Irish Coffees – The Buena Vista Way

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I don’t remember how Buena Vista got put on my list of “must go to” places. But it did. It’s known for recreating the Irish Coffees enjoyed in Ireland since 1942. The first time I went there I chickened out. It was really crowded and I was alone. I had planned a whole day to myself in the city, just walking around, eating food, and taking pictures before meeting up in the evening with friends.

I did a lot of walking, eating, and drinking but I totally failed at taking pictures. I felt very vulnerable with my camera held to my face in crowded and busy streets. I could literally feel the annoyance of busy people so I ended up just walking 25,000 steps instead.

The first Irish Coffees I ever had were in bars that made them like typical college drinks: too strong or watered down with bad coffee and whiskey. I never got what was so awesome about them. As I began to enjoy whiskey by itself I thought about trying them again but it never seemed like a good bar drink to get.

Although I didn’t get to try Buena Vista’s Irish Coffees that day, I did end up doing some whiskey tasting at Charles Phan’s Hard Water, where I got the Craft Distillers flight.

My second chance to try the original Irish Coffees came when I planned a dim sum trip with my sisters. Anytime I go to San Francisco the day usually revolves around food and drink.

After eating way too much at Great Eastern Restaurant, we went on a coffee journey to Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building. The line is always really long, but the coffee is worth it. More walking ensued and on the way back to the car, we stopped off at Buena Vista to get Irish Coffees. It wasn’t so crowded this time and I finally tried one. And now I get it.

Buena Vista Irish Coffees
Little drinking tip: make sure you tilt the glass while drinking. If you just sip from the top, you won’t get all the flavors and the whiskey will collect at the bottom.

Buena Vista’s website basically tells you all the secrets to the drink but Huffpost Taste and (along with long time Buena Vista bartender Paul Nolan) break it down a little more here. The key to perfect a Buena Vista Irish Coffee is:

  • Using a tulip shaped glass
  • Whipping the cream lightly so that it is still pourable. You don’t want it to sink to the bottom but you also don’t want stiff whipped cream. It should float lightly on top of the coffee.
  • Heating the glass by pouring hot water in it briefly. This prevents the cold whiskey and cream from cooling the drink too fast.
  • Using two C&H sugar cubes
  • Using really hot coffee to counter act the cold of the whiskey and cream
  • Pouring the cream over the back of a warmed spoon held directly over the coffee.

Buena Vista Irish Coffees

You can see from the pictures I obviously need to work on my creaming technique. It goes from thick and pourable to solid and whipped in a blink of an eye. I suggest stopping way before you think its time. Buena Vista likes to use a blender but I found that method too hard-I couldn’t see the cream well enough to judge when it was the right consistency.

The second attempt at these went much better and I nailed the technique. I whipped the cream with my hand-held mixer and stopped when it looked like thick liquid. I kept testing its pour ability by tipping the bowl and observing how the cream flowed. When I poured it over the spoon it slid right off in a creamy waterfall. It was beautiful and it floated magically on top without any of the cream sinking to the bottom.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

P.S. I made a Pinterest map board of my dim sum, coffee, and whiskey journey. I’ve also included other coffee and whiskey/bourbon joints in San Francisco that I’ve been to before. Enjoy!

5 from 2 votes

Buena Vista Irish Coffees

Make the famous Buena Vista Irish Coffees from the comfort of your own home!
Servings 1 drink
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes


  • 2 C &H sugar cubes or 2 teaspoons sugar, or 2 sugar packets
  • 6 ounces very hot brewed coffee 3/4 cup
  • 1 1/3 ounce whisky
  • heavy cream


  • Put heavy cream into a glass or stainless steel bowl and whip it using a handheld mixer with the whisk attachment until it has thickened but is still pourable. Or pour it into a blender and lightly whip it. You want it to float on top of the coffee, not sink. It should still be pourable. Or use a milk frother. Set aside.
  • Pour steaming hot water into whatever glass you will be using. Once the glass is heated, pour out the water. I also zapped my glass in the microwave for 15 seconds to warm it up even more.
  • Place the sugar in the glass and pour the coffee in. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the whisky.
  • Run a spoon under hot water and pat it dry. Slowly pour the whipped heavy cream over the back of the spoon, holding it so it's right above the coffee. Serve.


The heavy cream goes from thick and pourable to solid and whipped in a blink of an eye. I suggest stopping way before you think its time. Buena Vista likes to use a blender but I found that method too hard-I couldn’t see the cream well enough to judge when it was the right consistency. I had the best results with a hand-held mixer using the whisk attachment.
Author: Megan Wells
Course: Beverages

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Make the famous Buena Vista Irish Coffees from the comfort of your own home!

Join the Conversation

  1. 5 stars
    Somehow I’ve never been to San Fran! It’s on my list 😀 And I love Irish coffee- Except I can never figure out how early or late in the day I’m supposed to drink them! haha.. I’ve always skipped whipping the cream and just floated it by pouring it over the back of the spoon. I’ll have to try it this way too!

    1. Come visit! I live close but I don’t go there nearly enough. I think I’m going to do some exploring this weekend though, weather permitting. You’ve got serious skills floating cream that hasn’t been whipped! I still need practice-I always seem to whip it just a little too much.

      1. I had much success whipping up using a hand blender. It turned out perfectly.

        I’ve been to the Buena Vista a couple of times and the last time I had the Irish coffee with some Bailey’s. It was so delicious! I ended up receiving four of their mugs for Christmas and serve them on New Year’s Day to overnight guests. I went over very well.

        1. Yum, an Irish Coffee with Bailey’s sounds delicious. I haven’t been in a while, but those glasses are the perfect size for making Irish Coffees. My brother-in-law bought some and the drinks came out better tasting because the proportions were more accurate.

  2. This looks delicious! I live a little far from the nearest coffee shop,so to go out of my way to go and get a blended coffee in the evening , is a little silly. This is really perfect way to make a fancy coffee drink at home Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks David! I know what you mean-sometimes you just don’t want to leave the house. Your site just made me think that a little milk frother would probably get the job done perfectly!

  3. 5 stars
    Love this! I still have never made it to San Fran and it is on my must visit list. I have been in the same situation where I want to take photos but I feel like I’m in the way or inconveniencing people so I don’t. And I always regret it! So you are totally not alone, but I think it is great to learn from those experiences and start to put our wants first and not worry about what everyone else thinks sometimes (easier said than done!). This Irish coffee looks fantastic and is so pretty!

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