SAMBUCA- The Forgotten Bar Star

An aperitif that starts an evening off has always been more popular than the digestif that conclude an excellent meal. But great debates and unforgettable stories unfold over coffee/tea or an after-dinner drink; the digestif. Nowadays we are missing this part of the meal & togetherness. That is why Sambuca deserves a comeback.

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Sambuca is a liquor flavoured with essential oils obtained commonly from star anise or sometimes green anise. Spices like elderflower & liquorice, are often added. With an average alcohol content of 38%, Sambuca comes in three varieties, most common colourless variety is white Sambuca, dark blue colored, is known as the Black Sambuca flavoured with licorice and Red Sambuca is cherry red with notes of cinnamon.

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The name Sambuca comes from the Latin word Sambucus, meaning, ‘elderberry’ first used for elderberry liquor created by Luigi Manzi in Italy in the 1800s. It became a popular local drink, till 1945, when Angelo Molinari started producing sambuca for International market.
How to drink Sambuca

Serve it neat, on the rocks or with water, mixed with coffee or dilute it with water for a perfect Aperitivo. When diluted with water it results in an “ouzo effect” where the drink becomes cloudy. Interestingly, this cloudiness is an indicator of the sambuca’s anise content.
Sambuca with Coffee

Commonly Sambuca is consumed after coffee as an ammazzacaffe or a coffee killer or is added directly to coffee in place of sugar to create caffe coretto. Alternatively, a dash of sambuca is added to finished espresso cup to “clean” it, which is then knocked back as a shot.

Molinari who helped popularize the liquor after World War II, came up with the idea of adding bitter coffee beans to neutralize the sweet flavor of the star anise. And In became a tradition in Italy, where even today sambuca is most enjoyed with coffee beans.

One shot with a coffee bean, is called con la mosca, which means, “with the fly.”
A shot with three coffee beans, symbolizing health, happiness, and prosperity.
A sambuca shot with seven coffee beans, represents the seven hills of Rome.

Occasionally, sambuca is set on fire with the intention of toasting, and slightly caramelizing the coffee beans. Sometimes, the coffee beans are absent & ritual is mostly performed for visual effect.
Sambuca a perfect for cocktails

Sambuca, a classic Italian digestif which often suffers from its reputation as a drink for the old generation due to its distinct, intense flavor. But most bartenders consider Sambuca’s herbaceous, bold flavor exciting, and highly conducive for cocktails, making us believe that the older generation had it right all along.

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