How to make the perfect Irish Coffee
Irish coffee is a great-tasting alcoholic drink, combining Irish whiskey, hot coffee and whipped cream. The perfect Irish coffee is a warm smooth coffee with cream floating gently on top, and an after-kick of quality Irish whiskey. It makes a wonderful after-dinner drink, whether on St Patrick's Day or any other night of the year.
But it can be tricky to get the recipe right - especially if you have never made it before. This guide will help you to choose the best ingredients and will tell you the best way to combine those ingredients so your Irish coffee looks and tastes fantastic.
The origins of Irish coffee are disputed with at least two people being given credit for coming up with the bright idea of adding a shot of whiskey to coffee. The most common story it that it was invented in Shannon airport in the west of Ireland in the 1950s by a chef named Joseph Sheridan.
He saw a group of American visitors disembarking from a plane in terrible weather, and so added a shot of whiskey to their coffees to warm them up. When asked if this was Brazilian coffee, he replied that it was Irish coffee. Or so the story goes anyway!
Whatever the origins, the recipe for Irish coffee is universal. There are four ingredients:
Irish whiskey, hot coffee, sugar and whipped cream.
The secret to a perfect Irish coffee is in choosing the best ingredients, and above all in how you put the ingredients together.
Choosing the best ingredients
As with any recipe, choosing good quality ingredients for your Irish coffee will add to the overall quality of the finished product. That means choosing a bona-fide Irish whiskey (most of them are pretty good!). For help with choosing check out my article: The Best Irish Whiskeys in the World - its official!
Good quality coffee is also important. Make sure you never use instant - it wouldn't be the same! I find brown sugar is best. And for an authentic Irish coffee experience, you have to use freshly whipped cream. Getting it to float on the top of the coffee is a little tricky - but don't worry, I've given you my top tip for this below.
How to make the perfect Irish coffee
So, I have spent a certain part of my early career working in the hotel and catering industry of Ireland and here are the tips I picked up for how to make a perfect Irish coffee:
1. Preparation. Make sure your cream is whipped in advance - you don't want your coffee to go cold while you are whisking the cream. Also it can help to warm your liqueur glass beforehand by swilling a little boiling water around the glass before emptying it out.
2. Combine the ingredients in THIS order. First put a teaspoonful of brown sugar in the bottom of the glass and add a little boiling water - just enough to make sure it is fully dissolved, This is important so that the sweetness doesn't stay stuck at the bottom of the glass. Second, add a half-cup of hot, strong filter or cafetiere coffee, followed by a generous measure of Irish whiskey. A couple of capfuls is plenty unless you like your Irish coffee really strong! Stir it all up with a spoon so the whiskey mixes well with the coffee. Now you are ready for the cream.
3. How to get the cream to float on an Irish coffee. It can be tricky to get the cream to float on an Irish coffee - it can seem like sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. This can lead to a lot of people 'cheating' with cream out of a spray can - but it really isn't the same and such behaviour has no place in the creation of a 'perfect' Irish coffee! Instead try this tip which is the only method which has worked for me every time: take a medium-sized spoon and gently slide one dollop of whipped cream at a time over the back of the spoon and let it float out gently on top of the coffee. Just to make sure, hold the spoon against the edge of the liqueur glass as you do this and then pull slowly away, letting the cream spread out - it gives the cream a nice slow introduction onto the surface. If you suddenly dollop the cream onto the coffee from a height, it will sink to the bottom of the glass. Trust me - I've made this mistake!
Apart from that, the final secret to how to make the perfect Irish coffee is PRACTICE. It can take a few goes to get hang of the technique, but once you have done it a couple of times you will soon become an expert. So if you are planning a dinner party and want to serve Irish coffee, have a few 'trial-runs' with the Irish coffee before the guests arrive - that way you won't be under pressure to suddenly produce a great Irish coffee when you've never done it before!