Best Irish Coffee Recipes – Two That’ll Do

St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching. That means it’s the perfect time for us coffee lovers to transform our favorite beverage into a celebratory concoction. We’re referring, of course, to Irish Coffee! If you haven’t made Irish Coffee at home before, never fear! We’ve gone in search of the best Irish Coffee recipes to share with you. And we’ve made an interesting discovery: if you know just two basic recipes for Irish Coffee, that’ll do!

clip art row of green shamrocks

The Legend of Irish Coffee

As we’ve learned so well by now, the history of nearly everything related to coffee is shrouded in legends. Irish Coffee is no exception.

The story tells us that Irish Coffee was first created back in 1942 by a Mr. Joe Sheridan. Mr. Sheridan was an Irish chef who oversaw the restaurant at the Foynes airbase in Limerick.

The Foynes airbase was primarily just a re-fueling stop, but the notoriously turbulent Irish weather often left planes — and their crew and passengers — stranded there for an extended period of time. Many of the passengers in those days were wealthy American businessmen or Hollywood movie stars, so giving them a good impression of Ireland, especially while enduring less-than-pleasant travel delays, was top priority at the Foynes Restaurant.

Legend has it that, on one particularly cold and stormy winter’s night, Mr. Sheridan, with the aim of warming some waylaid travelers from the inside out, added a splash of whiskey to the coffee he was serving them. He mixed in a few teaspoons of sugar and added a bit of cream on top to sweeten the deal.

Purportedly, when one of the guests asked if the tasty beverage was Brazilian coffee, Mr. Sheridan responded with an emphatic, “No, it is Irish Coffee!”

And, voilà, Irish Coffee was officially born.

Traditional Irish Coffee

The legend continues, giving credit to travel writer Stanton Delaplane for bringing the recipe to San Francisco and handing it off to Jack Koeppler, bartender at the Buena Vista Hotel. Mr. Koeppler went so far, literally, as Ireland to perfect his Irish-Coffee-making skills with its creator, Mr. Joe Sheridan.

Irish Coffee ultimately became so famous at the San Franciscan Buena Vista Hotel that, in 1952, Joe Sheridan himself was offered a position in its cafe, which he accepted. What fun it must have been for patrons to be served an authentic Irish Coffee by its very Irish creator! To this day, Joe Sheridan’s memory and contribution are fondly commemorated at the Buena Vista Cafe.

The Original Irish Coffee Recipe

In delightful Irish fashion, Joe Sheridan’s original list of Irish Coffee ingredients was more lyrical than practical:

Cream as Rich as an Irish Brogue 
Coffee as Strong as a Friendly Hand
Sugar as Sweet as the Tongue of a Rogue
Whiskey as Smooth as the Wit of the Land

Thankfully the actual instructions for mixing up the drink were a little more straightforward:

  • Fill a sturdy stemmed glass with hot water to pre-heat
  • Discard hot water and add 2 teaspoons of brown sugar to the glass
  • Add strong, freshly-brewed hot coffee until glass is about 2/3 full
  • Stir gently to dissolve sugar
  • Stir in 1 to 1.5 ounces of Irish Whiskey
  • Wait for the stirred coffee mixture to become still in the glass
  • Pour gently-whipped cream slowly over the back of a spoon to create a “float” of cream on top of the coffee mixture
  • Do not stir again
  • Enjoy while hot

Authentic Irish Coffee Ingredients

The modern-day recipe for authentic Irish Coffee doesn’t vary much from the original, though we tend to be a little more specific about the ingredients:

Coffee

For the best-tasting Irish Coffee, you will, of course, want to start with a rich, good-quality arabica coffee. In most cases, the same coffee you enjoy each morning will work just fine for making an Irish Coffee. There are a few exceptions, however.

If you normally enjoy a very light-roast coffee, you may want to experiment with a darker roast for this specialty drink. Likewise, if you typically drink a very citrusy African coffee, you will probably want to use a heavier-bodied brew.

