Irish Coffee… Isn’t that that warming coffee with a kick that’s been around forever?! Yes, but the caffeine- and alcoholic drink is very popular again and more diverse than ever: it is now available in both hot and cold versions! And did you know that besides the International Coffee Day there is also – hold on tight – an International Irish Coffee Day? That’s right, it’s celebrated on January 25.
In this article you will learn how long the high-proof drink has been around and why it was accidentally invented by the Irish. Of course, we wouldn’t be Coffee Guidebook if we didn’t have an Irish Coffee recipe ready – we even present four of them! We are presenting you two hot and, full of anticipation of the rising temperatures, two ice-cold Irish coffee variations.
We also shed light on the coffee culture of the Emerald Isle and explain why Irish coffee shops are increasingly replacing the well-known pubs.
Irish Coffee: What it is and who invented it
At the bar, an Irish coffee (Irish: caife Gaelach) is one of the so-called hot drinks and the basic recipe consists of just four ingredients: hot strong coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar or sugar syrup and whipped cream. However, you can modify the Irish coffee recipe individually – we will show you exactly how in the second chapter.
Always important when preparing Irish coffee is the right temperature and consistency of the ingredients, the right whiskey and the choice of the perfect glass for serving. That hasn’t changed since the classic was invented in Ireland!
Coffee with whiskey came about in Ireland by accident
Despite coffee being the main ingredient, Irish coffee has little in common with Irish coffee culture. Because the origins of the high-proof drink can be traced back to a completely different incident, which – not entirely untypical for Ireland – has to do with the weather!
It was 1943 when chef Joe Sheridan hired the restaurant and cafe at the airport in Foynes, a small port town in west-central Ireland. And that’s exactly where he invented the coffee drink that is world-famous today. How did this happen?
A plane with Americans that had already taken off was on its way to New York, but had to turn back due to bad weather conditions. Sheridan was then asked to prepare a drink to warm up the exhausted passengers.
Where the restaurant chef finally got the inspiration to mix coffee with Irish whiskey is not known. But the new drink always had the desired effect! When asked by a passenger if Sheridan used Brazilian coffee for his wonderful creation, he reportedly replied, almost indignantly, “No, of course it was Irish coffee!”
This is how Irish coffee became famous in the world
At the place where it was invented in Foynes, Ireland, more precisely in the Irish Coffee Lounge in the Flying Boat Museum, visitors can still try the classic based on Joe Sheridan’s original Irish Coffee recipe. However, Irish coffee only achieved worldwide fame around 10 years later, when the drink was introduced to American coffee fans in 1952 at the Café Buena Vista in San Francisco.
This happened because travel journalist Stanton Delaplane allegedly sampled Irish coffee at Foynes Airport, then copied it and imported it to America with the help of Buena Vista Café and its owner Jack Koeppler.
After nights of testing and tasting, initial difficulties in the US were resolved by finally finding the perfect whiskey and whipped cream consistency. It’s even said that as the inventor of Irish coffee, Sheridan himself was summoned to Buena Vista to help the café whip the cream on the coffee-whiskey mix. He accepted the job offered to him there and lived the rest of his life in San Francisco!
There are a few small but important things to clarify first before trying the recipes we have collected for you.
Which whiskey is good for Irish coffee?
Basically, we recommend using a good Irish whiskey – because of the tradition and because it significantly determines the aroma of Irish coffee. We tried the following whiskeys:
Jameson. A classic that is often found in standard bars and is already available for less than 20 euros. A rather mild whiskey for beginners, triple distilled and matured in oak barrels.
Kilbegan. Also cheap and average in taste. The standard whiskey is a blend of grain and malt, and sweetish-mild. From Ireland’s oldest distillery, double distilled for more flavor.
Roe & Co. Exclusive and smooth blend from Dublin with bready rye notes for every occasion. It was even awarded double gold at the World Spirits Competition 2017!
Connemara. Peated whiskey, i.e. the barley was smoked over the peat after malting. Therefore full-bodied, particularly smoky and with sweet peaty aromas. The green bottle says it all!
