What Is Irish Coffee? (All About Whiskey Flavored Coffee)

Last Updated on July 28, 2023 by Barry Gray

Irish coffee is exquisite. I can still recall my first sip – the warmth of the roasted full-bodied coffee hitting my lips tempered by the chilled cream, followed by the bold and flavorful kick of whiskey, and finally, the brown sugar crunching sweetly under my teeth. 

Irish coffee is a legend and is so easy to make too. 

All you need to make Irish coffee is cold cream, Espresso, Whiskey, and brown sugar. Make sure the Whiskey is Irish. The rest is easy.

For me, Irish coffee is this warm drink that gives a different slant to your usual coffee. Even people who do not really love the taste of whiskey will often be blown away by this coffee combination.

what is irish coffee?

The Recipe for Irish Coffee 

One thing I love about Irish coffee is the fact it’s so easy to make. Actually, here’s the ingredients and it’s hardly an extensive list.

  • 1 cup strong, freshly brewed coffee
  • Two tablespoons of Irish whiskey
  • One teaspoon of brown sugar
  • One tablespoon of heavy cream

But this simplicity also extends to the actual making of an Irish coffee.

How to Make an Irish Coffee

If I go and make an Irish coffee, I keep the steps to as few a number as possible. For me, there are only four steps you need to think about.

  1. Heat the coffee, whiskey, and brown sugar in a mug until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Pour the cream into a separate bowl and whip it until it is light and fluffy.
  3. Pour the coffee mixture into a mug and top with the whipped cream. It helps pour the mixture over a spoon so the cream does not sink. 
  4. Serve immediately.

Where Does Irish Coffee Come From? Who Invented It?

where does irish coffee come from

The origins of Irish Coffee are often debated, with some attributing its invention to Joe Sheridan of Ireland.

In contrast, others claim Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, created it. Koeppler was said to be enamored with Irish Whiskey, which would have explained his fascination with Irish Coffee. 

I lean towards the case of Joe Sheridan, mainly because his gravestone reads ‘Here Lies Joe Sheridan, Master Chef From Shannon, Ireland, Who Created For the World Treasure Known as Irish Coffee.’  

Joe Sheridan invented it, but Koeppler perfected it? You be the judge after the facts are presented. 

Joe Sheridan, A Master Chef With Ingenious Ideas About Coffee and Whiskey

During World War II, Joe Sheridan was a flight attendant at Foynes Flying Boat Airport in County Clare, Ireland. He also happened to be a chef by profession. 

He was known to be a kind man with a warm heart typical of the Irish, and he also loved all things Irish, particularly sharing Irish traditions such as their infamous Irish whiskey.

Foynes Airport was a major stopover for transatlantic flights, and Sheridan was often tasked with warming up passengers on cold and stormy nights.

One Stormy Night Coffee Made History

One night due to particularly nasty weather, a plane on its way to New York was forced to return to Foynes, and upon return, the passengers were both freezing and bitten by the Irish chill.  

He served them a drink with a well-roasted coffee guaranteed to warm them up, tippled in some whiskey to put heat in their belly, and then with a flair that only a chef can possess, plonked cream on top sprinkled with brown sugar. 

The new concoction worked a miracle, and the weary passengers loved it!

Irish Coffee Was Born

When asked about the drink’s name, Sheridan replied proudly, ‘Irish Coffee,’ and so the infamous coffee was born.

Some passengers said the coffee must be Brazilian due to the dark rich roast flavor, but Sheridan corrected him, saying it was Irish coffee.

Sheridan’s Irish Coffee was soon featured in travel magazines and newspapers, spreading the news like wildfire across the globe. 

In 1952, Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, visited Ireland and tried Irish Coffee for the first time. 

Delaplane was so impressed with the drink that he brought the recipe back to San Francisco and introduced it to Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Cafe.

Koeppler Perfected the Irish Coffee 

Koeppler was a fan of Irish Whiskey and was intrigued by Delaplane’s story.

He experimented with different recipes, and he eventually perfected the drink. Koeppler introduced Irish Coffee to the Buena Vista Cafe, and it quickly became a hit. 

The glass soon spread to other bars and restaurants worldwide and is enjoyed by people globally.

Joe Sheridan died in 1962, but his legacy lives on.

Irish coffee is still famous, often served on occasions like St. Patrick’s Day. It is a delicious warming drink, perfect for any time of year.

The Magical Ingredients of Irish Coffee 

ingredients of an irish coffee

Often the simplest things in life are the most outstanding, and Irish Coffee is no different. After all, I’ve already stated how it contains very few ingredients.

