The Irish Coffee used to freak me out. Now, granted, this was back in the day when it was nearly impossible to find the answers to just about any bartending questions online. So you kinda had to go with what the guests or the more experienced bartenders told you was correct. And that information was usually incorrect at worst, or contradicting at best.
Who here was told there was Irish Cream in an Irish Coffee, instead of sugar and cream? Yeah, I’m raising my hand. What about grating nutmeg or cinnamon over the top of the drink when you’re finished – that’s another rookie move. I’ve been told all of these. Rough, right?
Well, I’ve spent a lot of time seated at the bar at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco watching, talking to the bartenders, and drinking Irish Coffees from the place that made them world-famous and I can assure you that none of those things are true.
On the other hand, there are bartenders who will tell you it’s complicated and that you need special tools or ingredients if you want to make a world-class Irish Coffee. And after years of refining my recipe, ingredients, and technique, I’m here to tell you that nothing about the perfect Irish Coffee is complicated; in fact it’s super easy.
The Irish Coffee is made of four components:
Of course. Listen, I’ve tried them all and I will give you three options. The Buena Vista uses Tullamore Dew and it’s great. If you want to stop reading now and move on to the next section you’re going to make a great Irish Coffee.
The best Irish Coffee I ever made was with Redbreast 15. I blew through almost an entire bottle of that fairly expensive whiskey making Irish Coffees for myself at home about a decade ago. If you have an extra hundred bucks lying around, go for it. You won’t be sorry.
But my favorite Irish whiskey in an Irish Coffee these days is actually Jameson Black Barrel. It’s super rich, super affordable, and it’s almost like it was made to go in this drink.
I have two tips for you. The first one is the one you were expecting: use good coffee. This is no time for crappy coffee. Honestly? You’re better off using cheap Irish whiskey than shitty coffee, trust me. It’s 2021, everyone has access to good coffee that is responsibly sourced and locally roasted.
If you absolutely have to use mass-market coffee then please just avoid the one superconglomerate. You know the one I’m talking about, the one with a coffee shop on every corner. Go with Peet’s or even Dunkin’ Donuts bagged coffee from the grocery store if you must. Just avoid the one I’m not mentioning by name here. Their coffee is garbage.
But the other tip is this: I recommend you brew your coffee a little stronger than usual. At work we always brew ours with a little bit more grounds than recommended by our suppliers at Stumptown. You’re going to be mixing the coffee with whiskey and sugar and cream, so you want to be able to taste it. Just bump up the strength a little, you’ll thank me.
The Buena Vista uses two sugar cubes and the sweetness level is perfect. A sugar cube is one teaspoon of sugar, which is just about exactly one teaspoon of 2:1 simple syrup. I strongly recommend 2:1 simple syrup in place of plain sugar. Don’t use one teaspoon and think it’s going to somehow taste better. And for the love of god do not use three teaspoons (½ ounce) of 2:1 simple syrup. 2 teaspoons. No more, no less.
While you’re thinking about sugar, we use 2:1 brown sugar syrup at the bar in place of white sugar syrup. If you don’t have any brown sugar, no worries, but it really does make a difference between a good Irish Coffee and an elevated Irish Coffee.
Do not overthink this last step and do not let anyone bully you into thinking your heavy cream is inadequate. Yes, I have been known to buy fresh cream from a local farm and use that. It’s good. Is it necessary? Nah.
Finding quality cream at the grocery store only takes one simple trick: buy the most expensive one. I’m serious, just get the most spendy one they have, we’re talking about a difference of a dollar or two.
If you have a copy of The Bar Book, follow the Mason Jar Method on page 148 to get your heavy cream to the right consistency to float (none of this floating your cream over the back of a spoon nonsense for us). If you don’t have The Bar Book (why don’t you?) the abridged version is this: fill a small Mason jar halfway with cream, seal, and shake hard for about 15 seconds, or until the cream has increased about 50% in volume. Then you can simply pour the cream over the top of the drink without having to worry about it separating.
That’s it! Happy St. Patrick’s Day, you guys.
Irish Coffee Print Me
- 1½ oz (45 ml) Irish whiskey
- 2 tsp (10 ml) 2:1 brown sugar syrup
- 3 oz (90 ml) hot, strong coffee
- 1½ oz (45 ml) heavy cream, lightly whipped
- Preheat a 6 oz Irish Coffee glass (Libbey model number 8054 if you want to be authentic) with hot water.
- Discard water and add whiskey, brown sugar syrup, and coffee to glass.
- Float heavy cream on top, and serve.
Recipe printed courtesy of jeffreymorgenthaler.com