How to Make Irish Coffee: Classic Recipe and Expert Tips

Joshua Allerton
February 21, 2024

History of Irish Coffee

I've always been fascinated by the rich tapestry of history behind some of our beloved beverages, and Irish Coffee is no exception. This warm, invigorating drink blends the boldness of coffee with the smoothness of Irish whiskey, topped off with a layer of creamy goodness. But where did it all begin? Let's dive into the history of Irish Coffee, a tale as captivating as the drink itself.

The story takes us back to the 1940s, specifically to a place called Foynes, a small town in County Limerick, Ireland. Foynes was a bustling airbase, playing a pivotal role in transatlantic aviation. It was here that Joe Sheridan, a chef at the airport's restaurant, first concocted what would become known worldwide as Irish Coffee. On a particularly stormy night, a flight bound for America was forced to return. Sheridan sought to warm the weary passengers with something a little more heartening than plain coffee. He added whiskey to the coffee and topped it with cream. When asked if it was Brazilian coffee, Sheridan quipped, "No, that's Irish Coffee."

Fast forward to the 1950s, and the drink had crossed the ocean. Thanks to Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer who was served Irish Coffee by Sheridan, the beverage found a new home in San Francisco. Delaplane introduced the drink to the Buena Vista Cafe, where the recipe was perfected for American tastes. This marked the beginning of Irish Coffee's journey to international fame.

As I've delved deeper into the history of Irish Coffee, I've come to appreciate not just the drink, but the story of cultural exchange and innovation it symbolises. It's a testament to how a simple act of hospitality can evolve into a worldwide phenomenon. Now, with a deeper understanding of its origins, let's move onto the recipe itself. Trust me, it's easier than you might think to recreate this piece of history at home.

Ingredients needed

Before diving into the step-by-step process of creating Irish Coffee, it's essential to have all the necessary ingredients on hand.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Hot, freshly brewed coffee: The foundation of any good Irish Coffee. Opt for a rich and robust blend that can stand up to the whiskey.
  • Irish whiskey: The heart of the drink. Quality matters, so choose a brand that you enjoy.
  • Brown sugar: Adds a slight molasses sweetness that complements the whiskey beautifully.
  • Heavy cream: Lightly whipped until it's just thick enough to pour over the back of a spoon.

With these core ingredients ready, you're set to make an authentic Irish Coffee that warms the soul.

  1. Start by prepping your glass. Fill it with hot water to warm it up, then empty the water.
  2. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the glass.
  3. Pour in a cup of your hot, freshly brewed coffee. Stir well until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Add a generous shot (about 1.5 ounces) of Irish whiskey to the mix and give it another good stir.
  5. Finally, take your lightly whipped heavy cream and gently pour it over the back of a spoon so it floats on top of your coffee and whiskey mixture.

The beauty of Irish Coffee lies not just in its rich flavours but its simplicity. As you gather your ingredients, remember it's the care you put into each step that brings out the best in this beloved drink. Whether it's a chilly evening or a quiet morning, there's never a wrong time to indulge in this delightful blend of coffee, whiskey, sugar, and cream.

Step-by-step Instructions

Making Irish Coffee might seem like an art form, but I've broken it down into simple, straightforward steps that'll have you sipping on this comforting, boozy coffee in no time. Here's how I do it:

  1. Prep Your Glass: Start by filling your glass with hot water to preheat it. This step ensures your drink stays warm longer. After a minute or so, empty the glass.
  2. Sugar, Please: Add one to two teaspoons of brown sugar into the glass. This not only adds sweetness but also helps with the overall flavour profile of the coffee.
  3. Pour in the Coffee: Brew a strong, hot cup of coffee. Pour it over the sugar, filling the glass up to about three-quarters. Stir well until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Whiskey Time: It wouldn't be Irish Coffee without Irish whiskey. Measure out a generous shot (about 45ml) and stir it into the coffee.
  5. Top With Cream: Lightly whip some heavy cream until it's just thickened but still pourable. Then, carefully pour it over the back of a spoon so it floats on top of the coffee.

Remember, the key to perfect Irish Coffee is in the layers. By pouring the cream over the back of a spoon, you achieve that iconic look and a delightful texture contrast between the hot coffee-whiskey mix and the cool cream.