  • Coffee: Strong, freshly brewed coffee is essential for Irish Coffee. The coffee should be hot but not boiling so the whiskey and cream don’t curdle.
  • Irish whiskey: Irish whiskey is the traditional spirit used in Irish Coffee. However, you can also use other types of whiskey, such as Scotch or bourbon.
  • Sugar: A small amount of sugar is added to Irish Coffee to balance the bitterness of the coffee and whiskey. You can use white sugar, brown sugar, or even honey. Traditionally brown sugar was used on top of the cream and, if required to the coffee liquid beforehand. 
  • Whipped cream: A dollop of whipped cream is the perfect finishing touch for Irish Coffee. The cream should be light and fluffy and poured gently over the back of a spoon so that it floats on top of the coffee.

Which Type of Coffee Works Best 

different coffee for making irish coffee

The type of coffee used in Irish Coffee is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer a strong, dark roast, while others prefer a lighter roast.

However, the most important thing is that the coffee is freshly brewed.

I love the solid, full-bodied taste of a robust dark roast such as a French dark roasted coffee or Italian. 

When Irish coffee was first invented, it was made with strong, dark roast coffee. The coffee is all about contrasts. The cold cream, the hot coffee, and the warm kick of the whiskey are a genius mix. 

This is because the darker roast has a more robust flavor that can stand up to the other ingredients in the drink. However, many different types of coffee can be used in Irish Coffee today. 

Popular Choices of Coffee for Irish Coffee

I see two main options when deciding on the right coffee with a third option being thrown in if you find yourself in desperate times.

  • Espresso: Espresso is a strong, concentrated coffee made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. It has a rich, full-bodied flavor that is perfect for Irish Coffee. It has that taste punch that holds up to cream, sugar, and coffee. 
  • Filter coffee: Filter coffee is made by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans and filtering the coffee through a paper filter. It has a smoother flavor than espresso, but it is still strong enough to stand up to the other ingredients in Irish Coffee.
  • Instant Coffee: Instant Coffee is made from dehydrated coffee extract. It is a quick and easy way to make coffee, but it has less flavor than freshly brewed coffee. I wouldn’t go for this myself, but if you are in a pinch, it does work if the coffee is rich and robust and the whiskey is good!

Dark Roast Coffees That Taste Great In Irish Coffees

dark roast italian coffee

With a personal preference for a darker roast being used in Irish coffee, I thought it would be useful to give you some examples of the types of dark roasts that work best.

  • French roast: French roast is a dark coffee roasted to a very high temperature. This method extracts the oils and tastes richer. Its deep, mellow, slightly bitter flavor is perfect for Irish Coffee. 
  • Italian roast is another dark roast coffee roasted to a very high temperature. It has a slightly bitter flavor that can be balanced out by the sweetness of the whiskey, sugar, and cream in Irish Coffee.
  • Espresso roast: Espresso has a rich, concentrated flavor perfect for Irish Coffee.
  • Turkish Coffee: Turkish coffee is a dark roast coffee ground very finely. It has a robust, smokey, and bold flavor that can stand up to the other ingredients in the coffee. 

Add nutmeg or cinnamon to your coffee for extra flavor or a touch of chocolate liqueur for a modern twist. For a dessert-like experience, pour caramel sauce over the cream and add chocolate sprinkles.

A Modern Cultural Twist For Irish Coffee

Like all great traditions, Irish Coffee has yet to escape popular modern culture, and the variations of the first drink are enjoying a resurgence of popularity today. 

If you want to spice things up and be slightly different from the customary Irish coffee, you may want to try these drinks.

  • Spiced Irish coffee: During colder seasons, including Christmas, this spicy version adds a dash of cinnamon and or nutmeg to the coffee to give it an extra punch. The nutmeg and cinnamon are both festive and warm additions. 
  • Chocolate Irish coffee: This variant adds one tablespoon of chocolate liqueur to the coffee mixture. It is a rich and decadent flavor that is perfect for chocolate lovers.
  • Caramel Irish coffee: This variant tops the whipped cream with a drizzle of caramel sauce. It is a sweet and sticky finish that adds a touch of luxury to the drink.
  • Irish cream coffee: This variant uses Irish cream liqueur instead of whiskey. It is a lighter and sweeter version of Irish coffee that is perfect for those who do not like the taste of whiskey.
  • Irish coffee float: This variant is made by layering Irish coffee with vanilla ice cream in a glass. It is a delicious and refreshing way to enjoy Irish coffee on a hot day.

Irish coffee has also featured in popular culture in several ways. For example, it was featured in the 1983 film “The Big Chill” and the 2001 film “Serendipity.” It has also been mentioned in songs by artists like The Pogues and The Cranberries.

My Conclusion

Whatever you decide to take your Irish coffee, try the original first. The simplicity of it remains the most charming feature of this famous coffee drink. 

Experiment a little; use coffee that you love but err on the side of strong and full of flavor darker roasts. I may sound a little dramatic, but coffee is taking over the world – as far as hot drinks are concerned!