In Italian tradition, as in that of other countries, the combinations of alcohol and coffee are plentiful: some have become famous worldwide, like the Irish Coffee cocktail, others are real symbols of an era, like the Sambuca fly, associated with the mood and charm of the Dolce Vita, the period from the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s.
But where did the habit of serving Sambuca with one or two roasted coffee beans immersed in the shot glass come from?
There are no guaranteed historical sources which recount this story, only some fascinating legends …
A brief history of Sambuca
Sambuca is a distillate based on the essential oils of dill and star anise, with alcohol, sugar and water; it is transparent in color and has an alcohol content of between 40% and 43% alcohol by volume, a sweet flavor and aroma of aniseed.
All the information available about the origins of this liqueur are rather debatable, but it is highly likely that Sambuca, or rather, one of its predecessors, was first produced by the Etruscans; in Medieval times, however, a drink that was already far more similar to what we drink today became popular in convents.
According to other sources, though, its origins derive from the Arab tradition: in fact still today in the Mediterranean basin a liqueur called Zhammut is produced, based on star anise, whereas in Sicily during the summer, the kiosks serve “acqua i zammù”, water and Sambuca.
The first distilleries, however, were established at the end of the eighteen hundreds, in the area of Civitavecchia and, despite the bombings during World War II, production never stopped, right up to today.
It was Angelo Molinari, in 1945, who first launched this liqueur on the market.
The most fascinating legend about the origins of Sambuca fly is an anecdote which is connected with the world of cinema and has a Roman bar in Via Veneto as its protagonist, where some great Italian actors used to get together to drink and have fun.
These were the years of the Dolce Vita and sitting at the tables were Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Walter Chiari, to name just a few.
It would seem that, while everyone was intent on chatting, for a joke someone threw a coffee bean in the liqueur of the person next to them, shouting “There’s a fly!”.
The rest is history, and from that time on Sambuca with “a fly” has become more and more successful, becoming one of the favorite combinations, not only of Italians, but also of all those who appreciate the pleasant contrast between the sweetness of the liqueur and the bitter taste of the coffee, especially at the end of a meal.
Are you lovers of Sambuca fly too? If you want to enjoy a “good luck” after- dinner liqueur, remember to put three coffee beans in, a lucky number which represents health, wealth and happiness.