Irish Coffee: The Real San Francisco Treat

This is the tale of an amazing wedding present and also the tale of the most delicious warm alcoholic beverage I have ever had, hands down! For those of you who have only ever had Bailey’s poured into lukewarm coffee, you are in for a treat! Last week I received a mysterious email from our awesome friend Sidney, who lives in the Bay area, asking me what kind of coffee pot we use and if we have a grinder. I was intrigued and excited, since this line of questioning could only lead in a good direction. He stopped by to see us this past Sunday while he was in town, and he brought us the most excellent gift in the world: equal parts coffee, liquor, and Bay area history!

It started with these articles, which Sidney had printed out for us, and which he summarized for us: how Irish coffee was invented in the Shannon airport, how a San Francisco Chronicle reporter worked to recreate the recipe in a local cafe in 1952, and how last summer the classic drink was on the verge of extinction, since the signature glass needed to make it was no longer being produced. And then a cocktail miracle happened! The manufacturer agreed to produce a huge one-day run of the glasses, just as a favor to the San Francisco cafes that serve this special drink, particularly the Buena Vista, where it was originally created.

Now, perhaps you can guess where this is going: Sidney got some of these glasses for us!! Their shape, size, and heat retention are really key for making Irish coffee the right way, and it just doesn’t really work without them. Hurray for us! Even better, Sidney had tracked down all of the specific ingredients for the original drink, most of them local Bay area ingredients: Peerless French roast coffee (located in Oakland since 1924), Tullamore Dew whiskey, C&H (California and Hawaiian) sugar cubes (in Contra Costa county since 1906), and Berkeley Farms cream (in Berkeley since 1910). Since he couldn’t bring the cream from Berkeley, he gave us money to buy it: so thoughtful! This kind of authentic experience is so special to Eric and I, especially since we miss the Bay area so much. Best wedding gift ever!

We were so excited to try it out this weekend, and grateful to have the step-by-step instructions from the Buena Vista Cafe! (For anyone else who wants to try it, you can actually buy souvenir Irish coffee glasses from the cafe, and their website features the recipe).

I ground the coffee while Eric boiled water. And let me tell you, this is some serious coffee. I could not believe how oily the beans were when I opened the bag: coffee heaven! While he measured whiskey and stirred sugar, I whipped the cream. I wasn’t sure if we would nail it on the first try, but oh my goodness, we so did. The cream floated perfectly, and it was a decadent treat. These flavors together are nothing short of a revelation.

Eric really loves the faces I make when I try delicious things, and he is always trying to capture them on camera. This time he succeeded! I took one sip, and I just could not believe how good it was! I had never had a real Irish coffee before, and it pretty much blew my mind. As evidence of this fact, I am even willing to show you this picture, in which I look rather deranged.

And here is a more normal happy face! For a coffee lover, this drink is perfection. It’s like a luxurious spiked latte, except that in every sip you get coffee and cream as distinct flavors, rather than blended into one. Eric is not as big on coffee as I am, and he loved it too. This kind of whiskey is really wonderful–it gives you a nice bite without the overpowering flavor of bourbon. I would drink one every day if I could! There is a nice punch of whiskey in the recipe, though, so I think for us it will be a weekend treat. I am already looking forward to the next one!

Thank you so much, Sidney, for the history and experience of the original San Francisco treat!

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