Irish coffee is a cocktail of sweetened coffee, Irish whiskey, and whipped cream that is not only acceptable but also expected as a morning treat on holidays. Sure, St. Paddy's Day sees a lot of Irish coffees, but we also enjoy them on Black Friday (staying home, skipping shopping) and on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Last December, assistant food editor Sheela shared her uncle's rules for making the very best Irish coffee and, being the curious cook I am, I had to give his method a try. Just a few key points made for a better Irish coffee that is perfect for celebrating the everyday.
In the most general of terms you'll need some hot coffee, sugar (brown and granulated), Irish whiskey, and some whipped cream. The coffee plays a supporting role to the other key components, so brew up your favorite bean and make sure it's hot before beginning.
Use Two Sugars for Better Irish Coffee
A combination of granulated sugar and brown sugar makes for a cup of joe with balanced sweetness. Just a teaspoon of each keeps the cup from being cloying, which the molasses brings the whiskey's own sweetness to the forefront. Use unsweetened whipped cream to keep the sweetness contained in the coffee and avoid a sugar hangover later in the day.
Use Only Irish Whiskey for Classic Irish Coffee
No question: Irish coffee should be made with Jameson. It's smooth, sweet, and just a touch spicy, plus it's not too damaging on the wallet. If you've already got a whiskey collection at home you want to use, choose something in the mid-range with a mild, sweet finish to counter the bitter coffee.
Read more: Why I Drink Jameson
Use Lightly Whipped Cream
If using lightly whipped cream, pour it slowly over a warm spoon onto the coffee, being careful not to break the coffee's surface. This takes some practice. A foolproof way to not break the surface is to whip the cream a bit more and dollop it gently on top. Enjoy while hot!
A few popular variations on Irish Coffee
- Buena Vista Irish Coffee: Uses two sugar cubes and calls for the cream to be lightly whipped and poured over the back of a spoon.
- Irish Cream Coffee: Calls for half Irish whiskey and half Bailey's, and is topped with a Maraschino cherry.
- Bailey's Irish Coffee: Only uses Bailey's instead of Irish whiskey. This version is sweeter and fuller-bodied than the traditional.
How To Make Irish Coffee
What You Need
6 ounces hot, freshly brewed coffee
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
Freshly whipped cream (see Recipe Notes)
Heatproof glass or mug
- Preheat your mug, then fill with coffee: Pour hot water into a mug or heatproof glass to take the chill off. Pour out the water. This will also prevent your glass from cracking. Fill the mug about 3/4 full with the coffee.
- Add sweetener: Add the granulated and brown sugars and stir until fully dissolved.
- Add Irish whiskey: Add the whiskey and stir to incorporate.
- Top with whipped cream: If using lightly whipped cream, pour it slowly over a warm spoon onto the coffee, being careful not to break the coffee's surface. This takes some practice. A more foolproof way to not break the surface is to whip the cream a bit more and dollop it gently on top. Drink while hot!
- Lightly whipped will give you a frothy cream collar on top. If you want to pile the cream high, you'll need to whip it to medium-stiff peaks.
This post has been updated; originally published March 2012.