How to Make an Authentic Irish Coffee

How seriously do the Irish take Irish coffee?

In 1988, the National Standards Authority of Ireland — Ireland’s official standards body – issued I.S. 417:1988, also known as the Standard Specification (Irish Coffee) Declaration, 1988. It outlines:

  • The ingredients to be used in Irish Coffee
  • The minimum quantity of Irish Whiskey to use in Irish Coffee
  • The recommended depth of cream to be used as topping
  • The quality of cream to be used as topping
  • The minimum temperature of the Coffee
  • Requirements for Irish Coffee pre-mix products

The foreword begins thusly:

Irish Coffee is an alcoholic beverage which has distinctive organoleptic characteristics. These are attributable to the ingredients used and the manner in which the beverage is prepared. Shortcomings in either the quality or quantity of the ingredients or in the method of preparation can have undesirable effects on the resultant beverage.

Distinctive organoleptic characteristics? YUMMY!

The full document apparently contains a recipe, but the NSAI charges €17 (about $23) for that. So at the risk of “undesirable effects on the resultant beverage,” let’s attempt an authentic Irish coffee recipe on our own. The ingredients are simple; the trick is what you do — or don’t do — with them:

  • 6 oz freshly brewed hot coffee
  • 1 jigger (1 ½ oz) Irish whiskey
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • Heavy cream

Combine the coffee and whiskey into your favorite mug, then stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Don’t skimp on the brown sugar; that’s what allows the cream to float, which makes or breaks the drink.

Lightly whip cold heavy cream, just to aerate it a bit. Don’t substitute half-and-half or milk; these won’t float.

Very slowly pour the cream over the back of a warm metal spoon that’s held just above the surface of the coffee. The objective is to allow the cream to cascade gently into the coffee, so that it doesn’t sink. As you pour the cream, you may need to gradually raise the spoon.

There should now be a layer of cream on the surface. Don’t stir the coffee after pouring the cream; instead, drink the coffee through the layer of cream.

Could you use Bailey’s, topped with whipped cream out of a spray can? Sure, but that wouldn’t be an authentic Irish coffee. That’s something that would be garnished with a plastic shamrock and served at a soulless chain restaurant by someone wearing too much flair. And I’m pretty sure the NSAI wouldn’t look kindly upon it.

– Matt Rehm