Do you enjoy a delicious Irish coffee after a meal, at Christmastime, or just generally whenever you get a notion for one? Let’s take a look at the history of the Irish coffee.
Irish coffee. It’s a simple, uncomplicated, and delicious drink. It’s made up of freshly brewed black coffee, your whiskey of choice (Irish, preferably), double cream, and sugar if it’s to your taste.
While it’s a soothing drink loved all over the world, do you actually know where it comes from? Today, we’re going to dive into the history of the Irish coffee, its origins, and modern variations.
The history of the Irish coffee – where does it come from?
Sometimes, a country’s most-enjoyed dishes aren’t actually from there. Chicken tikka masala? No, it’s not an Indian dish; it was actually created in Scotland.
Pasta? Nope, not Italian. Marco Polo brought the iconic Italian food back to Italy from a voyage to China. Croissants? Turns out the French are complete frauds because croissants came from Austria.
So, the big question is, is Irish coffee actually Irish? Well, as it turns out, it is. The Irish coffee was inadvertently invented at a flying boat terminal back in the 1940s.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what a flying boat terminal is and how was the Irish coffee invented there.
The inception of the Irish coffee – all the way back in October 1943
According to Margaret O’Shaughnessy, director of the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum, a flying boat was basically a giant seaplane.
In the 1930s, Pan American World Airways ran a fleet of them between New York and the Emerald Isle.
O’Shaughnessy explained, “The first international passenger flights on the Atlantic came to our small village of Foynes.”
Foynes is a small village and major port in County Limerick in the Midwest of Ireland. O’Shaughnessy went on to explain that these flying boats were very unreliable.
And, on one fateful journey, bad weather meant that a flight bound for New York had to turn around and return to Foynes.
On this cold and rainy night in October 1943, staff and the chef at the terminal hurried to get food and refreshments ready for the weary travellers.
Joe Sheridan, the chef, decided to put whiskey in the hot coffee to warm them up. Thus, this was the inception of the Irish coffee.
The perfect Irish coffee – four ingredients, four steps
The original Irish coffee has only four ingredients. Coffee, whiskey, cream, and sugar and the recipe follows four steps.
One: Preheat your glass with hot water.
Two: Pour the water out and add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a “good measure of whiskey” to the glass.
Three: Stir the two together and add hot coffee, stir again.
Four: Pour lightly whipped cream on top, so it floats, and serve.
Believe it or not, this was an extremely innovative invention of its time. While Irish people loved whiskey, the combination of whiskey and coffee was a well-kept secret until then.
The aesthetic of the drink was a big thing at the time, too. The contrast of the white against black in a tall glass, rather than a ceramic mug, was a way of appealing to the fancy and famous Americans who swept through Foynes.
O’Shaughnessy said the likes of John F. Kennedy, Bing Crosby, and Marilyn Monroe would have been transiting from the US to Europe to entertain the troops during the Second World War.
There is actually a picture of Marilyn Monroe sipping the very drink in the terminal.
From Ireland to America – the journey of the Irish coffee
The travel between Ireland and the States is how the drink made its way across the Atlantic. O’Shaughnessy explained that Joe, the creator, was serving a journalist named Stanton Delaplane from San Francisco.
He tried the drink and apparently loved it so much that when he returned to America, he met up with his friend Jack Koeppler, owner of the famous Buena Vista Café on Fisherman’s Wharf, and tried to recreate it.
While they got the coffee and whiskey part, they just couldn’t get the cream to sit on top. So, driven by sheer motivation and thirst for Irish coffee, Koeppler flew back to Ireland to taste the original drink for himself.
By this stage, the flying boat terminal had been replaced by Shannon Airport as the main hub. Eventually, the mayor of San Francisco, coincidentally a dairy farmer, suggested they make the drink with aged cream.
To this day, Irish coffees are churned out in the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco in spades. So, there you have it, the history of the Irish coffee.
Some replace the whiskey with Bailey’s to make Baileys coffee, some with Tia Maria to make a calypso coffee, and some add a little spice with nutmeg.
Regardless, it’s a wonderous concoction that lives on all over the world today.