Gaelic Coffee (as it was called in the Old Country) was, according to legend, discovered by Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane at Ireland’s Shannon Airport not too long after the Second World War. He casually slipped the recipe to Jack Koeppler, owner of The Buena Vista Cafe near Fisherman’s Wharf. The two perfected the caffeinated concoction, and the rest is, of course, history.
But the secrets to making a great Irish Coffee are really so simple that they are often overlooked. First, it is not a large drink. Bars all over the United States place a premium on everything that is big. In this case, going too huge will ruin the prospects of a fine Irish Coffee. So, choose the vessel wisely; the small bell-shaped glass that Libbey has been providing to The Buena Vista for decades is a nice size at six ounces.
You also don’t need a giant pour of Irish whiskey. Delaplane and Koeppler’s recipe calls for a one-ounce shot. I know it seems stingy, but do not be put off—it’s actually good news. That liquor, along with three-and-a-half ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee and three-quarters of an inch of lightly whipped cream, is so delicious you’ll want to consume at least two more.
Three Tips for Making Irish Coffee:
1. Use a stemmed glass no larger than eight ounces. (With an eight-ounce glass, you can go up to one-and-a-half ounces of Irish whiskey. I am partial to Jameson.)
2. Top with no more than four ounces of steaming-hot sweetened coffee.
3. Lightly whip the cream. It should not form peaks, but it should be frothy enough to float, creating that perfect separation of coffee from cream, which is, after all, the signature of the drink.