Maybe it’s the convivial Irish spirit, or maybe it’s because ultimately this is an alcoholic coffee drink decadently topped with whipped cream, but Irish coffee has a tendency to veer toward excess.
With many of the versions we sampled, either the ratio of whiskey to coffee was so skewed that you wouldn’t be blamed if you forgot there was any coffee to begin with, or they were so sweet you could have ordered them off a dessert menu.
Like most great -cocktails, the best Irish coffees have balanced flavors, in this case a combination of coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar. We started by comparing ratios of coffee to whiskey, from 2:1 to 4:1. Surprisingly, tasters agreed that a 4:1 ratio offered the best balance of rich coffee to heady whiskey.
Tasters also appreciated a moderate hand when it came to sweetness. Simple syrup was the best choice because of how easily it blended into the coffee mixture. We tested versions made with granulated, brown, and Demerara sugar but found little difference in taste and so stuck with our classic Simple Syrup.
The best versions of this drink we tasted featured cream that was whipped enough to float over the drink, but not so stiff that it failed to easily incorporate into the coffee mixture while being enjoyed. Whipping the cream by hand worked best and also provided the best control of thickness.
Irish whiskey is traditional here, but rye and Tennessee whiskey also work well. Or take your spiked coffee in a Caribbean or Italian direction by trying one of our twists. We prefer to serve this in a glass mug to highlight the layers of whipped cream and coffee.