Writer’s Tears. Wonderful blend of flowery single malt and spicy pure pot whiskey from the oak barrel. Fruity, caramel, apple notes, light and, thanks to triple distillation, beautifully round and mild.
In general, one can say that the quality of the whiskey naturally increases with the price. And if you want to give your Irish coffee a very special touch, you can use something like the three alternatives mentioned above, which we have each used in our own Irish coffee recipe (see below).
What is the right glass for Irish coffee?
Irish coffee is often served in a glass with a handle in bars. Because similar to a Pharisee or a Fiacre – related alcoholic coffee specialties – you can drink it with one hand as well as it must have been practical for the busy Irish in the past. However, inventor Joe Sheridan’s original Irish coffee recipe was created for a stemmed glass, which you saw in the first chapter. Sheridan is said to have offered it to his boss with the words “Because it’s so pleasing to the eye”!
General tips for preparing Irish coffee
Before you go to the bar coffee kitchen to mix the Irish coffee and try out our delicious recipes, here are some useful tips:
- Use high-quality ingredients: good coffee, freshly ground and freshly brewed if possible, and good whiskey. That’s how the drink tastes!
- The right balance of all ingredients is important: coffee and whiskey should not overpower each other in terms of taste. Ideally, you should be able to taste both well!
- A mixer is not absolutely necessary for whipping cream at home, a mason jar and vigorous shaking will do the trick. Also make sure not to whip the cream completely stiff – it should be able to be poured over a spoon and float on the coffee as a topping.
- With the Cold Irish Coffees we replace the cream with creamy ice cream. It can either be added to the top of the coffee drink or mixed with the remaining ingredients in a mixer.
- Instead of cane sugar syrup, you can also use alternatives such as maple syrup or agave syrup for sweetening, which, however, have their own notes.
- If you want a spicier Irish coffee, sprinkle it with freshly grated nutmeg – an insider tip from the famous “Dead Rabbit” bar in New York!
Irish Coffee Recipes: Hot and Cold
Now we really don’t want to keep you in suspense any longer: Now that you know what needs to be considered when preparing Irish coffee, we’ll reveal our new recipes here. Two are hot, two are cold – so you can enjoy the Irish classic as a noble drink at any time of the year!
Hot Irish Coffee Recipe: The classic
When we tasted this Irish coffee variant, we noticed that the whiskey held back a bit. If you like that or want to avoid a too strong alcohol taste, this classic Irish coffee recipe is very suitable for you.
You need the following ingredients:
5 cl (= 50 ml) light Irish whiskey, e.g. Jameson
1.5 cl (= 15 ml) sugar syrup
100 ml hot coffee, e.g. espresso
30 ml cream
Mix whiskey, syrup and coffee in the preheated glass. Whip the cream lightly, pour it over your standard Irish coffee as a topping, and finally grate a pinch of nutmeg on top. Ready!
Hot Irish Coffee Recipe: The Aromatic
With this hot Irish coffee variant, the whiskey plays a bigger role and comes more to the fore. It is therefore suitable for whiskey lovers who like to experiment with aromas and prefer more special notes in their coffee.
You need the following ingredients:
5 cl (= 50 ml) aromatic whiskey, e.g. Roe & Co
1.5 cl (= 15 ml) sugar syrup, e.g. Demerara syrup made from raw cane sugar
100 ml hot coffee, e.g. long espresso
30 ml cream
Mix whiskey, syrup and coffee in the preheated glass. Whip the cream lightly, pour it over your aromatic Hot Irish Coffee as a topping and finally grate a pinch of nutmeg on top. Ready!
Cold Irish Coffee Recipe: The fruity
Yes, you read that right: Irish coffee also works as a cold version for the summer, with cold brew and delicious ice cream! The type of ice cream depends on which whiskey you use.
In this Irish Coffee recipe we use a fruity, milder whiskey with caramel notes. It also goes well with “lighter” tasting ice cream such as cream ice cream, classic vanilla ice cream, orange sorbet or caramel ice cream. We tried an even more exotic variant.
