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The History of Irish Coffee

It is the most quintessentially Irish drink and the perfect Winter warmer, yet little is known about the history of Irish coffee. In this three-part article series, one of our Coffee Quality Consultants, Renata Malyszko shares all things Irish coffee.

A major coffee trend we’ve seen in 2019 is coffee cocktails. No cocktail menu is complete without an Espresso Martini. As self-confessed coffee addicts, much to our delight, cocktail menus are increasingly expanding beyond Espresso Martinis to various twists on our much-loved coffee drinks. Amongst these caffeine injected cocktails is the original coffee cocktail, the Irish coffee. This delightful blend of coffee, whiskey, cream, and sugar is ingrained in Irish culture, but where did Irish coffee originate?

Renata was recently a judge at the Coffee in Good Spirits Championships (CiGS). The CiGS event is one of the Championships sanctioned by World Coffee Events. The event aims to promote innovative beverage recipes that showcase coffee and spirits in a competition format. It tests the mixology skills of the barista/ bartender from the traditional Irish coffee, to unique coffee combinations. Speaking about the event Renata said:

Last November, I was delighted to become certified as a judge in CiGS. Since then I have absolutely fallen in love with the concept. CiGS competition consists of two rounds where baristas prepare two sets of identical drinks based on alcohol and coffee plus other ingredients depending on each competitor’s creativity. In the preliminary round, they must be hot/warm and cold sets of drinks and in the final round either a hot/warm or cold drink and our famous Irish coffee.

This event and the love of the concept of blending coffee and spirits lead Renata to do a little digging into the history of Irish coffee. Here’s what she has found out:

The History of Irish Coffee

Irish coffee was invented in the Winter of 1943 by top-class chef and bartender Joe Sheridan. At the time of the invention, Joe was working at a restaurant at Foynes Port near Limerick, an airbase for transatlantic flights and the base for the flying boat terminal. According to history records, on the 25th of January 1943, a flight left the terminal for New York. Several hours into the journey, the flight needed to return due to severe weather conditions. After landing back at their starting point and feeling depleted the passengers were brought to the restaurant where Joe Sheridan worked. Feeling empathy for the cold, delayed passengers, Joe wanted to create something special to cheer them up. It was this moment that he came up with the bright idea of adding some good Irish whiskey to the passengers’ coffee. Naturally, they absolutely loved it. One of the passengers came to Joe to thank him for this wonderful creation and asked if it was Brazilian coffee. Joe just smiled and responded, “No, it was Irish coffee” and so the Irish coffee was born.

In 1952 Irish coffee was introduced in the United States by traveller and writer Stanton Delaplane, who like many of us fell in love with the drink the first moment he tried it. Stanton brought the idea to a bartender at Buena Vista hotel in San Francisco. Since then Irish Coffee has become famous worldwide. Today the Buena Vista hotel still serves around 2,000 Irish Coffees daily using the original recipe taken from Joe Sheridan.

For those of you looking to recreate Joe Sheridan’s original recipe at home, here it is.

Original Irish coffee recipe:

  • 4oz strong, rich hot coffee
  • 1,5 oz good quality Irish whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1oz lightly whipped double cream
  1. Pre-heat glass with hot water
  2. Pour brown sugar, then coffee and stir well
  3. Add Irish whiskey and stir again
  4. Float the cream on the top by pouring it over the back of the spoon
  5. Drink coffee through the cream

Stay tuned for Renata’s follow up article. It involves an Irish coffee tasting evening with friends, it’s a hard job but someone has to do it!

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