Irish Coffee

“Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups:
alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.”

Alex Levine

It’s St Patrick’s day today so, appropriately, we’re celebrating with an Irish coffee (or two).

There is a lovely story behind the invention of Irish coffee which occurred  one stormy night in 1943. Joe Sheridan, a chef at the port at Foynes where a beleaguered USA-bound flying boat had had to return, took pity on a cold and shaken group of American PanAm passengers, adding a good slug of Irish whiskey to strong hot coffee to buck them up. One appreciative traveller asked “is this Brazilian coffee?” to which Sheridan, clearly appropriately endowed with the gift of the Blarney, replied that no, it was Irish…

In the following decades it became the traditional finale to the standard sixties Berni Inn meal  – perhaps not wholly appropriate as an integral part of what became known as The Great British Menu. If you were drinking this there, and then, you’d also be nibbling on some After Eight mints.

There are two key conditions for a good Irish coffee – the first is that the Irish whiskey used is good in terms of both quantity and quality (Jameson, Green Spot, Paddy’s or Powers will all do. I particularly like the smokey Connemara); the second that there is enough sugar to ensure that the coffee can support the cream.

You can whip the cream if you want to (in which case you can also use whipping cream) – don’t whip it too solid or it will form a barrier between you and what you want to get to!

Recipe for making a blood-warming Irish coffee

Serves 1


• 45ml/3 tbsp Irish whiskey
• 1½ tsp brown sugar
• 80ml/⅓ cup strong, hot coffee
• 30ml/2 tbsp double cream


1. Make the coffee. While you do that, warm the mug (or, even better, an Irish coffee glass if you have one. If you don’t have one you can use a heatproof latte glass, aka a Gibraltar glass – it’s very nice to be able to see the layers of this drink)
2. Mix the whiskey and sugar in a mug .
3. Add the coffee – leaving enough room for the cream, obviously.
4. Dip a teaspoon into the water you may have just boiled to make the coffee and warm the glass, and then put the tip of it, backwards, into the coffee, pour the cream in gently over the bulb of the spoon. It’s important to heat the spoon first because this helps the keep the cream in a layer floating on the top and prevent it from sinking.

“My own moment of revelation came on a Greek island-hopping holiday when, on Mykonos, we found a gay piano bar stuffed with men with enormous muscles and the smoothest, most perfect skin, all sitting quiet as pussy cats, listening to Nina Simone songs and sipping liqueur coffees – no one drank anything else – from sunset to sunrise. Suddenly a creamy coffee, black underneath, its bitterness sluiced with sugar and spirit, sipped through cream, seemed the pinnacle of refinement.”

Victoria Moore, How To Drink

Of course, the whiskey doesn’t have to be Irish….this Japanese version served at the Smoking Lobster in Ventnor very much hit the spot…

Other posts you might find interesting

For other posts on cocktails on Saucy Dressings, follow this link.

Music to sip to

As Victoria Moore suggests, how about some Nina Simone?

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