Genesis: A flaming sambuca is not my regular drink by any means. The first one I ever bought was in the infamous Stringfellow’s nightclub in London, circa 1988, and when I accidentally knocked it over, spreading flaming liquid the length of the bar, it did briefly cross my mind that if the place burned down as a result, I’d have a very unwelcome 15 minutes of fame.
I do have one occasionally, though, as a slightly exotic and indulgent treat, and thoroughly enjoy it – not just the taste, the whole ritual and experience. Whether you are a sambuca virgin or a seasoned (possibly singed) veteran, this one is for you.
The glass is small, thick, heavy, Shaped like an elongated bell Emerging from a squashed-ball base. The alcohol pours like clear satin, Calmly making the space its own, The meniscus curving like a sly smile. Coffee beans are dropped in and float Incongruously, like tiny dark dug-outs. Three for the purists; four is just showing off. It takes skill to conjure flames from liquid – Are we lighting the drink here, or the fumes above? They’re electric blue at first, and almost invisible. Tiny wrinkles press up to the inside of the glass Like fingerprints. The beans begin to boil and bubble – They are the catalyst that changes everything. The blue flame dons an orange mantle As each bean releases a brown spike Of gently sinking melt. As above, so below. As the flame peaks, and the spikes bottom out, It’s time to blow out the fire and pause, Patiently, for quick lips do burn and blister! The scent that arises on the tiny thermal Is of aniseed and cedar wood, cicadas, And a Columbian barista undertone. The first lift to the lips is pure sensory overload. The first sip heady, warm, spicy, And it slides down the throat with its sharp claws out. I like to sip, but not too slowly, Timing it so there’s a little heat left, Even as the last drop glides past the beans well spent.