Irish Coffee

Perfect for National Coffee Day! No surprise, the Irish Coffee was invented in Ireland, but perhaps owes its popularity to the Buena Vista in San Francisco. In fact I was recently in Ireland, and at a cocktail lounge there they listed the “Buena Vista Irish Coffee” on their menu.


4 oz Coffee

2 tsp sugar

1 oz Irish Whiskey


Pour coffee into warmed Irish Coffee glass.

Add sugar and stir to dissolve.

Add whiskey.

Top with whipped cream.


Matt 17 Dec 2007
2:26 pm

Robert, I actually made some Irish Coffee for the first time last night. It’s a nice coincidence that you posted this today. Though I wish I had seen your recipe first. Mine had way to much whiskey and way too much sugar. Also, I used brown sugar, as I thought that was the tradition. Do you have any insight into that?

I’m going to try this again as soon as I get some more Irish Whiskey so I can make a more balanced drink.

Tim 17 Dec 2007
9:20 pm

I know you’re known as a cocktail person and not a coffee person, but with the constant emphasis you put on balance of flavours, etc., I’m surprised that you didn’t even think to comment on the actual coffee used.

Coffee is a very complicated beverage that must be prepared to exacting standards to taste proper.

However, I honestly can’t think of what kind or style of coffee I’d use for this.  Perhaps I will experiment on this.

Chuck 18 Dec 2007
3:33 pm

Tim, I see this as one of those to-your-own-taste drinks, where everyone’ll have their own spin.  I prefer Powers’ whiskey, raw or Demerara sugar and good ol’ New Orleans dark roast coffee ‘n chicory—very comforting and delicious to me, but hardly what they’d use in Ireland, or even San Francisco.  :-)

Eric Felten has an interesting bit on the Irish Coffee in his new book How’s Your Drink?, in which he debunks the story we’ve all heard about how it as invented by a particular bartender at Shannon Airport.  It seems that bartender got the idea from somewhere else in Ireland ...

Thomas Ufer 20 Dec 2007
4:33 pm

That freshly whipped cream is a nice touch ! I regularly roast my own coffee at home. Next batch I make I’ll be giving this drink a try.

A Different Tim 23 Dec 2007
12:27 pm


I love these videos and your drinkboy site . . . you’ve opened a new world for me.

On a purely technical note: for some reason when I watch these videos, your portion of the audio is at a very low volume, while the theme music at the beginning and end is very loud.  Almost without fail I end up jumping for the mute button when you are finished and the music starts up again because it is blasting out my speakers.  Unless this is just me, is there any way to normalize these volume levels?

Alex 18 Jan 2008
11:43 am

I’d also like to hear Robert say a word or two on what kind of coffee would be good here. I rarely drink coffee and when I do, I don’t lavish on it, so I don’t know much about it. In short, there’s a good chance I’ll mess up the whole drink by using an inappropriate type of coffee :)

By the way, I agree on that the theme music is a tad loud. It has me jumping out of my chair sometimes when I forget it’s coming.

Scott 27 Jan 2008
3:50 pm

Well, I’m not Robert, but as a formerly professional and still committed coffee drinker, I’d suggest that a medium roast African coffee would be good with this, as the chocolate and berry flavors will stand up well with the whisky. And you’ll probably want to use a drip method of brewing so you don’t get much sediment or too much oil in the cup.

I also like the coffee-chickory blend; it also has those earthy tones that blend well with the spirit. If you can’t get micro-roasted coffees like I can in the Bay Area, this would be a great substitute.

I have to say that I’ve had better Irish Coffees at the BV than just about anywhere else, even Ireland. It’s touristy, but it does stand up to its reputation, for a change. Must be the system they have.

The cream thing, by the way, has everything to do with fermentation and souring of cream. Raw cream starts to sour (or “clabber”) and thicken almost immediately due to the natural bacteria and enzymes present in cow’s milk. Since pasteurization destroys these enzymes, you need to let the milk start to turn just the tiniest bit. Homogenization is hell on your thick cream, too, because it breaks the fat globules into parts that are way smaller than god ever intended, and they don’t clump the right way.

And if that’s not more information than you ever needed to know, I don’t know what is.

Adam 18 Feb 2008
11:24 am

At Huber’s Cafe in P-town, where I first bartended, they use brown sugar instead of the granulated white. From my experience, this substitution seems to give the coffee drink a smoother and sweeter taste to one’s palate. It might be the presence of molasses in the brown sugar which interacts with the Irish whiskey and thusly offsetting the bittersweetness of the liquor. I’m not sure.

And may not only be the substitution of sugars that offers a smoother taste to this alternate version of the Irish Coffee. As in your demonstration, Huber’s uses Bushmill’s, not Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The former I found to have a more refined and smokier finish than it’s oaky, “Catholic-green” counterpart.

No offense intended toward my Catholic bartending brethren. }:^}

Alex 21 Apr 2008
7:29 pm

the taste of coffee is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex… For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of coffee… entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better.

I do have a chocolate site too, check this out

Thanks for letting me comment on your site :D

Alex 19 Jun 2008
1:03 am

Belated thanks to Scott for those coffee suggestions. Stupidly, I forgot I’d asked the question in the first place, until now. Oops.

