You used to see Irish Coffee on the dessert drink menus in the 80’s but now rarely. It has been replaced by Spanish or Brazilian coffee concoctions that are overly sweet, with a sugared rim and whipped edible oil product. Cherry on top. Worse, if you do spy Irish coffee, it is Spanish coffee dressed up with a shot of Bailey’s. I vaguely remember my parents owning a set of Irish coffee glasses, but I think they just ended up as adornments for my dad’s rec room bar. Irish coffee seems to have had its moment in the sun and then faded away, allowing its gaudy cousins to take the stage. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that Irish Coffee was likely invented in the late 40’s in Shannon, Ireland by a chef at the port. He added a shot of whiskey to coffee, to warm chilly passengers. The owner of the Buena Vista in San Fransisco tried in earnest to recreate the recipe but could not. He traveled to Shannon to get it and he brought it back to the United States.
My friend Meg introduced me to authentic Irish coffee in her home one day. I was skeptical at first because there is very little sugar in the drink. I take a full teaspoon in my Timmies. She assured me this is how her Grandmother made them and the way it was made in Ireland. Irish coffee is a good strong brew with a shot of Irish whiskey, topped with barely sweetened thick cream that floats on the surface. The coffee is drunk through the cream. The “head” remains as you drain the glass as it would on a well-poured Guinness.
Meg came to know of this recipe in a round-about manner. While working in Halifax, an Irish client, originally from Belfast, was astonished that a good Irish girl did not know how to make an honest-to-goodness real Irish coffee. He took it upon himself to share the recipe and technique with Meg who had been too young to learn it from her Grandmother. Meg later made the drink for her own mother who exclaimed “that’s exactly how my mother made it!” So a recipe comes full circle and here it is:
Meg’s Grandmother’s Authentic Irish Coffee.
Whipping cream at room temperature, lightly whipped to just before the peaking stage. It should still run off the back of a spoon.
about a teaspoon of brown sugar sprinkled over the cream
1 ounce per glass of Irish Whiskey (Jameson’s)
Coffee (Happy Goat in a french press is nice)
Whip the cream and sugar to just before peaking. Put cream into a vessel you can pour from. Rinse your Irish coffee glasses in hot water to pre-warm if desired. Pour an ounce of whiskey into the glass. Fill the glass to within an inch of the top with hot coffee. Pour the cream into the coffee over the back of a spoon. This allows the cream to float on top of the coffee instead of sinking. No cherry. No sugared rim. The simplicity of this drink allows quality ingredients to shine. The naturally sweet cream is delicious without a ton of added sugar. The teaspoon of sugar is necessary to help the cream float (according to Wikipedia). Authentic Irish coffee is a real treat and a lost art that you need to discover and share with friends on a chilly night.