The important thing to remember is that your coffee has to stand its own against a strong spirit — Irish whiskey. So pick a medium- to dark-roast coffee and brew it a little stronger than usual for use in any Irish Coffee recipe.

The amount of coffee you need will vary based on the size of the Irish Coffee drink you wish to create. For a starting point, though, the best Irish Coffee recipes we’ve found and are sharing here each use 6 ounces of strong, hot black coffee.

Sugar

Irish Coffee was first made using brown sugar. So if you want a truly authentic, traditional Irish Coffee flavor, use one to two teaspoons of brown sugar per glass.

If you don’t care for brown sugar, or simply don’t have any on hand, you can certainly use granulated white sugar instead in the same measurements. And, of course, you can experiment with sugar substitutes or even forego adding sugar altogether if you don’t want a sweet Irish Coffee.

Our only recommendation with sweeteners would be to avoid those that might alter the flavor of the drink, such as honey or maple syrup. Unless, of course, you want to take a chance on such experimentation because, well, who knows! You might end up with a perfectly-sweetened Irish Coffee you love.

Whiskey

The truest Irish Coffee demands the truest Irish whiskey. But exactly what distinguishes Irish whiskey from non-Irish whiskey? To keep things as simple as possible for our purposes here, we’ll note that it’s mainly the base ingredients used for distillation and a longer aging process that make Irish whiskey unique.

While American whiskeys can be made from corn, wheat, or rye, Irish whiskey uses barley as its base ingredient. Irish whiskey is also aged for at least three years, sometimes more, while American whiskeys are usually aged for only two.

The result? Irish whiskey is typically lighter-bodied and less sweet than other whiskeys.

We recommend using true Irish whiskey when making your Irish Coffee, but you can surely experiment with your favorite non-Irish whiskey. Just know the flavor imparted will likely be heavier and less traditional with a non-Irish whiskey.

Cream

Authentic Irish Coffee calls for real cream, lightly beaten, to be poured slowly and gently over the back of spoon onto the surface of the hot coffee-sugar-whiskey mixture. Which sounds great, but it’s actually not all that easy to get the cream to float.

If you have the patience to try floating the cream atop your Irish Coffee, you will want to beat the cream only until it is “rope-like” when poured. It may take a few tries to get it right, but you will surely feel accomplished if you do get that beautiful head of cream on your Irish Coffee.

If you don’t have the patience for trying to float the cream — or if you’re making, say, your second or third Irish Coffee and are feeling a little too, um, relaxed for the whole pouring-cream-slowly-over-a-spoon process — then simply whip the cream until is is a bit stiffer. This way you can gently drop a dollop atop your Irish Coffee without fuss.

And if you don’t want to bother with whipping real cream at all, you can always resort to the canned variety. But we really don’t recommend this. Good coffee and good whiskey, in our humblest opinion, deserve freshly-whipped cream. It will be worth the effort, promise!

irish coffee illustration

The Best Irish Coffee Recipes

As noted, there are really only two recipes you need to make great Irish Coffee. The first is the authentic, true-to-Joe-Sheridan traditional Irish Coffee recipe. The second is a simplified but still-very-tasty and still-very-Irish version that’s made using Baily’s Irish Cream.

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Authentic Irish Coffee Recipe

Ingredients (Single Serving):

  • 6 ounces strong black coffee, hot
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1 to 1.5 ounces Irish Whiskey
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped

Instructions:

  • Pre-warm a sturdy glass mug with hot water
  • Discard water and add sugar to the mug
  • Add hot coffee until mug is 2/3 full
  • Stir gently to dissolve sugar
  • Add Irish Whiskey and stir gently to combine
  • Allow coffee mixture to become still
  • Slowly pour cream over the back of a spoon so that it floats on the coffee
  • Enjoy while hot

Bailey’s Irish Cream Irish Coffee Recipe

Ingredients (Single Serving):

  • 6 ounces strong black coffee, hot
  • 1 to 1.5 ounces Bailey’s Original Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped

Instructions:

  • Pre-warm a sturdy glass mug with hot water
  • Discard water and add hot coffee until mug is 2/3 full
  • Add Bailey’s Original Irish Cream and stir gently
  • Allow coffee mixture to become still
  • Slowly pour cream over the back of a spoon so that it floats on the coffee
  • Enjoy while hot

Special Additions

To give either version of Irish Coffee a fancy finishing touch, sprinkle a dash of chocolate shavings, cinnamon, or nutmeg on the cream before drinking.

