Words & recipe by Merlin Jobst

I’ve rather lucked out in the seasonal draw this month, as St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on Monday 17th, provides me with an excuse to delve into one of my guilty(ish) pleasures; the Irish coffee. It’s a delight, both as a cocktail and as a style of java; just sugar, whisky, cream and, of course, coffee. Very simple, very indulgent and very delicious.

The Irish coffee hasn’t been around long – it didn’t make an appearance in Irish history until 1943 when, as the widely-accepted story goes, a flight from Shannon Airport was canceled and a certain Joe Sheridan, a head chef in Foynes, decided to comfort the freezing passengers by adding whisky to the coffee he was serving them. Upon being asked if they were drinking Brazilian coffee, Sheridan announced that it was, in fact, Irish.

It wasn’t long before Stanton Delaplane, an American travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, drank one of these sweet, boozy delights at Shannon Airport. After intense testing with bar owners back home to float the cream in the same way he had experienced in Ireland, the drink was added to the menu of the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, where it eventually sold in tens of millions – helped largely by Delaplane’s continual mentions of the drink in his widely-read travel column.


The recipe is not complex; however, the components must be carefully prepared and at-the-ready. The cream must not be over-whipped (still very much pourable), the coffee must be piping hot and strong (obviously) to combat the strong flavours of sugar, alcohol and cream, and the whole thing, once assembled must not – I repeat, must not – be stirred; the hot liquid is to be drunk through the cold cream, which floats beautifully atop it and will leave you with a killer white moustache after each sip.

The only mildly intimidating thing about this recipe is the pouring of the cream over the back of a teaspoon, a method ensuring that the heavy cream spreads and remains sitting over the surface of the coffee, as opposed to sinking straight down. I admit, the first time I attempted it I was convinced it wouldn’t work, and to my amazement it did perfectly – it’s an incredibly satisfying experience, and it makes me feel like a kid watching a magic show.

A hopefully fairly obvious disclaimer: as it’s about as far from being ‘healthy’ as it’s possible to get, the Irish coffee is not something to have every day. However, it’s a great thing to have as a treat every now and then, and certainly a fitting thing with which to bow out an especially grand St. Patrick’s Day meal – enjoy!

Irish Coffee recipe

  • 1 cup piping hot black coffee
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 shot Irish whiskey
  • Double cream, slightly whipped

Heat a tall, sturdy glass (traditionally with a stem) with boiling water.

Pour away the water. Add the sugar and coffee and stir until completely dissolved.

Add the whisky to the coffee and stir.

From a jug with a good spout and over the back of a teaspoon, pour your slightly whipped cream over the surface of the coffee until you hit the rim of the glass.


irish coffee


Irish coffee, whisky

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  • Rebecca Swift

    The part of the recipe for Irish Coffee where you add the Irish Whiskey is missing. I assume it is after you pour out the boiling water (also missing). Or, maybe when you add the brown sugar and coffee.


      I was in San Francisco and sat at the bar and watched hundreds of these made within just a few feet of where I sat … they would line up 20 glasses at a time … add Boiling water, let sit just for a minute. pour out the water and then, different from this recipe, they would put a sugar cube in the bottom of each glass, pour hot coffee over it and then a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey. then top off with whipped cream … they were pretty good ..yum

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      Hi Rebecca, apologies for this – we’ve amended the instructions now. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  • Marlene

    I had my first Irish Coffee only this morning – it blew me away! It was fabulous!