How to Enjoy an Irish Coffee Like You’re in Ireland

This classic cocktail has been around for decades. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, we had an Irish whiskey expert explain the authentic way to try it out.

While the Irish are more likely to take a cup of tea in the morning over the latte or cold brew Americans go for, we do have them to thank for one of the most iconic caffeinated alcoholic beverages out there. In the last few years, the Irish coffee has been overshadowed by its popular cousin, the espresso martini, but it’s having its moment in 2023. A report from Bacardi on this year’s cocktail trends ranks Irish coffee as the 17th most globally sought-after drink. 

The cocktail was created around World War II because the coffee in Ireland was subpar—so, naturally, they added whiskey to it. According to Kevin Pigott, global ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. (the iconic whiskey brand known for mixing into an Irish coffee) and Ireland native, the Irish coffee migrated to the U.S. shortly after its invention and evolved into the drink we know of today: coffee, sugar, an ounce of whiskey, and a layer of cream on top.

“This drink has changed, in a way, a lot, and in a way, not at all,” Pigott says. “But overall, it’s sort of one of those classic drinks you can get, like the old fashioned. When you look at drinks reports, it’s one of the strongest cocktails in the world and in the top 50 buyers in the world. It’s a classic cocktail.”

Irish coffee in glass with green photo treatment

Seva_blsv / Getty Images | Design: Better Homes & Gardens

These days, you can find plenty of variations and innovations on the Irish coffee: cold brew or iced, the addition of flavored syrups, no sugar, milk alternatives, and more, Pigott explains. The quality of coffee only continues to improve, too. 

The original version first appeared in the U.S. at The Buena Vista in San Francisco in 1952, developed by then-owner Jack Koeppler and international travel writer Stanton Delaplane. After experimenting with different Irish whiskeys and ways to get the cream from sinking, they perfected the drink. According to Pigott, the restaurant serves about 2,000 on an average Saturday. 

As an Irishman and whiskey professional, Pigott has many tips and tricks on how to make the perfect, classic Irish coffee: Top places in Ireland usually preheat the glass to keep it as warm as possible and use a medium roast espresso coffee (but any strong and hot coffee works). They’re also particular about the ratio of the drink, serving it in a smaller glass with about 3.5 ounces of coffee and 1 ounce of whiskey. While you can add any kind of sweetener (honey, syrup, etc.), the Irish tend to go for sugar—just make sure you stir it so it fully dissolves. For cream, choose one that has a higher fat content (not half and half) so it sits on top. If you have a dairy concern, bartenders in Dublin will substitute in almond milk or other non-dairy options, Pigott says. Ordering them over ice is also becoming more common.

“Actually two of the best bars in Dublin right now, they do their Irish coffees cold,” he says. “People love it. It’s like an espresso martini, and lots of people love that drink, but this is just a fun way—typically with St. Patrick's Day, people might want to make a drink that has some Irish sense to it. What better drink than Irish coffee?”

Tullamore Dew Irish coffee

Tullamore D.E.W.

How to Drink the Irish Coffee Like You’re in Ireland

People in Europe like to have their Irish coffee earlier in the night as a way to get hyped up for the evening, Pigott explains.

“It's kinda like a nice kick start for when you’re tired after work,” he says. “You want the caffeine push. So I think that’s part of the appeal of the drink.”

On St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish tend to go for whiskey-based drinks. They’ll start off with an Irish coffee, and then the day evolves into whiskey sours or gingers, Pigott says. He compares it to the Fourth of July, when you’re feeling particularly patriotic and proud.

“If you’ve got friends who are visiting, you’ll often have friends from other countries who come to Ireland to celebrate, so you're trying to show off the best of your culture,” he says. “In Ireland, it’s kind of like that. It’s going to be like whatever musical or performance or festival that’s going to be on that you’re going to go to see and have some drinks. Probably you’ll have whiskey drinks, and in general an Irish coffee would be like your early start.”

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