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Inside the San Francisco Cafe That Brought Irish Coffee to America

San Francisco
by Matador Creators Jan 9, 2023

Hear the phrase Irish coffee and you probably think of Dublin, not San Francisco. But one of the world’s most famous Irish coffee houses is located a stone’s throw from the Golden Gate Bridge — The Buena Vista Cafe has been serving Irish coffee in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood since 1952, solidifying its place as one of the most iconic restaurants in the city.

@foodwtf World-famous Irish coffee from📍The Buena Vista Cafe in #SanFrancisco #California ☕ It's made with Irish whisky, kalua, coffee and whipped cream 🎥 IG: @rach3mcm #foodtiktok #irishcoffee #foodie #sanfranfoodie #foodguide ♬ Irish Jig – Irish Pub Society

What’s Irish coffee, and where’s it from

Irish coffee is an alcoholic beverage made with coffee, whiskey, cream, and sugar. Most sources trace the origins of Irish coffee to a man named Joe Sheridan who worked as a chef at the Foynes airport near Limerick, Ireland. According to the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, Sheridan invented the drink one night in 1943 in an effort to comfort a group of American passengers whose flight to New York was canceled mid-flight due to bad weather. As the story goes, when one of the passengers asked if the coffee was Brazilian, Sheridan said no, it was Irish coffee.

The story behind Buena Vista Cafe’s legendary Irish coffee

Onetime Buena Vista Cafe owner Jack Koeppler is credited with bringing Irish coffee to America in 1952. Together with travel writer Stanton Delaplane, who tasted the drink at Ireland’s Shannon Airport, Koeppler experimented with the recipe until he was able to perfect the taste and get the cream to float on top of the coffee, a problem that was eventually solved by aging and frothing the cream. After countless attempts and even a trip to Ireland, Koeppler succeeded and began offering his concoction at the cafe 36 years after it was founded in 1916.

How to make Buena Vista Cafe’s Irish coffee at home

Koeppler’s Irish coffee recipe is precise. It starts with a warm glass and a generous pour of hot brewed coffee (The Buena Vista Cafe uses Peerless coffee from nearby Oakland). Next, dissolve two sugar cubes in the coffee and stir in a healthy jigger of Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey. Top with a dollop of heavy cream that’s been aged for 48 hours and whipped or frothed until it forms soft peaks. Et voilà — that’s the drink that’s served up to 2,000 times a day in San Francisco.

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