Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to delve into the history of one of our favorite ways to get caffeinated: Irish coffee. Traditionally made with hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream – sorry, I’m having a hard time understanding why more people don’t drink this every day.
There are plenty of variations of Irish coffee today, but the original version was invented by Joe Cheriday, a head chef in County Limerick. He added whiskey to hot coffee to warm up a group of American travelers on a cold winter evening in the 1940s, and when asked if he was serving them Brazilian coffee, he told them that it was, in fact, “Irish coffee.”
The warming drink made it’s way to the United States in 1952, when Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer, brought Irish coffee to America after drinking it at Shannon Airport. He worked with the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco to serve it the traditional way, recreating the Irish method for floating the heavy cream on top of the coffee. Legend has it they perfected the cream after consulting San Francisco’s mayor at the time, who happened to be a prominent dairy owner. He suggested letting the cream age for 48 hours, and voila! Boozy success. Reportedly, Delaplane sampled the drink so many times that he almost passed out.
Buena Vista Cafe also uses special 6-ounce goblets to keep all the ingredients in proportion and show off the beautiful, frothy whipped cream. They use lump cane sugar – the cubes ensure a precise measurement, plus it makes for a better bartending show. The experts recommend staying away from espresso-based coffee, and using something milder.
The key to making Irish coffee the right way is all in the cream – you’re supposed to sip the spiked drink through the cream, so it has to be the right weight and texture…otherwise it will sink to the bottom or melt into the coffee. Some bartenders do this by pouring the cream over the back of a spoon, allowing it to float onto the coffee’s surface. This sounds like next level #LatteArt.
First of all, we had no idea that making Irish coffee was such an art form – we thought it was just adding a splash of Bailey’s to your favorite coffee instead of regular half and half. Also, considering how much older Ireland’s other contributions to the spirits world are (looking at you, Guinness and Hennessy), it’s surprising to me that nobody thought to add whiskey to coffee earlier than 1940…especially in Ireland.
Today, Irish coffee is best known as an after-dinner treat for those lucky people who can have caffeine after 4pm. But we have a feeling we’ll be swapping green beer for a glass (or two) of Irish coffee this St. Patrick’s Day.