Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavored liqueur. Its most commonly transparent white, but deep blue “black” and bright red Sambuca also exists. As with other anise liqueurs, the ouzo effect can be observed when water is added, turning it a milky white. Sambuca is flavored with essential oils obtained from anise, star anise, liquorice, and other spices. It also contains elderflowers. The oils are added to pure alcohol, sugar syrup, and other flavorings. It is commonly bottled at 42% alcohol by volume. The Molinari company states that the name Sambuca comes from an Arabic word: Zammut, an anise-flavored drink that arrived to the port of Civitavecchia by ships coming from the East. The Oxford English Dictionary states that it comes from the Latin word sambucus, meaning “elderberry”. The Greek word Sambuca was first used as the name of another elderberry liquor that was created in Civitavecchia about 130 years ago. The first commercial version started in the late 1800’s in Civitavecchia, where Luigi Manzi sold Sambuca Manzi. In 1945, soon after the end of WW2, commendatore Angelo Molinari started producing Sambuca Extra Molinari, which helped popularize Sambuca throughout Italy.
Sambuca may be served neat. It may also be served on the rocks or with water, resulting in the ouzo effect from the anethole in the anise. It’s considered to go particularly well with coffee. Like other anise liqueurs, it may be drunk after coffee as a ammazzacaffè or added directly to coffee in place of sugar. The most iconic serving of Sambuca is a shot with 3 coffee beans, called con la mosca (“with the fly”). The 3 coffee beans are said to represent health, happiness, and prosperity, or the Holy Trinity. The shot may be ignited to toast the coffee beans with the flame extinguished immediately before drinking. Salute!