Photography by Ali Redmond
Tourists and locals flock to San Francisco’s famous Buena Vista Café year-round to order the spot’s acclaimed Irish coffee, and the hot, sweet and boozy concoction is famous for good reason. The blend of sugar, hot coffee, Irish whiskey and cold whipped cream makes for a tantalizing delight.
Whether you’re a Buena Vista Café superfan or merely a lover of boozy, caffeinated cocktails, here’s the best Irish coffee recipe to DIY from the comfort of your own home.
What Is Irish Coffee?
Irish coffee was likely created in Foynes, a small town in Ireland. Here’s how it happened: According to the Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, for a short time in the the late 1930s and early 1940s, Foynes was the center of the aviation world. Why? Pan Am’s luxury flying boat, dubbed the “Yankee Clipper” landed at Foynes July 9th, 1939, becoming the first direct commercial passenger flight from the U.S. to Europe. In 1943, local restaurateur Brendan O’Regan opened an eatery and coffee shop in the Foynes terminal building and hired a chef named Joe Sheridan.
That winter, a late-night departing flight caught in bad weather was forced to return to Foynes. “When Joe was asked to prepare something warm for the passengers, he decided to put some good Irish whiskey into their coffees,” writes Richard Foss in Food in the Air and Space. “One of the passengers approached the chef and thank him for the wonderful coffee. He asked Joe did he use Brazilian coffee? Joe jokingly answer, ‘No that was Irish coffee!’”
Still, many people associate Irish coffee with the San Francisco restaurant and bar Buena Vista Café, and it’s likely because they claim to have brought the drink to America. According to CBS Sunday Morning. in 1952, the then-owner and a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle joined forces to replicate the Irish coffee drink made famous in Foynes. After much trial and error, a trip to the airport and even consulting a dairy owner, the Irish coffee recipe was introduced to Americans, who quickly embraced the stuff.
The original Irish coffee served at the café includes two sugar cubes, hot coffee, just over an ounce of Irish whiskey and a layer of heavy cold cream that has been aged for 48 hours and whipped. This is poured into a 6-ounce goblet.