Irish Coffee is a favourite all around the world as a drink to warm you up on a cold, miserable day. It is made by adding brown sugar and Irish whiskey to black coffee, and then pouring half-whipped cream over the top so that it settles.
When made correctly, an Irish Coffee should look very similar to the other famous Irish drink, a pint of Guinness.
Irish Coffee is a relatively new creation, unlike other Irish drinks such as Jameson Whiskey and Guinness which date back hundreds of years.
According to legend, Irish Coffee was invented by a chef at a restaurant in Foynes, a small village on the west coast of Ireland. Foynes was an airbase for many Flying Boats travelling between Europe and America. It was a routine stop-off point for refuelling, but also a regular waiting point for pilots and passengers when severe weather conditions meant they were unable to travel.
Foynes was often the first stop made by important Americans, such as politicians and Hollywood stars, when they visited Europe. A restaurant was built to cater for these important guests.
‘Is this a Brazilian coffee?’
On one occasion in 1942, a plane left Foynes for the Canadian island Newfoundland, but was forced to turn back due to heavy storms. The restaurant staff were told to prepare refreshments for the crew and passengers as they would be tired and cold by the time they returned.
The restaurant chef, named Joe Sheridan, prepared a black coffee with a dash of Irish Whiskey and sugar to warm up the passengers. He also added cream to the top of the drink to add taste and make it look attractive.
The story goes that there was a nervous silence amongst the restaurant staff as the first customer tasted the drink. He asked the chef if he had been served a Brazilian Coffee, but was told that this was an ‘Irish Coffee’. The customer was suitably impressed and from that point forward the restaurant made the Irish Coffee a permanent fixture on its menu.
However, had it not been for an American travel writer, the drink could have been confined to one restaurant in Foynes and may never have achieved its worldwide fame and notoriety.
American travel writer brought the drink to the USA
A couple of years after the first serving of Irish Coffee, a new airport for landplanes was built in Shannon. This superseded the Flying Boat airbase in Foynes. Fortunately, Joe Sheridan got a job as manager of the Shannon Airport restaurant.
Stanton Delaplane was a successful writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was in Ireland in 1950, and tasted an Irish Coffee at the airport.
Delaplane was impressed and when he got back to San Francisco, he persuaded his friend Jack Koeppler to start selling Irish Coffees in his hotel bar. Koeppler owned the Buena Vista in San Francisco and was open to the idea of adding a new drink to his menu, but needed to know how to make it first.
Delaplane and Koeppler reportedly spent an entire evening trying to recreate the Irish Coffee served by Joe Sheridan in Ireland. They sampled so many drinks that Delaplane nearly collapsed on his way home.
Buena Vista now serves 2,000 glasses a day
Koeppler travelled to Ireland to discover the correct way to make Irish Coffee from the man who invented it, Joe Sheridan. He ended up offering Sheridan a job in his bar. The mayor of San Francisco also supported the idea of the new drink. His background was in the dairy trade, and he advised that cream older than 48 hours would be more suited to making the drink, as it would be less likely to sink.
After many discussions and training sessions from Sheridan, the Buena Vista finally added an ‘Irish Coffee’ to its menu.
The bar has become famous for its Irish Coffees and now sells more than 2,000 glasses every day.
Joe Sheridan is honoured for his creation at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum.