The Fascinating Story Behind the Traditional Irish Coffee

Irish coffees have become synonymous with winters in Ireland. Enter in to any Irish pub on a chilly evening and you’re bound to find people sipping on a hot Irish coffee to warm themselves up.

The original Irish coffee is made with black coffee, whiskey, sugar and cream. This was first invented in the small town of Foynes in County Limerick in 1942.  Foynes was an airbase which handled many American passengers. Weather conditions along the West coast of Ireland were notoriously bad during the crossing from the West over to America which meant stop overs for refueling very often turned into over night stays.

In 1942 on a winter night, a plane that set off for New York had to turn back to Foynes due to the harsh weather conditions. The restaurant in the airport was told to prepare food and drinks for the cold and tired passengers. Joe Sheridan, a young Irish chef running the restaurant at the time decided to prepare something special to warm up the passengers.  He made rich black coffee, added some Irish whiskey, a little brown sugar and floated freshly whipped cream on top of each cup. As the passengers enjoyed the coffees, one man asked was it a bazillion coffee? To which Sheridan replied it’s an Irish coffee. 

The coffee was such a success that Joe made it a regular part of the menu in Foynes. By 1945, Foynes airbase was coming to an end with the opening of Shannon International Airport opening on the other side of the Shannon Estuary. Joe Sheridan moved his restaurant to the new airport and took his famous drink with him.

Irish Coffee may never have become an international success, had the travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, not brought the recipe back to Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco who started serving it on November 10, 1952. Since then the drink has become synonymous with Ireland, surprising people that it only originated in the 1940’s.

Bailey’s Irish Coffee Recipe has become equally as famous and very often more preferred than the traditional whiskey Irish coffee. Made in a similar fashion, but with Baileys instead of Irish Whiskey. This coffee is also a fulfilling drink on a winters night.

Take a look at the team at The Irish Store preparing the classic Irish coffee with whiskey and the more modern Bailey’s  Coffee.

Make your own Irish coffees with our fine  selection of Irish whiskeys and rich coffees  in our food baskets available at The Irish Store.

This article originally appeared on


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Tags: Coffee, History of Ireland, Hospitality, United States

Comment by P.J. Francis on April 16, 2014 at 5:02pm

I believe Joe Sheridan later moved to San Francisco.

Comment by Fran Reddy on September 29, 2014 at 7:24am

I love Irish Coffee when it's cool outside! Such a great warmer-upper!

Comment by P.J. Francis on September 29, 2014 at 11:11am

Joe Sheirdan was born in 1909 in Castlederg, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland and was one of six sons. His family moved to Dublin after the death of his father, where he worked in a restaurant. In 1943, he applied for the job of Chef at the airport in Foynes, County Limerick. His application came in to Brendan O’Regan and it simply stated, “Dear Sir. I’m the man for the job. Yours sincerely, Joe Sheridan." Brendan O’Regan later said that because of the impudence of his application he decided to interview Joe.(Brendan was from Sixmilebridge, County Clare and was a wonderful man who was responsible for the development of tourism in Ireland. There is a plaque in the square in Sixmilebridge in his memory.)

In 1952, Joe Sheridan having been offered the position at the Buena Vista, decided to emigrate. Joe died in 1962 and is buried in Oakland cemetery, just outside San Francisco.

Comment by Mary Egan on September 29, 2014 at 1:27pm

Any time we have an event in San Francisco (90 miles away) we always go to the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee, (or two). Typically it's standing-room-only in there. Especially Sunday mornings. Great breakfasts too.


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