Did you know, Irish coffee wouldn’t exist without flying boats, a humorous chef, & bad weather? Read to learn the Irish coffee origin story!
Both Ireland and America have played a part in Irish coffee history. There’s even a national day dedicated to Irish coffee called National Irish Coffee Day. Let’s learn all about what Irish coffee is, why it is important to our history, and where it comes from.
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What is Irish coffee?
Irish coffee is a hot, alcoholic beverage. It has four ingredients; coffee, Irish whiskey, brown sugar and whipped cream. It is a great drink to serve on St. Patrick’s Day.
Since Irish coffee is served warm, it is perfect for the colder winter months. However, Irish coffee is consumed year round. It is a popular drink choice for brunch.
Some versions of Irish coffee include Baileys Irish Cream, but that was not an ingredient used in the Irish coffee original recipe.
History of Irish coffee and Foynes, Ireland
Irish coffee would not exist today if it were not for Joe Sheridan, the Foynes Airport in Ireland, and flying boats. I want to dive in to the Irish coffee origin, but first we have to talk about flying boats.
Flying boats were an early model of seaplane used heavily during World War II. They made it possible to have regular travel from Europe to America.
These flying boats would land at the Foynes Airport in Foynes, Ireland to refuel. In 1942, Brendan O’Regan opened a restaurant in the airport and hired an Irish chef named Joe Sheridan.
When O’Regan hired Joe Sheridan there is no way he could have guessed how this decision would impact history, with the invention of Irish coffee.
Why is it called Irish coffee?
One winter night in 1942, a flying boat bound for New York hit a patch weather so dangerous that the pilot decided to turn the plan around and land back in Foynes.
With the weather as miserable as it was, the pilot sent a Morse code message to the airport to inform them of their impending return.
The passengers were instructed to go to Joe Sheridan’s restaurant for food and drink. Sheridan had been experimenting to create a warm, comforting, drink for their return.
When the travelers arrived from the grounded seaplane and stepped into the restaurant Sheridan placed coffee, with good Irish whiskey added to it, in front of them.
They were delighted and one passenger asked Joe Sheridan “is this Brazilian coffee?” to which Sheridan quipped back “No, that’s Irish coffee!”. In that moment, in the spirit of a joke, Irish coffee was born.
Irish coffee history at The Buena Vista – its American debut
The Foynes Airport closed in the fall of 1945. Joe Sheridan and his staff moved to The Rineanna Airport and continued to serve Irish coffee. The Rineanna is still standing today, but is now referred to as Shannon International Airport.
In 1951, a travel writer named Stan Delaplane tried Irish coffee at The Rineanna and loved it. When he went back to America, he told his friend Jack Koeppler about the drink.
Jack Koeppler owned The Buena Vista restaurant in San Francisco. Together Koeppler and Delaplane tried to recreate the drink but ran into problems with the cream needed to make it.
After experimenting with the drink, and talking to the mayor of San Francisco, (who also happened to be a dairy farmer) they found out the cause of the issue with their cream.
They needed to age the cream for 48 hours and froth it to perfection. When they did that, it solved the problem with their recreation of Sheridan’s drink.
So, who invented Irish coffee?
When The Buena Vista began serving Irish coffee, Jack Koeppler offered Joe Sheridan a job in 1952. Sheridan accepted the position and joined the team at The Buena Vista.
Though some sources credit Jack Koeppler, Stan Delaplane and The Buena Vista with creating Irish coffee, that is not true.
Joe Sheridan is the creator of Irish coffee. Though The Buena Vista plays a part in the history of Irish coffee, Joe Sheridan is the one who deserves credit for its invention.
When Sheridan accepted the job offer in 1952 at The Buena Vista, he moved to San Francisco and lived there for the rest of his life. He died in 1962 and was buried in the nearby Oakland Cemetery.
Original Irish coffee glass
When Joe Sheridan first served the travelers from the flying boat Irish coffee, he didn’t have any fancy glassware to showcase his drink.
After Irish coffee’s popularity grew for a couple of weeks, Sheridan walked into O’Regan’s office with a stemmed glass, to show his boss. O’Regan loved it, and that style of glassware became the traditional Irish coffee glass.
This stemmed glass is thought of as the “original” Irish coffee glass, because from that point on, it was used specifically for that drink.
Irish coffee original recipe
There are only four ingredients in the Irish coffee original recipe. They are coffee, brown sugar, cream and Irish whiskey!
While the taste of Irish coffee is complex, the drink itself is quick and easy to make. I’ve included a printable recipe card at the bottom of this post so you can try making it yourself.
A frequently asked question about Irish coffee is “what is the best whiskey for Irish coffee?”. I recommend a good quality Irish whiskey! It’s the most authentic choice, as the drink was created in Ireland, and is very tasty.
Let me know what you think of the Irish coffee original recipe, in the comments section, if you try it!
Fun facts about the origin of Irish coffee
Brush up on your knowledge of the origin of Irish coffee with these fun facts. Some may surprise you!
- National Irish Coffee Day falls annually on January 25th.
- Irish coffee was invented in Foynes, Ireland. There’s even a museum in Foynes dedicated to the history around Irish coffee.
- The Buena Vista is still in operation. You can go enjoy an Irish coffee there, to this day!
- Joe Sheridan is the inventor of Irish coffee.
- There are popular variations of Irish coffee that use Baileys Irish Cream, but that was not an ingredient in the Irish coffee original recipe.
- After the cream is poured on top of the coffee, do not stir the drink! The coffee is mean to be drunk through the layer of cream.
More historical trivia posts
If you enjoyed reading facts about the Irish coffee origin, be sure to also check out these posts to learn more historical fun facts!
- The Pina Colada origin is just as exciting as the origin of Irish coffee! I’ll give you a hint – it was invented by pirates! Make sure to check out the post and learn about its evolution through history. There’s even a National Pina Colada Day to celebrate this drink.
- Did you know Queen Elizabeth I is responsible for the gingerbread man? Check out our post on the history of gingerbread to learn more fun facts about gingerbread!
- One of the most controversial inventions we’ve written about on Always the Holidays is the bikini. Check out the history of the bikini to find out why! It also has its own national day called National Bikini Day.
- If you’re a vinyl record fan, head over to our post on the history of vinyl records. It follows the evolution of this music medium through time, and has a list of fun facts too!
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess Speake has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- Strong, black, coffee
- 1 shot of Irish whiskey
- Lightly whipped cream
- Gather your ingredients and get ready to make the drink from Foynes, Ireland - the birthplace of Irish coffee.
- To see the full Irish coffee original recipe visit the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 129Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 7mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 0g
Nutritional information is approximate due to natural variation in ingredients and the cook-at-home nature of our meals.