The Perfect Irish Coffee Mugs*

To show off your Irish Coffee and enjoy its indulgent richness to the fullest, you definitely want to serve it in a beautiful glass. The problem with many Irish Coffee mugs, in our opinion, is that they are made of such thick glass. While this is necessary for the glass to withstand the heat of the coffee, it does make for a rather clunky sipping experience.

Thankfully modern technology makes it possible to sip your Irish Coffee — or any hot beverage — from more delicate glass mugs.

Our personal favorites come from JoyJolt. Their Borosilicate glass is lightweight yet more resistant to temperature changes and scratches than regular glass.

As an added bonus, the double-walled construction keeps your Irish Coffee hot but your fingers cool. Which is, well, very cool!

The JoyJolt Declan Irish Coffee mugs show off your beverage, keep it hot, and provide an elegant sipping experience. Plus they come in three different sizes. Win-win-win!

Grab yours here:

Set of 2 – JoyJolt Declan Irish Double Wall Espresso Mugs. Available now in a variety of sizes at Joyjolt.com

Perfectly Frosty, Too*

JoyJolt’s Declan Irish Coffee mugs also go the distance for iced coffee.

The double-walled construction, in this case, keeps your drink chilled, your fingers warm, and your table from developing a puddle of condensation.

Click on the image below to learn more!

Joyjolt Elegant Glassware

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Bonus Recipe: Frosty Irish Coffee

Of course Irish Coffee makes an ideal drink for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but we want to make sure you can put those lovely JoyJolt Declan Irish Coffee mugs to use year ’round.

So here’s a little secret: if you don’t care of hot coffee drinks quite so much during the sweltering summer months (because who does, really?), know that Irish Coffee transforms easily into an icy, cooling treat.

So even thoug we said only two Irish Coffee recipes’ll do, we could not resist sharing this deliciously chilly twist to keep the luck of the Irish with you throughout the summer:

Frosty Irish Coffee

Ingredients (Single Serving):

  • 6 ounces strong black coffee, cold
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 – 1.5 ounces Irish Whiskey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla ice cream
  • 5 – 6 ice cubes
  • 1/4 heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
  • Optional Garnishes: chocolate shavings, cocoa, cinnamon, or nutmeg

Instructions:

  • Place the coffee, sugar, whiskey, ice cream, and ice cubes in a blender
  • Blend until smooth
  • Pour blended mixture into serving glass
  • Top with whipped cream
  • Garnish, if desired
  • Enjoy immediately

So now that you’ve got three of the best Irish Coffee recipes, that’ll really do.

An Irish “Coffee Blessing”

May your coffee be strong

May it always be hot

May you have the strength always

To make another pot

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may the Luck ‘O the Irish be with you all year!

10 Comments

  1. There is nothing better than a cup – or two – or more – of Irish Coffee on days that leave you cold all the way to the bone! Whether it’s snowing or raining, dreary days call for a “warm-up” that only Irish Coffee can provide.

    I have to say, I tend to add just a touch of honey, along with brown sugar to my coffee. And, I am a bit more generous with how much of my stock of Jameson Irish Whiskey I add to each and every cup! Then, I get a little lazy and just squirt a small dollop of Redi-Whip on top to complete the concoction.

    But, it is “oh – so good!”

