The Buena Vista's Irish Coffee

The Buena Vista in San Francisco makes the best Irish coffee this writer has ever enjoyed. There may be better, but until I get that recipe, I'll share this bit of DIY just in time for the holidays.

The Buena Vista, 2765 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA
The Buena Vista, 2765 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA
The preparation of the drinks is a work of art!
The preparation of the drinks is a work of art!

The Buena Vista in San Francisco, CA, has a reputation for amazing Irish Coffee, and we can attest to its validity. The story of their drink can be found here. Until you can go there in person, here's the recipe for making these drinks at home.

Ingredients - per drink

  • 2 C&H sugar cubes
  • 4-6 ounces brewed coffee - your favorite blend will work fine
  • 1 & 1/3 ounces of Irish whiskey (Nolan recommends Tullamore D.E.W.)
  • Heavy cream, lightly whipped


  1. Preheat a 6-ounce heat-proof glass by filling it with hot water. Once warm, discard the water. Hint: Have everything ready, so you can add the ingredients as soon as you discard the water so the glass doesn't cool off too much.
  2. Add the two sugar cubes to the glass, then add coffee until the glass is 3/4 full. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add the 1 & 1/3 ounces of whiskey to the coffee and stir gently and briefly to combine.
  4. Float a layer of whipped cream over the top of the coffee by pouring it gently over the back of a spoon (over the glass, of course!)
  5. Serve, enjoy, and repeat as necessary.

A variation from a friend

A friend and ardent supporter of my Simple-Fixes endeavor offers the following alternative to Buena Vista's Irish coffee recipe. I present it as he sent it to me, more of a conversation than a recipe. I need to travel to the APAC part of the world to test them firsthand as it is a production I am not sure my bartending skills can replicate!

Clark's Bangkok Irish Coffee Procedure

We used to enjoy Irish coffee in Bangkok's better hotels, and then later, I made them at home, but it was a more involved process than this one.

Yes, we used Pyrex glasses for the heat, but we put the Irish whiskey in and then heated the whiskey in the glass over a flame--while constantly rotating the glass to ensure the glasses heated evenly as well as the whiskey.  But, before adding the whiskey, we wet the lip of the glass with a piece of lemon and dipped the lip in a plate of sugar, so the lip was coated with sugar all around.  Once the whiskey got hot enough and fumes started to evolve from it, the fumes ignited, and then the other flame was no longer needed.

The flames then caramelized the sugar inside and outside the glass as the sugar semi-melted and dripped down.  (Again, constantly rotating the glass.  And, often, we would do two at a time with the flames from one heating the other as we rotated the two glasses above and below each other.)

Once the glasses were caramelized with the sugar, we added the coffee.  Then we added freshly made whipped cream.  Then we grated a little nutmeg over the top.  Then we poured flaming Kahlula over it all and served it!  It was quite the spectacle--and performance!

In the Bangkok hotels, they would use large brandy snifter-shaped glasses and, of course, make them at your table!  Usually, they were made by lovely young ladies.
One time we were there with friends from the US.  They used large-grained natural sugar.  As we were walking out of the hotel, one of our friends said her tongue hurt.  She opened her mouth, and it was bleeding from multiple vertical cuts!  She had licked the caramelized sugar on the outside of her glass so hard that she shredded her tongue!