The Best Irish Coffee in the World

By Jim Slaughter

I happen to make the best Irish Coffee in the world. I learned how to do this in a small mesón in Madrid, but I have since gotten even better at it than the bartender at that establishment, where I studied long and hard under his tutelage.


The Recipe

  • One Irish Coffee glass (preferably with shamrocks and a gold rim), failing that, any smallish glass about 5 or 6 fl. oz.
  • One long shot of good espresso
  • Two fingers of decent Irish Whiskey (Jameson or Bushmills)
  • Two tablespoons brown sugar
  • FRESH heavy cream, laced with a dollop of white sugar, beaten until it's the consistency of custard, but not whipped to fluffiness. In Madrid they refer to this heavy thick sweet cream as “nata”.

Irish Coffee Setup


  1. Have everything prepared and ready before you start assembling as time is of the essence. Get your nata prepared and keep it nice and cold.
  2. Pour the whiskey and brown sugar into the Irish Whiskey glass together.
  3. Then use the espresso steamer to heat the whiskey until it is good and hot and the brown sugar is dissolved, about eight to ten seconds.
  4. CAREFULLY put a match or lighter to the glass and flame the whiskey for a few seconds. This adds a je ne sais quoi to the flavor, and cuts down the alcohol, bringing the caffeine and alcohol into perfect balance.
  5. Pull your shot, and dump it into the whiskey/brown sugar mixture. Between the espresso and the whiskey, your glass should be about 3/4 full (that's why you don't want to use a real big glass).
  6. Carefully lay down a carpet of the “nata” over the warm coffee/whiskey mixture right to the top of the glass. Then, before the nata gets warmed up, enjoy the cool, rich cream juxtaposed against the hot, strong coffee/whiskey.

Light Irish Coffee on Fire
Light Irish Coffee on Fire

Personally, I find these very addictive and therefore don't drink them very often. New Year's was the last time. But I can guarantee that you will never taste a better Irish Coffee than by using this method. I've had Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista in San Francisco which claims to be the world's best, and it is a poor cousin to this one. The key is great espresso, the cool nata, and flaming the whiskey.

The Best Irish Coffee in the World
The Best Irish Coffee in the World

These can also be made with Spanish brandy, but I prefer to stick with the Irish coffee.

Photos by Chris Arnold

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