at home.

An Irish Coffe is a caffeinated cocktail that’s crafted with Irish whiskey, hot coffee and brown sugar. It’s then topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. If you think this combination sounds decadent, you are correct.

However, don’t assume that it’s challenging to craft an Irish Coffee at home. Although its creamy top layer looks difficult to achieve, our Irish Coffee recipe is entirely doable for novice mixologists who may or not also be lazy mixologists.

In other words, if we can craft an Irish Coffee so can you!

History of the Irish Coffee Cocktail

Belfast Coffee at Bar 1661 in Dublin
We drank this Irish Coffee in Dublin. It was delish.

Although Irish Coffee garnered much of its fame as the signature drink at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe and as a popular St. Patrick’s Day tipple, the original Irish coffee traces back to Ireland. Shannon, Ireland to be exact.

Legend has it that Joe Sheridan, the head chef at the Foynes Airbase (now Shannon Airport), invented Ireland’s most famous cocktail in the 1940s. The origin of the name is related to the shot or two of Irish whiskey he added to each coffee cocktail.

As the legend goes, travel writer Stanton Delaplane introduced the Irish Coffee to the Bay Area bar after he became besotted with the boozy beverage in Shannon. It was only a matter of time until the drink’s inventor jumped the pond and joined the party. Yes, Sheridan eventually moved to San Francisco and crafted Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista Cafe to a steady stream of Irish Coffee fans.

Fun Fact
Mindi drank her very first Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe on a frigid San Francisco summer day.

Irish Coffee Ingredients

Irish Whiskey Ingredients and Tools
The ingredients for an Irish Coffee include Irish whiskey, coffee, brown sugar and heavy cream. Some recipes add grated nutmeg or chocolate shavings as garnish.

Although the Irish Coffee tastes like it has a slew of ingredients, its ingredient count is both short and sweet. In fact, you probably already the following ingredients at home:

  • Irish Whiskey
  • Coffee
  • Brown Sugar
  • Heavy Cream
  • Grated Nutmeg (optional garnish)
  • Chocolate Shavings (optional garnish)

Don’t worry if you’re missing an ingredient or two. They all should be available at your local shops.

Irish Whiskey

Bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey
Jameson Irish Whiskey is a key (some would say primary) ingredient in Irish Coffee.

We craft Irish Coffees with Jameson Irish Whiskey for a couple reasons…

First, the popular Irish whiskey is readily available in Lisbon. Since Jameson is the most popular Irish whiskey, it’s should be easy to find in your corner of the world as well. Second, and more important, the triple-distilled whiskey tastes great in this and other cocktail recipes.

Buy a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey from Drizly or Total Wine if you live in the US.

Book a tour and tasting at Jameson’s original distillery in Dublin if you want to learn more about this ‘grain to glass’ whiskey produced with both malted and unmalted barley, French maize and Irish water.

Coffee

White SMEG Coffee Maker
We use this SMEG automatic coffee machine to brew coffee at home.

Coffee is an important Irish Coffee ingredient – it’s in the drink’s name after all. Accordingly, using quality coffee in any Irish Coffee recipe is a must.

We brew coffee for our Irish Coffee recipe using the same single-origin coffee beans that we use to brew our morning joe. Right now, our beans are from Brazil. Other times, we source locally roasted beans from countries like Kenya and Peru.

While people typically brew these type of beans with a Haribo V60 or Chemex, we use an automatic coffee machine. But not just any automatic coffee machine. We recently splurged and bought a stylish SMEG with no regrets. In addition to its retro Italian design, the SMEG’s parts are dishwasher safe, insuring a clean brew of coffee every time without muss or fuss.

You can purchase a SMEG automatic coffee maker from Amazon. However, be aware that SMEG’s are luxury items in the US. If you have the budget, we say go for it.

How To Craft an Irish Coffee

Crafted Irish Coffee with Ingredients
Crafting an Irish Coffee is easy once you assemble the necessary ingredients and bar tools.

We had assumed that crafting an Irish Coffee would be difficult. It’s not except for one step – whipping the cream to a light batter-like consistency. After attempting this step with a whisk, we pulled out our immersion hand blender for the win.

These are all of the tools we used to craft Irish Coffees:

Don’t worry if you don’t have any or all of these tools. You can improvise if you don’t already own them. This is especially the case in regards to the automatic coffee maker and immersion hand blender. However, you’ll want to use an Irish Coffee glass for maximum visual and flavor impact.

Discover 10 necessary bar tools for lazy mixologists.

Pouring Boiling Water for Irish Coffee Recipe
Pouring boiling water is a quick hack to heat coffee mugs and, in this case, Irish Coffee glasses.

Once you’re ready to craft an Irish Coffee at home, the first step is to heat your Irish Coffee glass. This step insures that your coffee will stay hot while you sip it.

The most efficient technique is to pour boiling water into the glass and let it sit for a minute or two before discarding the water into the sink.

Fun Fact
We often use this same technique to warm our coffee mugs in the morning.

