Sambuca is traditionally served with three coffee beans. Although some bartenders garnish the drink with a "few" beans, they are simply unaware of the representation of the beans. The beans not only enhance the flavour of the anise-flavoured liqueur, one coffee bean is intended to represent health, one is intended to represent happiness and the last one is meant to represent prosperity.
A Brief History of Sambuca
Sambuca is made from essential oils of elderberries added to pure distilled alcohol and sweetened with sugar and anise. It is believed to have arrived long ago on trade ships from the East in the port of Civitavecchia under the Arab name "Zammut." In the late 1800s, a man named Manzi produced the liqueur throughout Civitavecchia. In 1945, a man named Molinari mass-produced the drink making it available around the entire country of Italy. Often, the Italians would sweeten their coffee with the liqueur in place of sugar. When drinking it straight, it became customary to garnish the drink with the three coffee beans representing health, happiness and prosperity. Because of the peculiar way the floating coffee beans appeared in the glass, they were jokingly called "flies." Chewing the coffee beans after the drink was finished enhanced the flavour of the anise-based liqueur.
Different Ways Sambuca is Served With Coffee Beans
The old-fashioned way to drink Sambuca with coffee beans--which you don't see too often in today's bars--was to pour a shot, top with three beans and then set it afire. After 3 seconds, the fire was snuffed out and then the shot was downed. The fire was intended to roast the coffee beans and add flavour to the drink. Some enthusiastic Sambuca drinkers would make the Flaming Sambuca in a brandy snifter, extinguish the flame, down the shot and then tip the snifter over onto the bar immediately. While the roasted coffee beans were chewed, the fumes of the shot were sucked out of the snifter by tipping it slightly and using a straw to inhale. Sambuca is now served many different ways, but rarely do bars--or fire marshals, for that matter--promote lighting distilled alcohol on fire. Even on ice, Sambuca is usually garnished with coffee beans. The ice will make the transparent liqueur become somewhat cloudy. Cola or water can be mixed with Sambuca. Sambuca now comes in many different varieties, such as Black, Dark, Red, Gold and even Blue.