Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. ~ Alex Levine, Irish actor and musician
If the spirit enlivening, fine rugged roar of an Irish coffee, (emphasis on) well done, has ever struck you as something of a revelation, the story of its origin will further heighten this notion.
As all good things often are, it was a stroke of genius on the fly; in this case, in the midst of a storm. Pitted as it was against the forces of nature, this wee blast of brilliance — likened to being kicked by a mule with a velvet hoof — was intended as a tonic for embattled late-night travellers.
In particular, these travellers: the wet and weary passengers aboard a seaplane in the winter of 1943, held back by poor weather from their late-night flight across the Atlantic from the village of Foynes in the midwest of Ireland — the last port of call and refueling on the country’s eastern shore for transatlantic seaplanes at the time, and one of Europe’s largest civilian airports during World War II.
When the decision was made to turn around, catering staff at Foynes’ flying boat base were alerted and Joe Sheridan, head chef of the Foynes’ terminal restaurant — 'terminal' a word that should not precede what was then considered one of Ireland’s best eateries — was asked to whip up something warm for the incoming travellers. So Joe did what has revived so many during trying times: he gave them liquor, adding Irish whiskey with a trick of sugar and cream to the passengers’ coffee and the rest is history. When Joe was asked if he’d used Brazilian coffee, it is said he quipped: “No. That was Irish coffee!” And, by Jingo, that, it was.
A few weeks later, Joe shared his new recipe with his boss, Ireland’s famed hotelier and business innovator Brendan O’Regan (who also gave the world its first duty-free shop), and they both agreed this touch of the Irish had to stay. From then on, Joe’s “Irish” coffee was served to all of Foynes’ passengers — some of them famous, including Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller (pictured), along with Ernest Hemingway, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope and Humphrey Bogart, among others — ultimately, making its way across the Atlantic to enjoy growing fame in America, most notably thanks to the efforts of the Buena Vista Hotel in San Francisco and the travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, who introduced it there.
Joe’s 1943 ingredients have been altered, added to, jazzed up, as well as criminally cheapened over the years, so, in celebration of Joe’s original innovation and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday, March 17, here is Joe’s yesteryear recipe in all of its sweet, bitter and fiery glory taken from Foynes’ flying boat museum website (which is well worth a browse; in fact, Google to research Foynes' history, and O'Regan's biography further: it's fascinating, including this video about the golden era of giant flying boats).
Suggestions have been added in bold:
In your Foynes Irish Coffee Glass, place a teaspoon and fill with boiling water for five seconds. (Replace the 6-ounce “classic” Foynes stemmed glass with an 8-ounce handled mug or tempered glass mug for practical reasons. If you actually do possess a Foynes glass, congratulations!).
In this pre-warmed glass, put one teaspoon of brown sugar and a good measure of Irish Whiskey. (For the sake of historical record, Joe used Paddy Old Irish Whiskey from the Cork Distilleries Company. Do not leave out the sugar. Sugar is key to keeping the cream afloat).
Fill the glass to within 1cm of the brim with really hot, strong black (French press) coffee. Stir well to melt all the sugar. (Joe used Ireland’s Bewley’s brand but any freshly ground, brewed coffee will do. Try a medium-roast Colombian, dark-roasted Costa Rican, Guatemalan in a darker roast or medium-roast Sumatran. Sidenote: Bewley does have operations in the US, under Rebecca’s Cafe in Boston and Java City in California).
Then carefully pour lightly whipped cream over the back of a spoon so that it floats on top of the coffee. (The cream — use double or whipping cream — should be whisked just short of stiff. Use spray-can cream and you will defile the memory of Joe and his coffee contribution to humanity).
Do not stir after adding the cream, as the true flavour is obtained by drinking the hot coffee and Irish Whiskey through the cream.
And, lastly, as this Celtic coaster prompts: sláinte!