If you want a nightcap to end all other nightcaps, Irish Coffee is the one to make; this recipe is a little buzzy, a little boozy, and a whole lot of delicious. It's the best way to end a fun evening, or even begin a fun day.
You’d swear this recipe for Irish coffee comes straight out of an Irish coffee pub in Dublin, or maybe even the Buena Vista in San Francisco. And it’s easy; all you need is the best coffee you can brew, a shot or two of your finest blended Irish whiskey, a little sugar, and frothy, half-whipped cream. You’ll be singing songs about the old country in no time at all.
Got a bottle of Jameson and a parade float full of friends? Irish coffee for a group, it is! Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Who invented Irish coffee?
While Irish coffee has probably been consumed in Ireland for as long as coffee was available, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that this lovely beverage gained notoriety in the states. Jack Koeppler, the owner of the San Francisco bar Buena Vista, wanted to recreate the Irish Coffee cocktail served at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. He and a travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, got to experimenting.
What a fun experiment, right? No, this one’s not quite right. Try again. And again! Evidently, their biggest problem was getting the cream to float properly; it always plummeted to the bottom. Finally they conquered the floating cream and the rest is Irish coffee history. (I'll show you how to do that, too, just like a pro.)
Ultimately, they were right: the floating cream at the top is pretty crucial to the drink, mostly because it’s so delicious to sip that potent, slightly sweet coffee right through the froth. To me, it’s what makes an Irish Coffee an Irish Coffee.
Oh, and if you’re ever in the area, be sure to visit the Buena Vista in SF. I know I will.
What do you need to make Irish Coffee?
Irish Whiskey: Most bartenders prefer to make Irish coffee with Jameson or Bushmills, insisting that the simple blended Irish whiskeys are the best for this drink. Can you make Irish coffee with bourbon? Of course you can, if that’s all you have. Strictly speaking, it would be called a Kentucky Coffee, but it will still taste good, I promise.
Coffee Grinder: For the ultimate cup of coffee, grinding your own beans is paramount.
Coffee: Piping-hot, freshly-brewed coffee. Espresso, cold brew, French press, pour-over, or even percolator-brewed will do, as long as it’s hot.
Irish Coffee Glass: What’s Irish coffee without the perfect glass? Maybe, like me, you have your great aunt’s vintage Irish Coffee set, a lovely little set of tall glass mugs with green glass handles. If not, Irish coffee mugs are fun to collect and come in so many shapes and sizes. Ideally you’re wanting a footed glass, on the thicker side to handle the hot liquid, that lets you see the gorgeous creamy layers of the drink.
Sugar: I find the perfect sugar to be equal amounts of white and brown sugar. Again, it’s not mandatory, but I love the slightly smoky quality the molasses gives to the cocktail. If you want to use sugar cubes, I like these and these.
Cream: Irish coffee with whipped cream is classic and traditional.
How do you get the cream to float in an Irish coffee?
Using fluffy freshly whipped cream is one way, but there’s another, more classic way: pour the heavy cream into a bottle and hand shake to get thick and then refrigerate it until you’re ready to pour. Shake vigorously again when making the coffee. Then: pour the cream over the drink, gently pouring over the back of a spoon. The surface area of the rounded spoon makes the cream stay on the surface of the drink. It’s a process called “floating.”
You can also make homemade whipped cream with a standing mixer or by hand.
Even more tips for making the best Irish Coffee:
Preheat your glasses: The alcohol in the drink can cool things off a little too much, so I like to preheat my glasses with hot water to prime them for the hot coffee. It’s a small thing that makes a big impact.
Use good coffee: Irish coffee with decaffeinated coffee is just fine, too. Just pick your favorite coffee and brew it up.
Real whipped cream: The good stuff! Heavy whipping cream makes all the difference.
Irish Coffee with Bailey’s Recipes
Because Bailey’s Irish cream is just so darned delicious, some imbibers prefer their Irish coffee made with Bailey’s. And who could blame them? Here are a couple versions of Irish coffee recipes made using Bailey’s:
Irish Cream Coffee: Substitute half Irish whiskey and half Bailey’s, top with a Maraschino cherry.
Bailey’s Irish Coffee: Use only Bailey’s instead of Irish whiskey. This version is sweeter and fuller-bodied than the traditional.
How to make Irish Coffee without cream:
If you can’t have, or don’t have whipped cream, you can try making this Irish Coffee recipe using frothed milk, or nutmilk, to give you the creamy topping. Let me know how you like it in the comments, and if you have any dairy-free suggestions for me, by all means, let me know.
Otherwise, if you don’t mind, have the drink without anything. It might put some hair on your chest, but it will still taste great. Cheers!
Irish Coffee Recipe
- 5 ounces freshly brewed coffee
- 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar packed
- 1.5 ounces Irish Whiskey 3 tablespoons or 1 shot
- whipped cream for topping
- Add 5 ounces of fresh coffee to glass.
- Stir in white and brown sugar until dissolved.
- Add in Irish Whiskey and stir.
- Top with whipped cream.