How to Make a Coffee Sambuca

Coffee Sambuca
Luca Piccini Basile/iStock
  • 2 mins
  • Prep: 1 mins,
  • Cook: 1 mins
  • Yield: One serving
Ratings (15)

Coffee Sambuca is probably the easiest Italian coffee drink out there. It is very popular in southern Italy, though the eastern region of Le Marche is where you'll find this drink most often.

To make the Coffee Sambuca, all you need to do is float three coffee beans in one to two ounces Sambuca and sip it slowly as an aperitif or digestif. Some drinkers prefer to light it on fire (known as a Flaming Coffee Sambuca) because it lightly toasts the beans.

The three coffee beans symbolize health, happiness, and prosperity. They can be chewed to complement the anise notes in the Sambuca or left as a garnish. Additionally, it is considered bad luck to serve an even number of beans.

In Italian, the Coffee Sambuca is also known as ghiaccio e mosche, which literally translates to 'ice and flies.'  The 'flies' refer to the floating coffee beans, of course. You might also hear this drink called 'fire and ice.'

What You'll Need

  • 3 whole, roasted coffee beans
  • 1-2 ounces chilled or room temperature Sambuca

How to Make It

  1. Pour the sambuca into a small, clear glass.
  2. Float the coffee beans on top and serve.

Important Tip: If you do choose to flame this drink, take caution. A fire fueled by alcohol can cause accidents (particularly on a linen tablecloth during dinner). Keep hair and clothing away from the flame. Extinguish it and enjoy the toasted anise and coffee aroma before drinking.

Another Way to Enjoy Coffee and Sambuca

You will quickly find that coffee and the anise found in sambuca are a perfect match.

In fact, it is one of the best flavor pairings you'll come across. Even people who are not fans of anise find they enjoy this combination tremendously.

It is particularly popular in Italy, home of both sambuca and espresso. The Caffè Corretto is another popular Italian drink that showcases the two flavors in a single cup. It translates to mean 'corrected coffee' and is as simple as adding a drizzle of sambuca to a freshly pulled shot of espresso. 

However, if you're ordering a caffè corretto in Italy, be sure to specify the liquor as it can also be made with grappa, a style of brandy.

To distinguish the two, order either:

  • Caffè corretto alla grappa
  • Caffè corretto alla sambuca

What is Sambuca?

Sambuca seems like a great liqueur, but what is it? Sambuca is a traditional Italian liqueur that is thought of as one of the world's great digestif drinks, meaning that it will help aid digestion after a meal.

The liqueur is predominantly flavored with anise (or aniseed, the spice that tastes like black licorice) along with other herbs and spices. Each brand of sambuca has their own (often) secret recipe and while all sambucas have the same general flavor profile, there are subtle differences.

Sambuca is a liqueur that can be drunk straight (as we see in the Coffee Sambuca), either at room temperature or slightly chilled. It is also common to ​use it in a variety of cocktails and shooters like the B-53. If you come across a cocktail recipe that simply states 'anise liqueur,' sambuca is one of your best options.

  • Sambuca comes in three colors: white (clear), red, and black (more of a deep purple or blue).
  • Popular brands include Molinari, Romano, Luxardo, Galliano, Sambuca di Amore, Opal Nera, and Zambello. Yes, the best sambucas come from Italy.
  • Most sambuca has an alcohol content of 42% ABV (84 proof). It is not a light liqueur, but slightly stronger than the average bottle of vodka.