The Story Behind Irish Coffee (Plus a real Irish Coffee Recipe!)

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Irish coffee is pretty universal; head to almost any bar and ask for one and you’ll receive a mug/glass in just a couple minutes.  But, while it’s become one of the most popular drinks in the world, the recipe is actually a pretty recent one and only came about thanks to a wicked Irish storm in the 1940s.

The year was 1943 when a Pan Am flight to New York city had to turn back around to the Foynes Airport, in county Limerick. In light of the horrible weather a local chef, Joe Sheridan, was asked to prepare hot food and drinks for the passengers. Joe did as requested, deciding to add some good Irish whisky to the coffees he served. It is said that he was asked if it was Brazillian coffee and replied “No, this is Irish coffee.”

And so the now world-famous drink was born.

Irish Coffee

Irish coffee made its way to the US thanks to a travel journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle by the name of Stanton Delaplane. Delaplane tried Irish Coffee in Foynes in 1951 and liked it so much he brought the recipe back with him.

Delaplane worked with the owners of the Buena Vista Café trying to recreate the perfect recipe, but had problems with the cream sinking. Eventually they figured it out, but they still enticed chef Joe Sheridan to emigrate to the United States and work at the Buena Vista Café, serving his much loved Irish coffee.

Today, Irish coffee can be found anywhere, but it isn’t necessarily always the original. In many places, the term ‘Irish coffee’ has come to mean any coffee with alcohol. It’s also common for the drink to be topped with whipped cream, rather than the thick cream it’s meant to have. But worry not, I learned how to make a proper Irish coffee in Killarney, and am willing to share this true Irish coffee recipe with you so you can make it at home.

A True Irish Coffee Recipe

(As told to me by an Irish bartender in a Killarney pub)


  • Boiling water
  • Coffee; already prepared (strong coffee is recommended, but use what you like)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • A jigger of IRISH Whiskey (Jameson’s is my personal favourite)
  • lightly whipped whipping cream (see step 6)


Step 1: Heat your glass: Pour the boiling water into your glass or mug, swirl it around then dump it out.

Step 2: Add 1 tsp of brown sugar to the bottom of your glass. Brown sugar is better than white sugar because of its sweetness and the molasses tones that bring out the whisky flavour.

Step 3: Fill the glass up about halfway with your hot coffee and stir it to melt down the sugar.

Step 4: Add your Irish whiskey. Remember, it has to be Irish whisky!

Step 5: Add more coffee- fill it up to just below the brim

Step 6: This is the tricky bit. Your last step is to add the cream but it needs to be just the right consistency to be a perfect Irish coffee. You want it to be somewhere between whipped and poured you can sip the coffee through it. If it’s too thick, you’ll just end up with a mouthful of whipped cream. Too thin, and it won’t sit on top. Pour it gently over the back of a warm spoon so it sits perfectly on top.


Tip: If you don’t like coffee (like me!) you can substitute for hot chocolate (skip the sugar). Trust me, it’s just as delicious.

Irish Coffee Recipe Card


  1. Jackie ciliberto on October 19, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    Should I buy heavy or regular whipping cream?

    • Hannah Logan on November 1, 2022 at 6:21 am

      Just the regular whipping cream works! I believe its 35%?

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