The Definitive Irish Coffee How-To

  This year, National Irish Coffee Day falls on Saturday, January 25, and we can't think of a better way to celebrate than by learning to make this caffeinated classic the right way. Here's everything you need to know about making awesome Irish coffee.  

The Ingredients

  Real Irish coffee only has four ingredients (five if you count coffee and water as separate ingredients) -- coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and whipped cream. Needless to say, when you're working with so few ingredients, it's important to use only the best.  
  • The Glass
    • Choose a thick-walled glass, preferably one with a handle.
    • Technically, the glass is not an ingredient, but the glass you choose does make a difference. Most restaurants and cafes serve Irish coffee in a pedestal mug. Choose a thick-walled glass to reduce heat transfer. A mug or stein is a good choice because the handle insulates your fingers from the hot coffee.
  • The CoffeeIrish Whiskey
    • The Takeaway: Try a  bold coffee brewed in a French press for a single  coffee. For making more than one, consider the Eva Solo or the Sowden Oskar Softbrew.
    • Since Irish coffee has sugar, milk and whiskey in it, you want a strong coffee with enough body to hold its own against the competing flavors and textures. Try an espresso blend, or a bold Guatemalan single origin.
    • We really like using a French press for making Irish coffee. Like most immersion methods, the resulting brew is generally full-bodied, which stands up nicely to cream.
    • You know the rules for making great coffee -- follow them! A superior Irish coffee starts with excellent coffee.
  • The Sugar
    • The Takeaway: Demerara sugar or cocktail sugar give an added dimension of flavor to Irish Coffee.
    • Leave the refined white sugar on the shelf for this one. You can get away with light brown sugar if you have to, but the most authentic choice is Demerara sugar or raw sugar. It's got the mellow, caramel undertones that are just right to cut any coffee bitterness.
  • Whipped CreamThe Whiskey
    • The Takeaway: Choose a blended Irish whiskey aged for at least three years.
    • Obviously, the only choice is an Irish whiskey. When Jack Koeppler, then owner of the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, tried to recreate the Irish coffee served at Shannon Airport, he and travel writer Stanton Delapane used Powers or Jameson whiskey. As the drink grew famous, the cafe sourced its own special blend, but since 2006, the whiskey of choice for Buena Vista Irish coffee has been Tullamore Dew, which lends the drink a bit more of a spicy kick than it originally had. Bushmill's is the Irish whiskey of choice for several restaurants that have a reputation for making superb Irish coffee.
  • The Cream
    • The Takeaway: Freshly whipped, fresh cream is the gold standard.
    • Put that pressurized can of fluffy air down. The cream in your Irish coffee should be rich, thick and heavy. Choose heavy cream, and whisk it in an ice-cold bowl until it mounds softly.



The Technique

  1. Start brewing your coffee.
  2. Fill your glass with hot water and let it warm while the coffee brews.
  3. Whisk the cream until it is thick and flows like thick honey.
  4. Empty the water and pour 4 ounces of coffee into the glass.
  5. Add 2 teaspoons of Demerara sugar to the coffee and stir to dissolve it.
  6. Add 1 1/2 ounces of Irish whiskey and stir gently to blend.
  7. Pour the cold cream over the back of a spoon to float it on top of the coffee.
  Photo Credits: Irish coffee: Christopher Cornelius (Flickr), Irish coffee glass: lemonhalf (Flickr), Jameson whiskey: JamesonF (Flickr), Whipped cream: Steven Depolo (Flickr), Demerara sugar: Craig Herman (Flickr)  

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