Gaelic, or Irish, Coffee

Happy St Patrick’s Day, dear reader!

I’m sure you know that St Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland. In the 5th Century he travelled from Britain to Ireland as a Christian missionary. He spread his message far and wide, becoming known as the Apostle of Ireland.

I am making a trip home to Northern Ireland today to see my parents and something that will always remind me of them and of home is Gaelic Coffee, commonly known as Irish Coffee.

When I was growing up Sunday afternoons were sacrosanct as our family day.  Each of us would take turn to cook a big Sunday Dinner, which we ate at lunchtime, and the afternoon’s activity was chosen by whoever cooked the meal.  Sometimes this would be a walk along the beach, or looking at local gardens, but most often it would be family board games, where the atmosphere was competitive in a very friendly way.  This was (and still is) the one day of the week when my parents treated themselves to “proper coffee” made with ground coffee beans and they would often finish the afternoon with a Gaelic coffee.

Gaelic Irish coffee

I remember looking forward to the day when I would be old enough to be allowed one and when that day finally dawned – yeuchh – I hated it!  Nowadays my more-refined palate occasionally enjoys a wee nip of whiskey and anytime I make a Gaelic Coffee, I raise my glass to my parents.  

Here’s our traditional family way of making this most special of coffees…

Gaelic, or Irish, Coffee
– Freshly brewed strong coffee
– Nip of Irish whiskey
– Sugar (optional)
– Lightly whipped cream

1) First of all whip the cream.  The consistency of this is the secret to a perfect Gaelic coffee.  It needs to be thick enough to hold a gentle peak but still loose enough to drip easily from a spoon.

Cream thickness

Cream consistency

2) Warm the glasses with hot water.  Make sure you put a metal spoon in the glass before pouring in hot liquid, otherwise the glass may crack.

Heat glasses

3) If you like super-hot coffee, then gently warm your whiskey – my dad uses a little egg poaching pan for this but I just use cold whiskey.  Empty the hot water out of your glasses, then add a nip of whiskey to each and top up with coffee, leaving about 1½ cm free at the top of the glass.  Now is also the time to stir in sugar if you want it.

Whiskey coffee

4) Now add the cream.  You need to float the cream on top of the coffee, so it is a separate layer.  The easiest way to do this is to hold a teaspoon over the glass and pour a spoonful of cream over the back of the teaspoon so it slides gently down on top of the coffee.  This is why the consistency of the whipping is so important.

A perfect Gaelic coffee will have two completely separate layers, with no merging of cream into coffee.

Gaelic Irish coffee

If you are not a fan of whiskey, then substitute your favourite spirit or liqueur.  I am particularly fond of Tia Maria, instead of whiskey, which makes it a Calypso Coffee.  Not very Irish but very tasty indeed!

So tell me dear reader, will you be celebrating St Patrick’s Day?  Will you be decked in a sea of green, or do you prefer something a little more understated?




  1. You do NOT whip the cream – even lightly – for Gaelic Coffee. It needs to be sweetened – for some reason the sugar helps the cream to float – and pour it over a warmed spoon. It is not supposed to sit on the top as a separate layer – one drinks the coffee through the cream – it is meant to look like Guiness.

    • Thanks for the tips coffee-police!
      As I said in the post this is our traditional family way of making Gaelic coffee. Omitting the sugar and lightly whipping the cream, so less needs to be used to get the “head”, makes for a healthier version of the original recipe. My way of justifying having that second glass! 😉

  2. I never knew that spoon trick – thanks! I’ve always just added the hot water and hoped for the best.

    • No problem Kate – it is a little gem – so easy to do and perfectly floating cream every time! x

  3. I’m not a big coffee drinker but I’ve got to ask: how big’s this nip of whiskey??? 🙂 Also, I love that cream pouring trick! Happy (belated) St Patrick’s! All we did was our weekly shop and saw lots of drunkkies in the city centre 🙂

    • Ha Anyonita – a nip is as big (or as little) as you want it to be! There is not really any precise measurement but somewhere around 50ml. There are some awful drunken shenanigans happening in the name of St Patrick! Vohn x

  4. In spite of my Irish roots it has to be calypso for me. I’ve never made it but might give these clear instructions a try! Slainte!

    • Thanks for popping by. Oh you must give it a go if you have Irish roots – it is really easy! Cheers, Vohn x

  5. auntbeesrecipes says:

    Gosh that sounds so good!

    • Haha – thank you! I have been known to have another immediately afterwards! Vohn x

  6. I need to make one of these for sure! I’ve never had one and it sounds so yummy.

    • Go for it Alecia! I often have one instead of dessert after a nice meal. Vohn x

  7. These look just like Guiness – very nicely done. BUT sounds as though you’ve had a lot of practice 😉 Happy St Patrick’s Day.

    • Aw thanks Choclette – I never even thought about how they look like Guinness – but you’re right, they do.
      Just what exactly are you trying to say about my drinking?!? 😉 Vohn x

  8. What a delicious drink! I need to make myself one this morning. I could use a little pick me up! Thanks for sharing, Vohn, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • I LOVE the idea that you might have made one of these in the MORNING Sarah – Brilliant! Vohn x

    • Haha Aruna – I like it – a nip for a nip! Vohn x

Comments are closed.