Expert-Approved Toppings To Take Your Irish Coffee To The Next Level

A great Irish coffee requires more than spiking coffee with whiskey and topping it with whipped cream. Time, care, and a commitment to using the right ingredients can elevate this cocktail from ho-hum to truly delicious. And if you cap them off with extra toppings, your Irish coffees can even be served at the end of a fancy dinner party. Chloe McMahon, a whiskey educator at Proximo Spirits (which owns Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey), gave Food Republic her best ideas for Irish coffee flavorings and toppings.

Before we delve into customizations, it's important to nail the basics. The coffee should be hot, fresh, and black (though it gets sweetened with sugar later); the whiskey needs to be an Irish label; and the cream should only be lightly whipped so that it's more rich and frothy, rather than stiff and tall. These elements create a comforting tipple that offers a mix of energizing caffeine and warming, relaxing booze. While perfect on its own, it's also a great canvas for spiffing up.

Chloe McMahon recommends a simple sprinkle of spices or drizzle of sauce on top of the whipped cream. Freshly-grated nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa powder, or a drizzle of caramel or chocolate syrup are all high on her list. These not only add a hint of flavor and aroma, but make your drinks look much fancier. To mix things up more, McMahon suggests flavoring the spiked coffee itself with some Irish cream or a hazelnut liqueur like Frangelico.

The perfect Irish coffee, your way

Beyond fun toppings, there are a few other tips to try for the best Irish coffee. To make sure your drink doesn't go lukewarm, heat up your serving glasses before pouring in the coffee. You can use the same hot water hack that works to heat up a thermos: Pour hot water into your glasses, let it sit for a minute, then empty. The glasses will absorb plenty of heat this way.

Most recipes call for combining the coffee with white sugar, but you can use brown sugar, maple syrup, or even a simple syrup flavored with cinnamon. For the whiskey, use an Irish label you love, or look to other sources for ideas. The Buena Vista Café in San Francisco, which is often credited for bringing Irish coffee to the United States, uses Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey in every glass (and they serve around 2,000 Irish coffees every day). Jameson and Bushmills are also solid, classic choices. 

The whipped heavy cream should be frothed to the point where it is still very soft, but won't sink to the bottom of the glass. It's traditionally unsweetened, but you can add some powdered sugar before whipping, or vanilla or almond extract for extra flavor. More topping ideas include a few whole coffee beans or green sprinkles for St. Paddy's Day. And for a treat on any occasion, serve some aged gouda with your Irish coffee for a pairing you never knew was so good.