Classic Irish Coffee

Every home bartender should know how to make a classic Irish Coffee, the quintessential after-dinner drink. Made with sweetened, freshly brewed coffee and Irish whiskey, plus a layer of fluffy whipped cream, this delicious and easy warm cocktail can be tailored to your taste.

a gold spoon, a gold jigger and two Irish coffees

Irish coffees are a sweet and delicious drink to end a delicious meal with or cozy up with during cold weather.

What is Irish Coffee?

Irish coffee is a wintertime treat of sweetened, hot coffee that’s spiked with Irish whiskey and topped with a thick layer of whipped cream.

You don’t stir Irish coffee; instead, you take a sip through the thick cream layer.

While it is the perfect drink for a chilly evening, it can also be made cold — try this iced Irish coffee for the warmer months.

The best part of Irish coffee is that it’s incredibly easy to make. If you have some kind of coffee maker and a measuring device, you should be able to make Irish coffee.

chocolate sprinkles on an Irish coffee

Classic Irish Coffee recipe

To make an Irish Coffee drink, you only need four ingredients: hot coffee, Irish whiskey, a sweetener and whipped cream.

But the best part is that you can tailor them to your liking. Want to make them less sweet? Or want to make it decaf? Or want to add an extra shot of whiskey?! Do it! Make it yours.

Irish coffee can be enjoyed any time of day. It makes a delicious breakfast or brunch drink, or you can save it for after-dinner to enjoy with dessert. (Might I recommend this Chocolate Guinness Cake with Irish Cream Frosting?)

whipped cream melting into a hot Irish coffee

Ingredients

Only four ingredients go into the classic Irish coffee cocktail. Here’s what you’ll need to pick up at the grocery store:

Sweetener

I always recommend making your own simple syrup. It’s so very easy! Just equal parts of sugar and water. You can make it in a blender or on the stove, and store it to mix into cocktails.

You can also use two to three sugar cubes or one tablespoon of brown sugar or granulated sugar if you like. Since you’re using hot coffee, the sugar will dissolve when stirred into the coffee.

Honey or maple syrup could also be used if you don’t have any other sweeteners on hand.

Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey is, you guessed it, whiskey that’s distilled in Ireland. Readily available in the United States, it is sweet and smooth with a light flavor of fruit and a subtle floral scent with hints of vanilla. When aged, it has a more sophisticated flavor with oak and caramel notes.

My go-to is Jameson whiskey, but there are many other brands out there including Bushmills, Tullamore D.E.W. and Redbreast. Bourbon would also work fine in a pinch (though it technically wouldn’t be Irish since it’s made in the USA).

If you like, you can switch up the Irish whiskey to try some more flavors. For a creamier version, try Irish cream liqueur. (It’s essentially a spiked iced coffee with Baileys and not an Irish coffee though.)

Coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua, is another option that brings in more coffee flavor. However, if you use Baileys or Kahlua, you may not need as much or any sugar as it will be sweet enough on its own.

Fresh, Hot Coffee

Freshly brewed coffee is always best. Instant coffee or quick-brewing coffee pods will work just fine for busy days.

However, higher-quality coffee will make a big difference. If you have the time to brew a pot of your favorite beans in your coffee maker or even put together a pot of French press (which is SO worth the wait, honestly), you can have the best Irish coffee. Trust me.

I suggest using a medium or dark roast of coffee that is unflavored but feel free to use your favorite. You may use decaffeinated coffee if you prefer, too.

bailey's irish cream in a green bowl with a gold spoon

Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is a crucial element for a true Irish coffee. You may use cool whip or the canned stuff, but homemade whipped cream is worth the effort. So fluffy and creamy!

If you like, you can make boozy whipped cream. Bailey’s whipped cream is a silky and flavorful topping to iced Irish coffee.

Unwhipped heavy cream works too. If you go that route, pour it gently over the back of a spoon to form a thick layer on top of the coffee. Milk or half-and-half will not work quite the same as they are too thin to float on the coffee.

Lastly, you can substitute ice cream. Scoop it right on the top of the drink. Vanilla ice cream or coffee ice cream would be fantastic paired with bitter coffee.

a classic Irish coffee served in a glass mug on a green saucer

How to make Irish Coffee

Making perfect Irish coffee is super simple. Here’s what to do:

  1. To warm your mugs, fill them with hot water while you prepare your ingredients.
  2. In a mug or glass (like these heatproof glass Irish coffee mugs), combine simple syrup and Irish whiskey. Top with hot coffee until you have a bit of room for the whipped cream. Stir everything together to combine it. (If using sugar or sugar cubes, stir until sugar dissolves.)
  3. Then spoon whipped cream over top. If using heavy cream, pour it gently over the back of a spoon to form a thick layer.
  4. If you’d like to garnish it, top it with chocolate jimmies and edible gold stars. You can also go with a sprinkling of coffee grounds, chocolate shavings, cocoa or cinnamon
a glass mug of Irish coffee on a green and gold plate

Variations and substitutions

Here are some ways you can make this classic cocktail your own:

Use Irish cream. Feel free to replace all or some of the Irish whiskey with your favorite Irish cream liqueur. If you’d like to impart some more coffee flavor, coffee liqueur is another sweet spirit you can try.

Use flavored whipped cream. Another thing you can try is adding some flavor to the whipped cream. Try adding Irish whiskey or making strawberry whipped cream.

Make it decaf. Use decaffeinated coffee instead of regular. (This is exactly what I do if I’m enjoying one of these after 4 p.m.)

Make it non-alcoholic. Use a zero-proof spirit with whiskey flavors (I like Ritual whiskey alternative) or skip the booze altogether. It will still taste delicious!

Make it iced. Use cold coffee and be sure to use a liquid sweetener like honey syrup, maple syrup or simple syrup — not pure sugar — so it mixes in easily.

closeup of sprinkles on whipped cream of an Irish coffee

St. Patrick’s Day cocktail recipes

Celebrating the luck of the Irish? Make one of these St. Patrick’s Day drink recipes!

These Irish Coffee Jello Shots taste like mini Irish coffees but look like tiny pints of Guinness beer.

You can also make Baby Guinness shots with coffee liqueur and Irish cream liqueur if you like.

An Irish mule is also a favorite around here, with Irish whiskey as the star.

This Baileys milkshake is dreamy and has all the flavors of an Irish coffee in one frozen drink.

Let me know if you try this Classic Irish Coffee! Please leave a review or comment below to tell me how it goes.

a glass mug with Irish coffee

Classic Irish Coffee

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Warm and boozy, the Classic Irish Coffee is an easy after-dinner drink that's made with only four ingredients.

Ingredients

  • ½ ounce simple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 ½ ounces Irish whiskey (see note)
  • 4 ounces freshly brewed coffee
  • 1 ounce whipped cream or heavy cream

Instructions

  1. In a mug or glass, combine simple syrup, Irish whiskey and hot coffee. Stir.
  2. Spoon whipped cream over top. If using heavy cream, pour it gently over the back of a spoon to form a thick layer.

Notes

You can substitute some or all of the Irish whiskey with Bailey's Irish cream liqueur if you desire!

Feel free to replace the simple syrup with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar or granulated sugar.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 297Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 55mgSodium: 13mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 10gProtein: 2g

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