The classic Irish Coffee is one of those cocktails that has so few ingredients, really nailing it is a study in (1) quality and (2) balance. Though blissfully simple to make — simply stir whiskey, coffee, and sugar together, then top with whipped cream — the devil is really in the details. Too much whiskey makes for an overly bitter, boozy bite. The whipped cream should be fresh and only very lightly whipped, so it’s airy enough to float on top of the drink but still liquid enough to be sipped. Demerara sugar adds a caramel complexity that regular refined sugar lacks. And bad coffee can be the worst offender, since the coffee itself comprises the biggest part of the drink.
Sounds a little trickier than just sort of throwing some whiskey into a regular cup of joe, right? But really what we’re aiming for here is to be discerning, not difficult. So let’s break down each component, and how to get the best quality in the simplest, most efficient way.
First, the glass — yes, the glass. You want something that tapers outward, like a teacup, not a cylindrical coffee mug, which will concentrate alcohol vapors in your nose and throw off the balance of the drink. Most traditional Irish coffee mugs are made in this style, but I also love these glasses from Bormioli Rocco. I use them for hot toddies, too — any warm drink with alcohol needs a tapered mug.
Second, the whiskey. This one is pretty easy; the trick is to use a good quality Irish whiskey, and only use a single ounce. You heard correctly — a truly balanced Irish coffee isn’t the booze bomb many people think it is. In fact, it’s a pretty low ABV cocktail when made correctly.
Third, the sugar. You want to use demerara if you can find it, since the richer flavor is a better compliment to coffee drinks. Raw or turbinado sugars make good substitutes if you can’t find demerara. I use sugar cubes, because they’re easiest to drop into a glass without measuring, and also because you (or your guests) can add more or less to taste.
Now, let’s talk about the whole ‘coffee’ part. If you read my post on Boozy Frozen Pumpkin Spiced Lattesor Irish Coffee Granitas, you know I’m obsessed with using espresso instead of coffee in cocktails for its rich, concentrated flavor. But it’s tricky and expensive to make at home, right? Wrong. As someone who can’t function on less than two caffeinated beverages per day, and who cannot be trusted to operate expensive, complicated machines before said caffeine intake, to say that I worship the simplicity of my Nespresso Lattissima would be putting it lightly. In this recipe, the size and dilution of a Nespresso lungo just happen to be perfect.
And here are some bonus feel good vibes to go along with that super easy cup of espresso perfection. Single-serving coffee pods may be the most convenient way to get your caffeine fix, but they also pose the risk of contributing to the our global waste crisis. Nespresso is one of the largest worldwide producers of coffee pods, but thankfully, you don’t have to create additional waste while indulging your espresso habit. Nespresso capsules are made from aluminum — not plastic — and can be continuously recycled. As someone who consumes multiple pods a day, this recyclability is a huge ‘must’ for me.
Finally, let’s get to the cream. Lightly whipped cream is a must here, because it can float on top of the drink (if it gets poured right in, it’s likely to curdle) but still remain drinkable — ideally you get a bit with every sip. I’ve found that the easiest way for me to lightly whip cream without a lot of mess is to do it right in a cocktail shaker, which has the added benefit of being easy to pour.
Pour a bit of cream into the shaker, don’t add ice, but DO add a spring — I use the spring from one of my Hawthorne strainers (the kind that comes with a standard bar set). Shake for twenty seconds, and voila — you’ll get just the right texture every time. Pour it carefully over the back of a spoon to make sure it floats, then sit back and enjoy. The perfect Irish coffee requires a lot of thought, but only a little effort.
- 1 lungo Nespresso pod
- 2 demerara sugar cubes (or two packs sugar in the raw)
- 1 oz Irish whiskey
- heavy whipping cream to top
- Combine the lungo Nespresso, sugar, and whiskey in a mug that tapers outward (like a teacup or traditional Irish coffee mug), and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Lightly whip the heavy whipping cream (about 1 oz per drink) by adding a spring to a cocktail shaker (like the spring from a Hawthorne strainer) and shaking it with the cream for twenty seconds. Float it in a layer over the coffee by pouring it carefully over the back of a spoon.