You need the following ingredients:
5 cl (= 50 ml) mild, light whiskey, e.g. Writers Tears
100ml cold brew
Some simple syrup (optional, skip it if the ice cream is sweet enough)
1 scoop of mild fruit ice cream
Mix whiskey, cold brew and optionally the sugar syrup in the frosted glass. Finally, top your fruity-mild Cold Irish Coffee with a scoop of ice cream and serve it with a spoon and straw. A little tip: Straws made of glass or metal are reusable and protect the environment!
Cold Irish Coffee Recipe: The full-bodied one
This cool Irish coffee also uses cold brew, but a much stronger and darker whiskey. Such varieties taste fuller, breadier, spicier and a little peaty. They like classic vanilla ice cream, but they also go well with stronger flavors as opponents, such as walnut, hazelnut or chocolate.
You need the following ingredients:
5 cl (= 50 ml) strong dark whiskey, e.g. Connemara
100ml cold brew
some maple syrup (optional, omit if the ice cream is sweet enough)
1 scoop of vanilla ice cream (or chocolate/nut ice cream)
Mix whiskey, cold brew and optional maple syrup in the frosted glass. Finally, top your full-bodied Cold Irish Coffee with a scoop of ice cream, grate some cardamom on top and serve with a spoon and straw. Also here: For the sake of the environment, it is best to use straws made of metal or glass!
More than Irish coffee: Irish coffee culture
Now you know how a good Irish coffee is prepared. But how can it be that only one Irish coffee drink has shaped the international coffee and bar world so much, while hardly anything is known about Irish coffee culture? Is it because of the dominant pub culture in the country? Or are the Irish, like the English, more attached to tea?
Traditionally, Ireland is a tea-drinking culture. Black tea with milk, accompanied by scones, was served in every coffee shop, especially in rural areas. Only in the last 15 to 20 years have hot chocolate, Americano and cappuccino conquered the cafés of the Emerald Isle.
From the first coffee house to international coffee shops
Irish coffee culture began with the first coffee house in Dublin, which opened in the 17th century under the reign of Charles II. From then on, coffee shops spread across the country – not just in the larger cities like Belfast and Waterford, but also in Cork, Kilkenny and Limerick. They were considered popular places for working men to do business. Later, people did not meet in taverns, but for a coffee in gentleman’s clubs – as coffee shops were also called – for political debates late into the night.
Interest in coffee was there quite early in Ireland, but it lasted until the 21st century, when a new coffee culture from big cities like London came to the Emerald Isle with cappuccinos and lattes.
Irish coffee habits: who would have thought it!
If you look in the kitchen cupboards of the Irish, for a long time there was a container with instant coffee in almost every household – in addition to the obligatory tea.
According to statistics, 70 percent of Irish people drink at least one coffee a day. One in three people even buys this coffee in one of the many coffee shops that are springing up like mushrooms in Ireland. In the meantime there is even talk of a change in Irish coffee consumption: Away from instant coffee towards premium options! Coffee is no longer only used as a source of caffeine, but also as a pleasurable experience.
Conclusion: Irish coffee remains a trend!
Our article has shown that there is not just one Irish coffee recipe, but many variants. Irish coffee remains a trend, whether it’s a classic drink with a modern twist. However, the Irish have not leased their cult drink for themselves alone. Coffee drinks with almost the same list of ingredients were already available much earlier across Europe. All consist of hot, strong and sweetened coffee and a creamy topping. Anyone who has ever been to a Viennese coffee house, for example, has certainly discovered a Pharisäer Kaffee (coffee with rum) or Fiaker Kaffee (mocha with kirsch) on the drinks menu. Also in Germany there is a similar coffee drink called Rüdesheimer Kaffee: This is coffee with brandy.
We hope you are now in the mood for an Irish coffee and have been able to learn something about Irish coffee culture. Have fun trying out the recipes at home – and let us know which one is your favourite!