And there’s no such thing as too much information when drinks are concerned!

(I’m not the same Alex as in the post immediately above this one, by the way - perhaps time I got a more unique moniker around these parts)

Anders 18 Aug 2008
3:21 pm

At the waiter education here in Denmark pupils are tought to use Tullamore Dew for the Irish Coffee and then two spoons of brown sugar. Stirring the sugar and whisky and then the coffee and at last the cream, which is fresh wipped and will not sink.

Some add a little chocolate powder on top.

greetings from Copenhagen Denmark and thnx for the effort running this site

Sweeterex 5 Nov 2008
9:30 pm

Belated thanks to Scott for those coffee suggestions. Stupidly, I forgot I

Sweeterex 11 Nov 2008
12:57 am

That freshly whipped cream is a nice touch ! I regularly roast my own coffee at home. Next batch I make I

Jim coffee brewing 4 Jan 2009
1:12 am

Wow that’s great; I always wanted to learn something new, like new ways to make coffee. I’m a big fan of coffee so I can’t wait to try out the new recipe, even thou I’m not much of a whisky drinker; I think my friends are going to love this, we regularly gather up for some coffee, they are in for a surprise this time . Thank you very much.

Mike Leigh 5 Jan 2009
4:17 am

Greetings from Dublin - if you try this I hope you enjoy this fantastic drink
Many locals here in Ireland use about 2 teaspoons of brown sugar per drink and use a small amount of unwhipped plain pouring cream. Although some do slightly whip the cream (but this is frowned upon by the true connoisseur lol).

All the very best

Mike Leigh 5 Jan 2009
4:24 am

One other point from above - I’m not actually sure why - but apparently it is a complete no-no to serve the drink with a spoon inside the drink container - but I’ve never found out the exact reason for this.


kim bye 8 Jun 2010
11:52 pm

Not totaly wrong, but that recepie could use some refinement.
I`ve bveen doing bartending for 10 years and have found that 2 barspoons of demerera sugar and a doubble shot of espresso topped with a single shot of hot water makes all the difference in the world. As a bonus you get a beautiful cream ring around the rim of the glass.

Alan 15 Aug 2011
4:44 pm

@Mike Leigh re: spoon in the glass. Leaving a metal object such as a spoon in a glass/cup of hot liquid will absorb the heat and start to cool down the drink. Sometimes when I make a hot whiskey I leave the spoon in the glass if I want to drink it quicker ie. with the spoon the liquid cools down quicker and thus I can drink it sooner than having to wait for it too cool.

Leaving a spoon in the glass of an Irish Coffee will not only cool it down but it will mess up the cream layer.

Steven D. Lauria 13 Dec 2011
8:19 am

Hi Robert,

Thanks for saying that one ought to pre-heat the glass or mug for hot beverages to prevent “hot temperature shock.” 

Would you please explain what adverse effects “hot temperature shock” might have?

By the way, I’m sure that you already know this:  The Irish Coffee was invented at the Shannon Airport in Dublin, Ireland, according to the good folks at BarSmarts.

I prefer Jameson to Bushmills, as the Jameson seems to have more of a “bite.”  How about you?

I recently saw a picture of you when you were a tad younger at Gaz Regan’s “site” during a function that I think was called Cocktails in the Country.  Pictured were yourself and other cocktailian experts.

Robert Hess 13 Dec 2011
8:28 am

Steven, the results of “Temperature Shock” would be that the glass would crack, if no shatter. Another way to avoid this is to put a metal spoon into the glass as you pour in the hot water.

As for the origins of the Irish Coffee, technically it wasn’t invented at the Shannon International Airport, but instead at the Foynes Airbase in Llimerick (which later “became” Shannon International Aiport) by Joseph Sheridan.

The “true” origin of the Irish Coffee has some debate surrounding it however, one of the possible earlier sources as I recall was a tavern by which Joseph Sheridan would have regularly passed (and therefore probably visited), and may have been his “inspiration”. And as with any popular drink, there are various other claimants to this drink.


Steven D. Lauria 13 Dec 2011
8:46 am

Hi Robert,


Yes, I do believe that the BarSmarts instructors did talk about the Foynes Airbase in Limerick.  I must not have bothered to copy that down in my notes (my bad!)...and due citation was given to Joseph Sheridan.

Do you know whether the Foynes Airbase was an English airbase…and where is Limerick in relation to Dubin?

And, thanks for the anecdote about Sheridan “passing by” a tavern where he might have gotten the “inspiration.”

Good stuff!

Robert Hess 13 Dec 2011
10:14 am

Steven, it is my understanding that even though most references to Foynes/Shannon appear to indicate that one is just the rebranding of the other, I believe in fact that they what actually happened was that Foynes was shut down after Shannon was built, and then all of the Foynes traffic was shifted over to Shannon. If you look up Foynes Ireland on you can see where Foynes is as a town, and that across the water from it is the Shannon airport. Foynes was a civilian airport I believe.

Steven D. Lauria 13 Dec 2011
11:05 am

Thank you, Robert!

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