Guinness might be the first thing that comes up in your mind if I ask what is Ireland’s most well-known beverage, but after this, it is coffee. Irish coffee.
It is not like Ireland has its own coffee plantations, but they do have their own recipe, which with only a few years has spread all over the World as yet another symbol of the green island, mainly thanks to the Irish diaspora in the United States.
Its invention can be traced back to 1943 and Joe Sheridan, the head chef at the flying-boat airport at Foynes, County Clare. Between the 1930s and early 1950s, this sea-based dock was one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe thanks to the clippers, which by that time were the only airplanes capable of a transatlantic flight.
As the terminal building was also the Monteagle Arms Hotel, it was usual for him to see tired passengers getting off a cozy airplane into the cold, wet and windy weather of Ireland’s Atlantic coast, so he came up with this drink as something warm and welcoming for them.
However, the widespread success of this beverage came when Stanton Delaplane, a famous travel writer for the San Francisco newspaper ‘The Chronicle’, discovered it in one of his trips. Back in the US, he convinced Jack Koeppler, owner of the Buena Vista Bar (in San Francisco as well) to recreate it. After succeeding, Stanton popularized it by mentioning it often in his travel column, which by then was widely read throughout the US.
Of course, they took most of the merit and made it a big deal as they just discovered fire. They keep on patting themselves on the back every now and then, commemorating the day the Americans ‘perfected’ the recipe for Irish coffee, as they say…
Original ‘Irish coffee’ recipe
- One measure of Irish whiskey. Jameson is preferred.
- One measure of strong black coffee. Remark on the strong thing.
- Two teaspoons of cane sugar.
- Two teaspoons of fresh, thick whipped cream.
It is a fairly simple recipe, where there is nothing else to be added, maybe adjust the measures to your taste and alcohol resistance. Anything else will be your interpretation of Irish coffee, more accurate or vaguely resembling the original, just as the Chicago pizza is an interpretation of… well, who
the fuck knows.
For example, the current International Bartenders Association recipe for an Irish coffee states that it should be about 2/5 of whiskey and 3/5 of coffee, with sugar and cream as well.
The key to a good Irish coffee is not only the quality of its ingredients, but also the sequence in its preparation.
First of all, heat the glass, either with hot water or steam (to prevent it from cracking). Warm (not boil) the Irish whiskey as well, preferably over a burner, and pour it into the glass, add a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar and stir until it is totally dissolved. Add the coffee leaving space for the cream and stir again.
The whipped cream goes on top and has to float without mixing. The key to this is to have the sugar well melted and then carefully place the cream over the surface. The cream should be at room temperature, not cold.
About the cream, it is forbidden to use anything sprayed from a can! To get the right consistency, and after seeing that each country has its definition of what is whipped cream, let’s just buy cream and whip it until it smooths. It should have a consistency like this. It is also said that cream aged at least 48 hours is more likely to float after whipping.
The coffee is drunk through the layer of cream, not stirred, to get its characteristic flavor. No straw should to be used either.
As mentioned, there are multiple variations from the original recipe. For example, Gaelic coffee replaces Irish whiskey for Scotch, and the Irish Cream coffee does the same but with whiskey cream (like Bayley’s).
In some places, the Irish coffee is served with three separate layers, with the warm whiskey syrup on the bottom, a coffee layer, and the cream on top, needing to stir it all up.
Anyhow, an authentic Irish coffee is the perfect drink to close a good dinner and head up to the pub! Sláinte!
Learn more at:
- Irish San Francisco, by John Garvey, Karen Hanning;
- The people at the Buena Vista Cafe explain their history with the Irish coffee;
- San Francisco Gate article on Stanton Delaplane.