How to make Irish Coffee…properly


“Sure you just put a bit of whiskey in coffee, right?” Wrong. Here’s how it’s done, instructs Nicola Lyons

It’s undeniable: the Irish willingness to add booze to pretty much anything is world-renowned (porter cake or Guinness stew, anyone?) – but it’s with the wonderous elixir that is the Irish Coffee that we’ve well and truly struck black gold.


Two years ago, on my very first day of bar work, in typical cliché fashion, I encountered a group of American tourists determined to sample some traditional Irish coffees. In a state of clueless panic, I of course proceeded to serve them nothing but glass after glass of cloudy, sloppy sludge. Who knew whipped cream was unacceptable, that sugar was vital, or that stirring the coffee was such a massive taboo?

Luckily the tourists were too understanding or bewildered to object to my nasty concoctions, but let’s just say I haven’t been called upon to make one since. Until now, that is. When writing this article presented the opportunity to make a decent attempt at producing the famous beverage, I thought I’d put the horrors of my past behind me and put my barmaid mettle to the test. So, how to take part in this crucial national art form?

Firstly, warm the glass in some hot water. Then add half a cup of ideally strong high quality coffee (though in fairness, if Nescafé is good enough to get rid of my hangovers, it’s good enough to induce them). Just make it a little stronger than you normally would.

To this, add a measure of Irish whiskey. Then stir in a spoon or two of brown sugar until it dissolves. Don’t skip this step, even if you don’t normally put sugar in your coffee! The sugar actually helps the cream to float above the coffee. Finally, pour about 20ml of cream over the back of a spoon so that about ½ inch of cream floats on top of the coffee. Be sure to drink the coffee through the cream; do not stir.

Of course, if whiskey’s not your thing, an alternative is the heavenly Bailey’s Coffee, or a Calypso Coffee with Tia Maria. Follow the same steps, but just remember that no sugar is required as liqeuers contain sufficient sugar to keep the cream afloat. Also, for those with stronger stomachs there are the Mexican (Tequila), Russian (Vodka), French or Royale (Cognac), Jamaican (Rum), Seville (Cointreau) and Caribbean (Bacardi) coffees. The list is endless.

You can also make your Irish coffee look a bit more festive by drizzling Crème de Menthe on top. I haven’t tried this because I’m not an OAP and don’t own any, but it might be worth investing in some for Paddy’s day.

So why not attempt to make the classic beverage that provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, sugar, fat and caffeine?