Measuring Brown Sugar for Irish Coffee Recipe
Brown sugar is an important ingredient in both chocolate chip cookies and Irish Coffee cocktails.

Once your glass is warm, measure two teaspoons of brown sugar and dump them into the glass.

Pro Tip
You can use granulated white sugar instead of brown sugar in a pinch. However, we prefer the rich, deep molasses flavor that brown sugar adds to the cocktail.

Pouring Coffee for Irish Coffee Recipe
We add six ounces of coffee to our Irish Coffee recipe but you can add more or less based on the size of your glass.

Pour freshly brewed hot coffee into the glass.

Pro Tip
If your coffee isn’t hot, you can give it a quick 30 to 40 second warm-up in the microwave.

Pouring Irish Whiskey for Irish Coffee Recipe
We add two ounces of Irish whiskey to our Irish Coffee. We won’t judge you if you modify the amount.

Measure Irish whiskey and pour it into the glass.

Warning
Our recipe calls for a healthy amount of Irish whiskey. After all, it’s a boozy beverage.

Spoon in Irish Coffee
Mixing the Irish Coffee ingredients is when the magic happens.

Mix the brown sugar, hot coffee and Irish whiskey until the sugar dissolves. This step should take about 10 seconds.

Pouring Cream into Irish Coffee
Adding a top layer of cream is like putting a cherry on top of a sundae.

The final step is the most challenging and is the one that may take a bit of practice.

True Confession
We got lucky on our first try and then failed the next two times. In other words, you may want to practice floating a layer of cream on top of the coffee mixture before you craft Irish Coffees for guests.

Our best advice is to blend heavy cream with a hand blender until it achieves a batter-like consistency. This will help the cream to float atop the coffee. A lot of recipes call for lightly whipped cream which didn’t work for us.

Once we pulled out the hand blender, getting the batter-like blend was a piece of cake (pun intended).

Floating Cream on Irish Coffee
Floating the cream is the final step unless you want to add grated nutmeg or chocolate shavings as garnish.

Floating the cream sounds difficult but it’s actually easy.

Instead of pouring it directly into the glass, pour the batter-like cream onto the back of your mixing spoon. The metal utensil will act as a buffer, dispersing the cream so that it forms a layer instead of sinking to the bottom of the glass.

Pro Tip
Do NOT stir the cream. Instead, sip your boozy beverage through the creamy layer for maximum satisfaction and possible cream moustache.

Irish Coffee Variations

Frozen Irish coffee at Mollys at the Market in New Orleans
We drank this frozen Irish Coffee in New Orleans.

Irish Coffee may be a classic but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Replace one of the Irish whiskey shots with a shot of Baileys Irish Cream or Jameson Cold Brew to craft a more decadent Irish Coffee.
  • Replace the Irish whiskey with bourbon to craft a Kentucky Coffee.
  • Add ice to change your Irish Coffee from a winter warmer to a summer sipper.

Irish Coffee FAQs

What is Irish Coffee?

Irish Coffee is a caffeinated cocktail that’s crafted with Irish whiskey, hot coffee and brown sugar. It’s then topped with a thick layer of whipped cream.

What are the ingredients in an Irish Coffee?

Irish Whiskey, Coffee, Brown Sugar, Heavy Cream, Grated Nutmeg (optional garnish) and Chocolate Shavings (optional garnish)

What’s the best whiskey to use in an Irish Coffee?

Using Irish whiskey is a must when crafting an Irish Coffee. We like to use Jameson Irish Whiskey but you can use your favorite bottle.

Is the Irish Coffee shaken or stirred?

Irish Coffee is stirred, not shaken. The key is to stir the caffeinated cocktail before topping it with whipped cream.

What type of glass is best for an Irish Coffee?

An Irish Coffee Mug is best for serving an Irish Coffee.

What’s the difference between Coffee and Irish Coffee?

Coffee is an ingredient in Irish Coffee. The other ingredients are Irish whiskey, brown sugar and whipped cream.

Is Irish Coffee actually Irish?

Yes. Since Irish Coffee was invented in Ireland, it is indeed Irish. But this heritage doesn’t stop the caffeinated cocktail from being popular around the world.

Irish Coffee Recipe

Irish Coffee with White Background

Irish Coffee

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Both boozy and caffeinated, this Irish Coffee pairs well with brunch. It's also ideal to sip on a cold winter afternoon.

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces coffee, freshly brewed and hot
  • 2 ounces Irish whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • heavy cream, whipped to a light batter-like consistency

Instructions

    1. Place brown sugar into a heated Irish coffee glass.
    2. Pour hot coffee and Irish whiskey into the same glass.
    3. Stir until sugar dissolves.
    4. Top with freshly whipped cream. You'll want to use a floating technique where you pour the cream onto the back of a spoon.
    5. Do not stir or you'll lose the top layer of cream.

Notes

The easiest way to heat the glass it to temporarily fill it with boiling water. We use an electric tea kettle for maximum boiling efficiency.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Original Publication Date: January 7, 2022

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