The Fascinating History of Irish Coffee
Author: rob Date Posted:5 October 2012
Ask almost anyone where Irish coffee originated and they would simply say, “Ireland” or perhaps, “Duh! Ireland.”
Well, they would be half-right, but not right enough to assume you were asking a dumb question. The history of Irish Coffee is as fascinating as the history of coffee and the coffee machine.
It all started in the late 1930s, when the latest thing in aircraft was the flying boat service between the United States and Europe. Everyone who was anyone, including the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart flew on this service, which arrived at and departed from Ireland’s Foynes Airport.
Whether they were an average passenger or someone like Eleanor Roosevelt or Douglas Fairbanks, every passenger had to take a cold boat trip to the airline terminal. This was uncomfortable enough in the summer months, but could be almost unendurable in the freezing winter.
In 1942, Foynes opened a restaurant. One freezing night, the chef, Joe Sheridan, was told to prepare hot food and beverages to feed passengers whose flight to Newfoundland had to return to Foynes because of bad weather. Joe didn’t have the advantage of a Lavazza espresso machine, but he did know how to make a strong coffee brew. Deciding that wouldn’t be enough to warm the freezing passengers, he added a bit of Irish whiskey into the brew. A grateful but confused passenger asked him if he was drinking Brazilian coffee. Joe replied, “No, that’s Irish coffee” and from that moment on, Irish Coffee became the beverage offered to arrivals at Foynes Airport.
It would be understandable to think that someone like Hemingway was responsible for spreading the word about Irish Coffee, but actually the recipe was perfected in San Francisco, California in 1952. At that time, the Buena Vista Café was a rough and tumble saloon frequented by longshoremen and cannery workers. With its harbour views, it was an ideal place to sit down and enjoy a “drop or two” while keeping an eye out for the arrival of fishing boats.
One day Jack Koeppler, the owner of the Buena Vista and his good friend, food critic Stanton Delaplane had a brainstorm. They would re-create the perfect recipe for Irish Coffee for patrons of the saloon, who loved Irish whiskey but also needed to stay alert when returning fishing boats signalled their return to work.
For decades, Koeppler’s and Delaplane’s recipe remained the classic Irish Coffee recipe. It would remain so today except for the fact that they used coffee from a coffee press. Whilst far better than drip coffee that’s become bitter from sitting on a warmer all day, pressed coffee is not as delicious as Lavazza coffee made in a free Lavazza espresso machine from the Bluepod Coffee Company. For a great Irish Coffee recipe that may make you an Irish Coffee legend in your neighbourhood, if not the world, check out our blog, Coffee or Cocktails?
The primary source for this article was Exploring Irish Coffee, by Arthur Wynn. It first appeared on the Coffee Geek website in November 2006.