How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee

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How to Make the Perfect Irish Coffee

Well, National Irish Coffee Day is (apparently) today, January 25th. In honor of this great (?) holiday, you might like a little background on one of San Francisco’s greatest contributions to mankind; namely, a beverage that will have your body completely confused as to whether it is stimulated or sedated. Hot, boozy, and not for the faint of heart when prepared correctly, Irish coffee will keep your nerves distracted during inaugurations, close-call basketball games, weird dates, and pretty much anything else.

Most people probably don’t think of the ‘50s when they think of San Francisco, associating it instead with (probably) the late-‘60s Haight-Ashbury scene or (possibly) the Gold Rush, or if they’re film buffs, Vertigo or maybe even the noir ‘40s memorialized in The Maltese Falcon and The Lady from Shanghai.

Walk into the Buena Vista Café on Hyde Street, however, and you’ll get yourself an instant time-machine to the ‘50s, from the Celtic-script neon signage to the ‘50s comfort-food style of the menu, to the bar where, at all hours of the day, tourists and locals alike watch the deft hands of the bartender lining up rows of steaming glasses and pouring floats of thickened cream over the back of a spoon.

The first Irish Coffee was created in Ireland, at an airport in Shannon (reportedly to help keep pilots awake). But it was recreated for the first time at Buena Vista Café. In 1952, Stanton Delaplane, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and happy patron of the Buena Vista, was challenged by then-owner Jack Koepler to help recreate a beverage that was being served at the airport in Shannon, Ireland. Apparently, this was not a simple endeavor, particularly because that original cocktail in Ireland had a signature float of cream. And the Buena Vista’s version wouldn’t float. Happily, the mayor of San Francisco at the time had come from a prominent dairy-owning family, and once he was taken on as a consultant, a solution was found. The Irish Coffee lived on.

“It takes a village,” doesn’t just refer to raising children, people.

Following is a recipe for the Great Elixir, as made at the Buena Vista. The original Irish coffee was made with Tullamore DEW, so if you want to be authentic, that’s your go-to. If you have a strong allegiance to a different Irish whiskey, you’ll still have Irish coffee – just keep Scotland out of it, okay? This recipe comes from Tullamore’s Tim Herlihy, who points out that this is essentially a health tonic, as it contains all four food groups: “Cream as rich as an Irish brogue; coffee as strong as a friendly hand; sugar sweet as the tongue of a rogue; and whiskey smooth as the wit of the land.”

Dude, it’s Irish. Of course it comes with rhyming similes. In fact, as a caveat, this drink might put you in the mood to write poetry – or to recite it loudly for a large crowd. But what’s life without a little risk?

1 ½ parts Tullamore D.E.W. Original
1 ½ parts Strong Brewed Coffee (Tim’s Pick: any premium dark roast. My pick would be Ritual, Verve, or Four Barrel, because this is San Francisco)
½ parts Sugar (Tim’s Pick: Demerara Sugar. Amy agrees, though conventional brown sugar will work fine)
Lightly whipped heavy cream
Cinnamon or nutmeg

Tim Herlihy’s Foolproof Method:  Pre-heat a clear-stemmed glass with very hot water. Add the sugar and brewed coffee and stir well. Once the sugar has melted, stir in the Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey. Gently whip the heavy cream by shaking it in a protein shaker with a blender ball – you want a still somewhat loose, not stiff consistency. Pour the cream over the back of a hot teaspoon to top the drink (and prevent the cream from penetrating the top of the drink). Finally, garnish with grated nutmeg or cinnamon for a spicy finish.

Slainte, people.

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