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How To Make The Best Irish Coffee

irish coffee

There’s hardly any drink that is more earthy, warming, and strong than an Irish coffee. Whether you are drinking it as a celebration or as a reinvigorating moment after work, Irish coffee is a rich, sweet, filling cup of coffee, which any coffee drinker has to try at least once. When done well, it’s an amazing combination of alcohol and coffee as no other coffee drink is.

Luckily, it is not a difficult drink to make. It has earned a bad reputation as many cheaper bars make it too sweet, with little to no alcohol, and with subpar coffee beans.

That ends up like a sort of frappuccino with whisky, which is completely unlike what a good Irish coffee should taste like. We will see how to make a truly good one in a moment, but first a few words on the origin of the Irish Coffee.

Origin Of Irish Coffee

The true origins of the Irish coffee are hard to pinpoint. The most accepted story is the one that tells about the head chef at a restaurant and coffee shop in the Foynes Airbase, in county Limerick, Ireland, invented it. His name was Joe Sheridan and around 1942 he was the first one to make the modern version of the Irish coffee, as we know it today.

It then was brought to the USA by a travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, who happened to have tasted it when in Ireland. He worked with the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco to start serving it to the American public in 1952. The creamy and strong coffee quickly became popular, and the origins of its inventor named it as “Irish coffee”.

Another version of the story tells us about Joseph Jackson, the owner of a hotel of the same name in Donegal. He had the idea to add whiskey to the coffee of his comrades fighting in World War II, then perfecting the recipe after the war in his hotel.

Whichever version of the origin of the modern Irish coffee you want to believe, know that coffee with cream and spirits in it has been around for a much longer time than both stories tell us. The old Pharisäer and the Fiaker were served in Viennese coffee houses already by the mid-19th century: tall glass, lots of coffee, and whipped cream on top.

The variant with spirits was popular in France and called “gloria”, around the same time. Coffee with added liqueurs had been known in Italy for well over a century, with some adding milk or cream on top as well.

That doesn’t make them proper “Irish coffee” though. Just the precursors of it. Let’s see how a rightfully called Irish coffee is prepared.

How To Make Irish Coffee

The Irish coffee is made out of four basic components: the coffee, the whisky, cream, and a sweetener. Nothing one less, nothing more.

The first ingredient is obviously the coffee. An Irish coffee can be made with either a brewed, filter, coffee or an espresso. Depending on how you like the coffee, both can work very well in an Irish coffee. 

The espresso will give you more body and some coffee crema on top, which may be desirable, while the normally black coffee will be easier to make in the large quantities that an Irish coffee calls for. If prepared in a classic Irish coffee mug, the one with a handle, you’ll need approximately 2.8 oz. (8cl) of coffee. Yes, Irish coffee is strong.

Then to the sweetener. One tablespoon of brown sugar is the original version. You may use any other type of sugar you prefer, as long as the coffee is sweetened before adding the cream on top, as the sugar will help it float over the coffee and not sink. Thus, make sure to completely dissolve your sweetener of choice in the coffee before moving to the next component.

The whiskey is the key element of any Irish coffee. Otherwise it would just be a whipped cream coffee. Depending on how strong you want it, up to 1.4 oz. (4cl) of whiskey can be added to the coffee. Roughly half the amount of it. 

Quite a powerful drink then, but the whisky ratio to coffee can be reduced for a smoother drinking experience. Just make sure that the whiskey you’re using is of your taste and of good quality. 

Irish coffee and cream

Medium sweet whiskeys work best. Mix the whiskey in the sweetened coffee and then prepare the cream.

About 1 oz. (3cl) of well whipped cream is necessary as the last step to prepare an Irish coffee. Not make the cream too stiff, as it may be too heavy to float on top of the coffee.

Stop before having a really rigid cream or pour a little of liquid cream in the coffee: it will help the whipped cream to float. A cream with a high fat content whips better, which is bad news for those on a diet.

Serve the Irish coffee as hot as possible, with a long spoon to mix the coffee with the whipped cream, if desired.

Irish Coffee Variations

Clearly, many variations exist of the Irish coffee. All of them can be considered “better” than the original, depending on your personal taste. Some of the most popular ones are:

Baileys Irish coffee 

An Irish coffee made with Baileys instead of whiskey, or in addition to it. In the former case, it makes for a creamy coffee under the whipped cream, and with lower alcohol content; in the latter, it makes an even stronger Irish coffee, and also slightly creamier. As there are variations of the Baileys itself, you can play with them to create a truly unique version of the Irish coffee.

Buena Vista Irish coffee 

This variant is named after the restaurant that popularized the originally Irish coffee in the USA. It is made with two sugar cubes instead of a tablespoon of granulated sugar, and it is topped with lightly whipped cream.

Kahlua Irish coffee

A coffee liqueur inside actual coffee makes for a very strongly coffee-flavored Irish coffee. Kahlua can be used instead of whiskey or alongside it. A further variant calls for half Kahlua and half Baileys, for a super-creamy Irish coffee. Top it with chocolate shavings, to make it even more delicious.

Irish Cream coffee 

Similarly named to the original but not to be confused with it, this variant uses half whiskey and half Baileys. Unlike the Baileys Irish coffee, it has a topping in the shape of a maraschino cherry, for a touch of color and fruity sweetness.

Iced Irish coffee 

Clearly Irish coffee is a warming coffee cocktail, but it can nonetheless be served cold too. Add some ice cubes to the coffee, chilling it before adding the whiskey. Cold brewed coffee is ideal here. Some low fat milk can be added to the coffee as well, for a much milder taste profile.


The Irish coffee is a classical, super-popular coffee cocktail that anybody loving well-mixed drinks and coffee has to try at least once. The numerous variants are a testimony of its long-standing popularity among coffee drinkers and bar visitors alike. 

irish coffee drinks

Whether you want to stick to the original recipe or spice it up with one of the well-known variations, or even creating your own, an Irish coffee is a welcome drink to your rotation for any moment of the day when you want a sweet yet strong coffee. 

As long as you can keep the temptation of adding too much whiskey to it, the Irish coffee can be a well-balanced coffee cocktail. 

Enjoy it in moderation, as with all alcoholic drinks.