The Perfect Irish Coffee

Between Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, there’s a smallish diner called the Buena Vista. Its food is unassuming and direct, and in all honesty, if it wasn’t for one specific item that they sell, they’d likely would not stand out beyond all of the other tourist focused restaurants in the area.

But oh, that one that one specific item!

I am typically not a fan of mixed drinks. I get suspicious of anything that requires more than two ingredients, I abhor vodka (on principle), and get weepy over the perfect single malt. Irish coffee is the only mixed drink that I have on a regular basis.

The problem, long acknowledged, is that most places make it wrong. But because the drink contains two of my favorite beverages (three, if you count the cream as a separate entity), I tend to give their attempts a pass.

I swear to you, as I sit here writing this, that last week when I ordered an Irish Coffee from the waitress working the bar last Friday morning, the sun reflected off of the back bar, illuminating her with virtuous light. In the distance, I believed I heard a children’s chorus sing the praises of the Holy. Placed in front of me, a damn fine Irish Coffee.

The trick to the coffee, I have learned, is in the cream. We Americans tend to be a lazy sort when it comes to coffee, simply mixing everything together. But the Buena Vista, who purportedly brought Irish Coffee to our shores way back in 1952, understands that care is needed when mixing cream in the coffee. From their website:

The historic venture started on the night of November the 10th in 1952. Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create a highly touted “Irish Coffee” served at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Intrigued, Stan Accepted Jack’s invitation, and the pair began to experiment immediately.

Throughout the night the two of them stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was “not quite right,” and the cream would not float. Stan’s hopes sank like the cream, but Jack was undaunted. The restaurateur pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Shannon Airport.

Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float as delicately as a swan on the surface of Jack’s and Stan’s special nectar.

Irish coffee, in other words, is a delicate drink, with more in common with the Italian approach to coffee than Maxwell House’s.

I know, I know. For some of you, you wouldn’t quite understand. Irish Coffee has become one of those drinks that everyone believes they know how to make. But most don’t. So when I finally got one that was treated with the care it deserved, I wept.

Okay, I didn’t weep. But I damn sure enjoyed the best Irish Coffee I have had in a long time.