How to make the perfect Irish coffee

The glass, cream and coffee are important, but it’s the pouring that really matters

Raise a glass on National Irish Coffee Day.

Today is National Irish Coffee Day, so if you need a bit of a boost at some point in your day, feel free to indulge. But first, unless you’re taking advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions and letting the professionals serve you, you’ll need to know how to make one, properly.

A well made Irish coffee has clearly defined layers, with a thick layer of velvety cold cream on top and deep, dark coffee underneath. Nobody wants to see that perfect halo of cream sink murkily into the coffee.

Barry Farrell, resident bartender at Slane Distillery, has these suggestions: “When making an Irish coffee, the first two steps really do make all the difference to the end result. Firstly, make sure to choose the right size glass. At Slane Distillery we use a 6oz Georgian coffee glass, which helps to accentuate the aroma of the Irish coffee. Before adding any ingredients, also make sure to pre-heat the glass with boiling water.”

I’m not sure if it’s essential or not, but I always place a spoon in the glass, to absorb some of the heat and prevent the glass from shattering, before I add the boiling water. The same spoon can be used to pour the cream over the coffee, the heat it has absorbed making the cream slide in more easily. Pour the cream over the back of the spoon, with the tip of the spoon just touching the coffee.


Barry Farrell agrees: “A common mistake is overwhipping the cream for an Irish coffee. It should just be whipped lightly so it can be poured over a spoon to create the topping.”

Irish coffee was first created in the 1940s by chef Joe Sheridan as a warming winter treat for passengers travelling through Foynes Port, where planes en route from Europe to the US would stop to refuel. Video: Tourism Ireland

When it comes to making a sugar-free Irish coffee, just don’t. Unless you have some supernatural power over the cream and the coffee, they are less likely to stay in their proper layers without sugar in the coffee. And the taste won’t be the same either. Barry Farrell’s recipe (below) uses vanilla syrup, of the sort found in some coffee shops, to create the type of drink serious baristas frown upon, instead of sugar.

The icing on the coffee can come in the shape of a flurry of finely grated chocolate, or a coffee bean, placed delicately on top.

The historical origins of the beverage are not entirely clear. Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy has two theories. "The oft-repeated story goes that Irish coffee was invented in the old Foynes Flying Boat Airport in 1942 when a transatlantic plane had to turn back because of bad weather. Barman Joe Sheridan came up with the recipe to warm the stranded passengers.

"Another version of the story goes that Irish coffee was invented in Dublin. This claim came from a Harvard history professor John V Gallagher, presumably a man of the most impeccable sources. He wrote an essay stating that Irish coffee was actually invented in The Dolphin in Dublin's Temple Bar and concocted by the proprietor Michael Nugent, to disguise the awful taste of wartime coffee.

Barry Farrell’s ultimate Irish coffee


Espresso coffee, make it a double shot
15ml vanilla syrup
40ml Slane Irish Whiskey
Boiling water
3 tablespoons of lightly whipped cream
1 teaspoon dark orange chocolate shavings


1 Brew your espresso and make it a double. At Slane Distillery, we use our local roastery Ariosa Coffee's signature blend which is roasted to a medium level and gives a nice balance to an Irish coffee. Then add 15ml of vanilla-infused syrup and 40ml of Slane Irish Whiskey to the glass. Stir all the elements together and top up with boiling water.

2 Depending on the size of your glass, remember to leave enough space for a nice topping of whipped cream. Then add a sprinkle of dark orange chocolate shavings on top for a sweet finish, sit back and enjoy