    Reading this post makes me want to pray for a dreary day so I can get out the Jameson – with or without the coffee additives! 🙂

    Jim

    • Irish coffee is definitely a great “warm-up” beverage. Nothing takes off the chill quite like it! I can’t say I’ve ever added honey to my coffee. It sounds interesting, though, and I will have to give that a try. As I type this, the weather will be a hot and sticky near-90 degrees, and even an iced Irish coffee sounds a bit heavy (I’ll admit to switching from whiskey to gin when the weather turns warm). I may just have to investigate some alternative iced coffee concoctions to share. Thanks so much for visiting!

  2. Lee

    How fun! I love St. Patrick’s Day and I love coffee and your article has given me reason to look forward to both. The recipes look amazing. My wife and I will definitely try one of recipes. I am leaning towards the Bailey Irish Cream, it sounds delicious. Your article will make this holiday a little more special. Thank you so much.  

    • Cheri

      The Bailey’s Irish Coffee recipe is a favorite of a lot of people. It’s a little simpler and quicker to prepare, that’s for sure. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Lee, and I hope you and your wife have a happy St. Patrick’s Day enhanced with a little Irish Coffee.

  3. Daphne Steinberg

    Love the post, CJ! I had all kinds of questions as I read and you seem to have answered them all. Brava! Job *very* well done!

    • Thank you so much, Daphne! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I found the story behind Irish Coffee so interesting. I had no idea! That’s the kind of stuff I most love sharing with my fellow coffee lovers. And good recipes, too, of course! Thanks for reading and commenting. It is so very appreciated!

  4. I knew nothing about the history of Irish coffee, although I have enjoyed one many a time!

    I found the original recipe to be fascinating. My friends and I have argued over how to make a good Irish coffee but I hadn’t really considered there was an original version, and believe it or not, I don’t recall ever considering adding sugar to it.

    The recipe I settled on some years ago is actually a combination, I use strong hot coffee (of course!), A shot of Irish whiskey (Powers or Jameson) and a shot of Bailey’s. For me, the Bailey’s adds all the sweetness and cream I want.

    Thanks, I’ll be sharing this one!

    • Hey Jon…I’m like you: I’ve enjoyed a number of Irish Coffee’s through the years (always ordered at a restaurant, never made myself, I’ll admit), but I never knew anything about them until I researched this article. I found it quite the delightful tale! And it made for a better “recipe” article than I’d imagined (I’m definitely not a “recipe writer” person haha). I would now like to try my hand at making an authentic Irish Coffee…I’m so curious to try floating the cream. Like you, I don’t think I’d add much sugar, though. And especially not if using Bailey’s. That would add more than enough sweetness for me, also. I think, like all things coffee and all thing cocktail, there are lots of ways to go about making it. It’s a matter of finding what you like best. Thanks so much for visiting!

  5. Betty Bard

    Love this article and the recipes, Cheri. I just put glass Irish coffee mugs in the garage sale box, but I believe I should go retrieve at least two of them – I really want to make that Frosty irish Coffee – maybe with Bailey’s instead of ice cream. Yum.

    Hope Spring is arriving there on your mountain by now. Sorry, I’ve been too busy to keep up with your coffee blog, but I’ll catch up! I hope Watt is healing beautifully , so your life can be getting back to your version of normal. Soon I’ll have fun reading all the coffee stuff I’ve missed !

    • Betty!! It’s so, so nice to hear from you! And how funny about the Irish coffee mugs. Yes, indeed, you should hang on to two of them at least, methinks. Did you know the history of Irish coffee before you read my article? I didn’t, and I found it so amusing and the original “ingredients list” so delightful! You’ll have to let me know how you like the Frosty Irish Coffee if you try it. It’s still too chilly for that version here (although we were close to 70 degrees yesterday and it was pretty much perfect in my book except a bit too windy). No worries about being busy…I know how you are…haha. I got behind on posting as we dealt with the doctor visits, too, but thankfully Watt is doing well, and I’m “back on track” now. Thanks for visiting. It always makes my day to hear from you. Take care and have a happy St. Patty’s Day!

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