A question I get asked a lot is ‘What’s the secret of a real Irish coffee?’
Being a passionate Irish tour guide with a background in the whiskey industry, I can honestly tell you that I’ve seen a lot of Irish coffees in my life – and some of them had little in common with the delicious, hot Irish whiskey infused coffee ‘cocktail’ that has been warming our bellies and hearts for decades. Bartenders, mixologists and whiskey enthusiasts around the world tweaked and adjusted this famous drink’s recipe to tailor their own interpretation of the classic Irish coffee. Their creations are often bold and fancy but also complicated. The good news is that the original Irish coffee recipe is straight forward and simply delicious – especially when you know the little secrets that I’m about to share with you!
But which Irish coffee is the original?
The history of this world-famous whiskey drink comes in as many variations as its recipe. In essence, most of them tell the story of the chef Joe Sheridan, who worked at an Irish airport and wanted to serve a hot and comforting drink to American tourists because their flight was delayed. Firstly, he might have thought of tea and whiskey, but since he knew that Americans drink a lot of coffee, he tried something new. Aren’t our taste buds lucky that Joe liked experimenting!
The 10 essentials of the best Irish coffee recipe
Let’s cut to the chase. The 10 essentials of the perfect Irish coffee are made up of 5 essential ingredients and 5 essential steps.
The 5 essential ingredients for the perfect Irish coffee
To enjoy an authentic Irish coffee you should firstly get these 5 things ready.
Use a rich and strong coffee blend. I prefer to use espresso made in an Italian ‘Moka Pot’. If you have a professional espresso machine, even better for you.
Make sure you choose the right whiskey! Irish coffee is best to be prepared with a smooth Irish whiskey. Obviously, there is no need to break the bank, but make sure to pick a typically smooth Irish whiskey.
- Fresh Cream:
Whisk up some real cream, but make sure to not overdo it. If the cream is too stiff you won’t be able to pour it!
Time for some sweetness – I always use brown sugar!
- Dark Chocolate:
Grate down a bit of dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) for a top class finish.
You will also need:
Irish whiskey glass & a tea spoon
Irish coffee is traditionally served in a glass mug aka the Irish coffee glass 😉. The glass mug ideally holds about 8oz or about 240ml. You will also need a tea spoon for the preparations.
Can I use a normal coffee mug instead of an Irish coffee glass?
Obviously, a coffee mug will also work as a vessel for liquid, but you will completely miss out on the original ‘layer look’ of your Irish coffee. If you don’t have an Irish coffee glass to hand, I would recommend using an 8oz wine glass. Be very careful though since the glass might be more delicate than the Irish whiskey glass.
Preparation of the glass
It is best to heat up the glass. This will keep your Irish coffee warm for longer. The trick is to put a metal tea spoon into the glass to prevent the glass from cracking when you pour in the hot water.
The 5 essential steps of preparing the best Irish coffee
Let’s go! Make sure you do things in the right order and ratio:
- Start by pouring a measure of your Irish Whiskey into your pre-heated glass (Don’t forget to pour out the hot water first 😉)
I use 2 shots.
Now, did you know that ‘a shot’ holds a different amount of liquid depending on the country? A shot in Ireland contains ¼ gill. This old Irish measurement converts to 35.5ml or approx. 1.2oz.
- Add the coffee to the mix.
Don’t forget to put the spoon back into the glass to prevent it from cracking. For my 2 shots of whiskey, I would use a double espresso or about 120ml or 4oz of a strong and rich blend coffee. Don’t fill up the glass to the top! With my measures and if you have used an 8oz Irish coffee glass – There should be about an inch of glass left to be filled up.
- Add a spoon of brown sugar.
Make sure the sugar dissolves well by stirring it and check the bottom of the glass to make sure there are no crystals left.
- Pour in the cream.
We are almost there. Be careful with this step and take it slow.
Firstly, turn over your spoon and place the tip just on top of the coffee. The spoon edge needs to touch the glass before you start pouring. If you do this slowly the cream flows over the spoon to stays on top of the coffee instead of sinking down.
- Top it of with the grated dark chocolate and sit down in front of the fireplace to enjoy your perfect Irish coffee
What are the most common mistakes when preparing Irish coffee?
Now it’s time to answer a few more questions to prevent some small Irish coffee disasters.
1. Can I use instant coffee to make an Irish coffee?
I know some people like their quick, stir-in powder Nescafe, but I’m sorry to disappoint you – it doesn’t taste like real coffee and the best Irish whiskey won’t be able to hide that fact!
2. Can I use scotch or bourbon?
For an Irish coffee you need Irish whiskey – and that’s not only for the name. Irish whiskey, in comparison to scotch or bourbon, is known for its smooth aromas. Scottish whiskys often have a smoky taste and American whiskys tend to be generally quite sweet, neither harmonises with the original Irish coffee recipe.
3. Can I use sweetener instead of sugar to prepare an Irish coffee?
For the real treat you will need the real sugar! Artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes don’t work well for preparing Irish coffee. Mostly they simply taste too sweet and leave a strange aftertaste in your mouth.
4. Can I use spray cream or low-fat cream instead of fresh cream?
Spray cream is a definite NO when preparing an Irish coffee. Mostly because it tastes very different from real cream, but also because the texture is wrong and the spray cream often ‘melts’ away very fast. And let’s be honest – low-fat cream is only have the fun.
5. Can I use an Irish cream liquor ‘Baileys’ to make Irish coffee?
While an Irish cream liquor infused coffee might be a delicious hot drink too, it won’t have anything to do with an original Irish coffee.
6. Will my coffee become more ‘Irish’ if I add extra whiskey shots?
Ultimately it depends on your taste preference how much whiskey you use to prepare your Irish coffee. However, it is meant to be a comforting hot beverage and not a binge drinking potion. Adding to much whiskey might destroy the flavour and spirit of your Irish coffee.
7. Should I serve Irish coffee with a straw?
Should you drink nice French wine with a straw? An Irish coffee is best to be enjoyed layer by layer, starting with the cream you work your way down!