By Sarah A. Lybrand
As in other parts of the world, the Irish enjoy a version of coffee all their own — but theirs involves whiskey.
On the whole, Ireland is more of a nation of tea-drinkers than coffee. In fact, to be served anything other than instant coffee (widely available at hotels and restaurants upon request) travelers will have to seek it out.
Specialty coffee chains like Costa, or Coffeangel (or yes, even Starbucks) can be found in most major cities — not to mention at a plentitude of small shops, bakeries, and cafes all over the the Republic of, and Northern Ireland.
Once there, you'll have your pick of beverages made exclusively with...espresso.
That'll be harder to find. Unless, you don’t mind heading to a pub...where they'll happily add whiskey. And now you have — 'sure-look-it!' — an Irish Coffee!
This version, hot and alcoholic, is made with a strong black brew, whiskey, brown sugar, and double cream. It's a dessert-like cocktail known to have been popularized in the 1940s at the Buena Vista Hotel San Francisco, not Ireland. So will you be judged a clueless American if you order one?
Not at all, say locals. The Buena Vista got the recipe from a well-known travel writer who coaxed it from its true inventor: a bartender at the Foynes international airport in Limerick (the Foynes Flying Boat Museum operates there today). Though 'Irish coffee' eventually reached global fame — none are prouder of this than the Irish. So here’s how to order one while you're visiting:
1. Get used to espresso
To reitorate, your general coffee experience in Ireland is going to be all about how you dress up, or down, your espresso — so if you don't already know how you like yours, you might narrow it down. That, or be prepared to explore espress-to-milk-to-foam ratios of various international origins, like cortados, cappuccinos, flat whites, etc. But if what you really want is regular drip coffee, then order yours as an Americano (espresso diluted in hot water).
Otherwise, a true Irish coffee is less about how you take it, than what you'll add next: whiskey.
2. Choose your whiskey
Like with any mixed drink, you don’t have to settle for whatever the pub’s serving up (though, often, this’ll be Jameson’s or Paddy’s). Only you decide how high-end to go here — but make sure to specify so you don’t end up drinking well. When you order, you can say:
"I'd like an Irish coffee, please — and could you make it with a (Jameson’s...Paddy...etc.)?”
[The only correct being a proper Irish whiskey, of course. Just order a bourbon — I dare you!)
3. Don’t settle for a mixer
If anyone tries to serve you that horrible Irish Coffee Whiskey Blend (not really whiskey at all, experts say) — run for the hills! Those in-the-know say a properly made Irish coffee should be jet black, with a white top, and the line in between should be sharp. If the white cream is falling into the black coffee, then it's been done all wrong.
4. Try another hot, local favorite
If coffee just isn't your thing but you're feeling the festive vibe, try another warming, pub favorite: expertly prepared hot whiskey with lemon, cloves, and Jameson (of course).
So while you won’t find the same coffee culture as say, in Italy or Paris, you’ll find the Irish serve an array of espresso drinks for when tea or instant coffee just won’t do. Or, better yet...and a tid bit more fun?... visit a pub for an Irish Coffee’s warming taste of the Emerald Isle.
While you're at it, check out our Ireland vacations!