Perk up St. Pat's Day with perfect Irish coffee

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Coffee, Irish whiskey and cream — combine them just the right way and in just the right proportions and they transform into a drink that can perk up the grayest day.

We're talking Irish coffee, of course, a drink that's especially popular around St. Patrick's Day, but good any time you want to add some zing to your caffeine.

The secret, says Larry Silva, general manager of the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco — which serves up 2,000 Irish coffees a day — is how you put the drink together.

At the Buena Vista, Irish coffee starts with a 6-ounce glass that's been preheated with hot water. A bigger or smaller glass would throw off the coffee-booze balance. A cold glass results in a tepid cocktail.

For a touch of sweetness, the Buena Vista recipe adds two cubes of sugar, though other recipes call for brown sugar. The cream, meanwhile, should be fresh and just slightly whipped — nothing from a can.

As for the whiskey, what you are seeking is a smooth whiskey that won't fight with the other flavors, says Silva. This isn't the time to pull out that peaty Scotch. But don't be afraid to use something good.

Irish Coffee

Start to finish: 5 minutes; Servings: 1

Depending on which version of the "original" Irish coffee you subscribe to, it is sweetened with either 2 sugar cubes or 1 teaspoon brown sugar. For a rich and chocolaty take on Irish coffee, stir 2 tablespoons of milk chocolate bits into the coffee at the same time as the sugar. Once the chocolate bits have melted, proceed with the recipe. Adapted from The Buena Vista Cafe, San Francisco.

Boiling water

Hot coffee

2 sugar cubes or 1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream, lightly beaten (but still pourable)

Fill a large coffee cup with boiling water to preheat it. Let it stand for about 1 minute, then empty the glass.

Fill the glass three-quarters full with hot coffee. Add the sugar, then stir until dissolved. Stir in the whiskey.

Top the coffee-whiskey blend with the lightly whipped cream. To do this, hold an overturned spoon over the coffee, then slowly pour the cream over it. The goal is for the cream to float on top of the coffee; do not mix it in. Part of the Irish coffee experience is drinking the hot coffee through a layer of cool cream.