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Irish Coffee and the Buena Vista Cafe

November 2012 The Origin of Irish Coffee
J. Martinez & Company - Coffee Merchants
November 25, 2012

Company Newsletter
The Origin of Irish Coffee

The Origin of Irish Coffee, and The Buena Vista Cafe

Our story was going to start at the corner of Hyde and Beach Street, in that famous City by the Bay (and a former stomping ground of this writer). The Buena Vista Café in San Francisco may be the home of Irish coffee in America, but this cocktail, as its name implies, originated much further east. It was created in the 1940’s, in the early days of trans-Atlantic air travel, in the Port of Foynes, Ireland. As the story is told, Irish coffee was first served late one night to weary passengers recently disembarked from their Pan Am flight which had left the very same spot a few hours earlier. Their flight was headed for Botwood, Newfoundland, but after several hours in heavy weather, the pilot thought it best to return to Foynes to wait for calmer skies.

the Buena Vista Cafe, San Francisco

Prior to their arrival, the pilot messaged ahead (in Morse code) and asked that the Port restaurant have coffee ready to warm up the passengers, who had endured a fair amount of rough flying. The chef, Joe Sheridan, apparently deciding that coffee may not be enough to remove the chill, added some whiskey to the coffee. The coffee was a hit and when one of the passengers asked if it was Brazilian coffee, Mr. Sheridan replied, “No, it’s Irish Coffee”. And thus the famous coffee cocktail was born.

And back to the Pan Am flight, which landed at a port. This was initially confusing to our research department until we realized it was a seaplane. Foynes, in Limerick County, on the west coast of Ireland was the precursor to nearby Shannon International Airport. Located in the Shannon estuary, the port was reachable from Newfoundland, an early jumping off spot for North Atlantic Flights. Later nearby Shannon Airport replaced Foynes as a primary entryway to Northern Europe from North America. The original terminal building, which contained the Port’s restaurant, is now the Foynes Flying Boat Museum. The restaurant, with its signature Irish Coffee cocktail, moved to the new airport.

Foynes Flying Boat Museum

It was at Shannon International Airport where Stanton Delaplane, the famous San Francisco-based travel writer, first tasted Irish Coffee in the early 1950’s. He returned to San Francisco and convinced Buena Vista Café owner Jack Koeppler, to try and recreate the drink. They succeeded, though the dedicated tasters nearly passed out from their efforts. The final touch of floating cream on the top of the drink was solved by the then-mayor of San Francisco, a dairy owner. The mayor pointed out that the frothed cream must be a couple of days old and then it will float gently on the top of the coffee. The Buena Vista Café still serves lots of Irish coffee: so much Irish coffee that it is the largest single user of Irish whiskey in North America.

Learn more at The Buena Vista Café and The Flying Boat Museum.

Coffee Gift BoxDon’t forget how easy it is to remember your friends, colleagues and clients with the gift of coffee from J. Martinez & Company. We have gift selections to fit almost any budget, and our coffee is always well received by the coffee lover, as well as being a great introduction for any budding palate to the pleasure of fine coffee.

Our new Holiday Blend has been quite popular so far. It is a dark roast blend of Caribbean and African coffees. It’s brown sugar notes will pair very well with your favorite holiday desserts!