The Origins of Irish Coffee in America

Amancay Tapia

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Although Irish Coffee is not specifically a “Christmas”drink as it is also consumed during St.Patrick’s day or any day you fancy, it has became a favourite drink for the Christmas period.

It is indeed a wonderful drink to have after dinner or on a cold and dark December evening. Sit next to a log fire in good company, and we are in Christmas heaven while sipping our drink.

How an Irishman came up with the recipe for this drink makes also for a lovely Christmas story too.

The origins of this drink take us all the way back to 1943 and to Foynes, a town with a major port in County Limerick in the midwest of Ireland.

This is the place where Irish Coffee was invented by a Chef named Joseph Sheridan.

Joseph Sheridan(born in 1909 in Northern Ireland) got a job as a Chef at at a restaurant and coffee shop at an airport in Foynes.

Back then, Foynes was the main airport for Flying Boats and an epicentre of transatlantic flights between North America and Europe.

The village airport, received many passengers from the United States. Amongst the clientele there were famous Hollywood actors, diplomats and world travellers.

The restaurant where Chef Sheridan worked, was catering to these guests.

On a cold dark evening, a Pan Am flying boat flight to New York returned to Foynes because of the bad weather.

Joseph Sheridan who by then was gone as his shift was over, was asked to come back to the airport to help prepare food and drinks for the passengers.

Hoping to warm the freezing travellers, Joseph Sheridan put a bit of Irish whiskey into their coffees.

Legend has it that when an American guest drank Joe’s coffee, he asked whether the coffee was Brazilian to which Joe, with the charm of the Irish, replied ; “No, that’s Irish coffee”.

A line that would make him and the drink he was preparing, famous.

Almost ten years later, the drink arrived to the United States thanks to a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle named Stanton Delaplane.

By then, Foynes airport terminal had closed and Chef Sheridan had moved to a new airport at Rineanna ( Nowadays it is called Shannon International Airport) where the Irish coffee was a star in the menu.

It was here, while in transit, that the reporter tried Irish coffee for the first time and felt in love with the taste.

When the foodie reporter arrived in the United States he took the recipe to his friend Jack Koeppler, owner of The Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco.

There, he attempted for a few days to perfect the Irish Coffee. The recipe seems easy but like everything in life , practise makes perfect.

Soon “The Buena Vista Cafe” in San Francisco started serving Irish coffee to its clientele and it was thanks to this drink that this cafe became a very well known and busy saloon in the city back in the 50’s .

Thankful for their success because of the Irish Coffee invented by the Irish chef, they offered a job to Joseph Sheridan at The Buena Vista.

Without much to lose and a lot to gain, chef Sheridan took the job and moved to San Francisco. He worked in the popular and always busy saloon for a decade. Almost till his passing in 1962.

As the Irish Coffee gained popularity, many different versions of it have emerged across the globe.This is the most popular.

Irish Coffee Ingredients:

2 shots of espresso

1 ½ oz Irish whiskey

1 or 2 tsp of brown sugar

Fresh whipped cream

* These days some people prefer to add Bailey’s to the coffee instead of whiskey. Both delicious anyway.

Irish Coffee Method:

Fill an Irish coffee glass with hot water, then empty.

Ideally a glass mug to see the beauty of the colours this drink has.

However, be careful as hot water or coffee into a cold glass can crack it, hence why you first fill it with hot water and then pour it out until it is at room temperature

Once the glass is at room temperature, add 2 cubes of brown sugar

Pour in some good quality Irish Whiskey for a great taste

Add freshly made coffee or espresso until it is about ¾ full

Stir it all until sugar is completely dissolved.

To finish, top your drink with whipped cream by pouring gently over a spoon. Do not stir the cream as the drink will stay warmer for longer if you leave the cream sitting on top.

The flavour will also be better by drinking the coffee and Whisky through the cream

Best to enjoy hot but you can also drink it cold.To make cold Irish coffee chill the sweetened coffee first before adding the whiskey.

Sit, relax, enjoy and as the Irish say, Slainte! (pronounced slawn-CHA) It means “health" and is the equivalent to cheers.

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