Coffee, Irish whiskey and cream.
Taken separately they're a tasty trio. But combine them just the right way and in just the right proportions and they get even better, transforming into a drink that can perk up the grayest day.
We're talking Irish coffee, of course, a drink that's especially popular around St. Patrick's Day, but good any time you want to add some zing to your caffeine.
The secret, says Larry Silva, general manager of the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco — which serves up 2,000 Irish coffees a day — is how you put the drink together.
At the Buena Vista — the original source of the drink in the United States — Irish coffee starts with a stemmed, 6-ounce glass that has been preheated with hot water. And both of those elements are critical. A bigger or smaller glass would throw off the coffee-booze balance. A cold glass results in a tepid cocktail.
For a touch of sweetness, the Buena Vista recipe adds two cubes of sugar, though other recipes call for brown sugar. The cream, meanwhile, should be fresh and just slightly whipped — nothing from an aerosol can.
As for the whiskey, the Buena Vista is currently using Tullamore Dew. In general, what you are seeking is a smooth whiskey that won't fight with the other flavors, says Silva. This isn't the time to pull out that peaty Scotch. But don't be afraid to use something good.
Though it seems likely that people have been introducing a drop or two of whiskey into coffee for a while, the drink as a cocktail was popularized in Ireland at the Foynes port, precursor to Shannon Airport, in the 1940s when chef Joe Sheridan decided to pep up some coffee with Irish whiskey to cheer chilly travelers. The drink was much appreciated and one of the passengers is said to have asked, "Was that Brazilian coffee?" Sheridan jokingly answered, "No, that was Irish coffee," and a tradition was born.
San Francisco newspaperman Stanton Delaplane tried the coffee while flying from Shannon Airport in 1952 and on his return got together with Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, to re-create the drink. The trickiest part was getting the cream to float on top, something that was solved by whipping the cream just a bit, then pouring it carefully over the back of a spoon into the cup.