Each of these steps plays a crucial role in crafting not just any coffee, but that perfect cup of Irish Coffee. It's not just about mixing coffee with whiskey; it's about creating an experience. Enjoying an Irish Coffee made following these steps is like giving yourself a mini-retreat at home, one that's both warming and wonderfully indulgent.

Variations to try

After mastering the classic Irish Coffee, you might be curious to experiment with some twists to enhance your coffee experience. I’ve dabbled with a few variations over time, and I'm excited to share my favourites that could easily become your go-to.

The Nutty Irishman

For those who love a nutty flavour in their coffee, the Nutty Irishman is a delightful twist. Here's how I do it:

  • Preheat your glass, just like the classic version
  • Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Pour in your strong, hot coffee
  • Stir in 1 shot of Irish whiskey
  • Add 1 shot of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur for that nutty taste
  • Top with lightly whipped cream

This variation adds a subtle hazelnut flavour that complements the whiskey beautifully.

Irish Coffee with Baileys

If you're fond of cream liqueurs, substituting Irish whiskey with Baileys offers a creamier, smoother experience. Here’s my method:

  • Start by preheating your glass
  • Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Fill the glass with hot, strong coffee
  • Stir in 1 shot of Baileys Irish Cream instead of whiskey
  • Gently layer lightly whipped cream on top

Baileys adds a rich, creamy texture and sweetness that's hard to resist.

Spiced Irish Coffee

For something a bit more adventurous, adding a spice mix can bring a warm and cosy feel to your Irish Coffee. This is what I do:

  • Preheat your glass
  • Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Mix in a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg with the sugar before pouring in the coffee
  • Pour in your coffee and stir well
  • Add 1 shot of Irish whiskey
  • Top with lightly whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon

The added spices create a wonderfully aromatic and warming drink, perfect for chilly evenings.

Each variation offers a unique twist on the traditional Irish Coffee, ensuring there's a version to suit everyone's tastes. I frequently find myself alternating between these recipes, depending on my mood or the occasion. Give them a try and see which one becomes your new favourite.

Tips for making the perfect Irish Coffee

In my journey of creating the ultimate Irish Coffee, I've gathered some invaluable tips that make all the difference. Trust me, paying attention to these small details can elevate your coffee from good to truly memorable.

First off, the quality of the coffee is paramount. I always go for a strong, freshly brewed coffee. It's the foundation of your drink, so you want it to be robust and full of flavour. A French press or a pour-over method works wonders for extracting those deep, rich coffee notes we love in an Irish Coffee.

Next, let's talk about the whiskey. Traditional Irish Coffee calls for Irish whiskey, of course. The smooth, slightly sweet profile of a good Irish whiskey blends seamlessly with the coffee. I personally prefer using a whiskey that's not too peaty or overpowering; it should complement the coffee, not overwhelm it.

The sugar is more important than you might think. Brown sugar is my go-to for its molasses-like sweetness that adds depth to the drink. Dissolve it well in the hot coffee before adding the other ingredients. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Brew your strong coffee.
  2. Pour the coffee into a pre-warmed glass until it's about three-quarters full.
  3. Stir in a tablespoon of brown sugar until fully dissolved.
  4. Add a generous shot of Irish whiskey.

Whipped cream tops off this delightful concoction, but there's a trick to getting it just right. Rather than stiff peaks, aim for slightly thickened cream that gently flows over the back of a spoon. I prefer whipping it by hand for better control over its consistency.

Layering the cream correctly is the icing on the cake, or should I say, the cream on the coffee. Gently pour it over the back of a warm spoon to achieve that smooth, floating layer. If done right, you'll get that perfect sip of hot coffee followed by the cool cream.

Experimenting with the type of glass can also add to the experience. A clear, heat-resistant glass not only keeps your drink warm but also makes for a visually appealing serve, showcasing the distinct layers of the Irish Coffee.


I've taken you through the journey of crafting the perfect Irish Coffee, from the basics to some creative twists. Remember, the secret lies in the quality of your ingredients and the care you put into each step. Whether it's choosing the right whiskey or mastering the art of layering whipped cream, each detail adds to the richness of your experience. Don't shy away from experimenting with different glasses to find your perfect match. Armed with these tips and techniques, you're now ready to elevate your coffee game and impress with your Irish Coffee creations. Cheers to many warm, inviting cups that offer a taste of Ireland in every sip!

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