Is Irish coffee actually Irish?
It turns out that the answer is yes – sort of.
While there are several variations on the traditional Irish coffee recipe, the original Irish coffee was created at the flying boat terminal in Foynes, Ireland. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
These flying boats were basically giant seaplanes that could travel long distances. But they were also unreliable, described as “big, big cumbersome things,” and vulnerable to changing weather conditions during their journey.
Which is what happened in October 1943. When an aircraft bound for New York had to turn back due to inclement conditions, the terminal’s chef Joe Sheridan decided to add some whiskey to the coffee to help warm up the passengers.
The official, original Irish coffee recipe is a five-step process with only four ingredients: hot coffee, sugar, cream, and whiskey:
- Preheat your glass with hot water
- Pour that water out, then add a teaspoon of brown sugar and “a good measure of Irish whiskey”
- Stir and pour in the hot coffee
- Stir again
- Pour lightly whipped cream so it floats on top of the hot coffee mixture
Of course, not all Irish coffees are created equal – quality ingredients and care are key. (Check out these tips to make your Irish coffee even better.)
This recipe was actually innovative at the time. Though whiskey was popular in Ireland, combining whiskey and coffee was a new idea. But thanks in part to the transatlantic travel that initially inspired the drink, it caught on quickly (and globally).
The rich visual of light cream layered over dark coffee also contributed to the drink’s popularity (as if coffee and whiskey weren’t enough). It even came to be served in a glass mug, versus opaque ceramic, to increase “eye appeal.”
And the timing was ideal in terms of publicity: During the 1940s, celebrities like Bing Crosby and Marilyn Monroe [above, with Henry Miller] were traveling through Europe to entertain troops in the war – often stopping at the Foynes terminal en route.
“It’s the best known drink in the world, because no matter what country in the world you go to, Irish coffee will be on the menu,” says Margaret O’Shaughnessy, director of the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum, home to the Irish Coffee Centre.
Today, it’s much more common to see coffee combined with alcohol, including beer or wine – in fact, it’s a growing trend driving the specialty market.