Italian Digestif drinks - an after-dinner experience

All About Italian Digestif Drinks – Your After-Dinner Experience

Do you know how to enjoy Italian digestifs drinks? The answer lies in knowing the different after-dinner drinks, how to serve them, and the different pairings.

In this article I’ll explore the different digestifs, taking you through:

Key Takeaways

  • Back in the days of Benedictine abbeys, friars used their knowledge of phytotherapy to create infusions with roots and plants in alcohol, which were then used as medicines. Over time, these bitter drinks evolved into the sweet and bitter liqueurs we know today.
  • Amari digestifs are one of the most popular digestifs in Italy. These drinks come in a myriad of regional variations and flavors, with each Amaro concocted from a blend of herbs, roots, spices, and extracts delicately sweetened with sugar.
  • The alcohol content in digestifs may vary from 15% to 60%. For example, the alcohol content in Amari digestifs may hit a high of 40%. Grappa digestifs can hit 60% alcohol content.
  • When serving after-dinner drinks, choose suitable glassware and the right temperature. Most digestifs are served in cordial or shot glasses which is crucial for savoring the drink in small, concentrated amounts. Many digestifs can be served at room temperature, while others, like Limoncello, are even better when chilled.

The Basics

Digestivo portion
This tiny shot will help you digest better. Really.

Italian digestif drinks, or digestivi, hold a special place in Italian culture and are cherished as the perfect after-dinner drink to help with digestion after indulging in a heavy meal.

These after-dinner drinks, also known as digestivi drinks, are traditionally served in a small glass, straight as a shot, and come in a wide variety of flavors ranging from bitter to sweet.

• Some people refer to these drinks as “coffee killers” or Ammazzacaffè because they are often consumed after coffee.

• Italian digestivi are typically herb-based, although some, like liqueurs, can be sweet and fruit-based.

It’s no wonder that these digestifs have become a popular staple in dinner drinks in Italy.

Italian Digestifs Drinks You Should Try

Digestif drinks from Italy

One cannot help but marvel at the variety of flavors and rich history of Italian digestif drinks.

The origins of these drinks can be traced back to the Benedictine abbeys, where the friars used their knowledge of phytotherapy to create infusions with roots and plants in alcohol, which were then used as medicines. Over time, these bitter drinks evolved into the sweet and bitter liqueurs we know today.

Among the most popular Italian after dinner drinks are Amari, Limoncello, and Grappa. Each of these drinks boasts its unique flavors and regional variations, making them a fascinating exploration for connoisseurs and novices alike.

In the following sections, I will reveal some secrets behind the unique taste profiles of these beloved drinks.


Amari are bitter herbal liqueurs that have been a classic Italian digestif for centuries. These famous Italian drinks come in a myriad of regional variations and flavors, with each Amaro concocted from a blend of herbs, roots, spices, and extracts delicately sweetened with sugar.

Amari’s rich history dates back to the time of Hippocrates, who recommended an elixir of barley, honey, herbs, and wine to aid digestion after indulging in lengthy Lucullian lunches.

The unique flavors of Amari come from the combination of ingredients and the duration of infusion and aging. Typically, Amari have an alcohol content of at least 15%, with some reaching as high as 40%.

They can be served at room temperature, over ice, or chilled in the fridge or freezer, and are also a key ingredient in many classic cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger, the Golden Cadillac, and the Italian Stinger.

This is probably why Amaro del Capo caters to all, whether you prefer a sweet or bitter taste.

Amaro del Capo hails from Calabria, a region in Southern Italy. This well-regarded herbal liqueur is crafted with a secret recipe of 29 natural Calabrian herbs, flowers, and fruits, creating a distinctive and rich flavor profile. Among its unique ingredients is the precious Calabrian licorice, which contributes to the balanced sweetness of Amaro del Capo.

– Luca
Amaro del Capo collection
Amaro del Capo big and small (visit @vecchioamarodelcapo)


Hailing from Southern Italy, Limoncello is one of the sweet Italian liqueurs that has captured the hearts of many as a popular digestif.

This bright yellow drink is made by macerating lemon peel with sugar and grain alcohol, such as vodka. Limoncello’s refreshing citrus flavor is best enjoyed neat, served ice cold in a tiny glass.

Apart from its role as an after-dinner drink, Limoncello also finds its way into many southern Italian dessert types, such as gelato and the Limoncello Spritz.

There also exist milk or cream-based variants of Limoncello, known as crema di limoncello. With an alcohol content of around 30%, Limoncello offers a sweet and tangy way to round off a meal.

limoncello shots
Tasty limoncello shots (by @lillasia)


Originating from Northern Italy, Grappa is a high-alcohol grape-based spirit and a traditional Italian after-dinner drink.

Grappa is made from the leftovers of grapes used in winemaking, including the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems. The alcohol content of Grappa ranges from 35% to 60%, making it a potent after-dinner drink.

There are various types of Grappa, from young to aged in casks, and even infused with herbs, fruits, or honey for a unique flavor. The finest Grappa is produced from single grape varieties. Barolo Grappa, made from the Nebbiolo grape vine, is particularly prized.

As a digestif, Grappa can be enjoyed neat, at room temperature, or chilled, making it a versatile addition to any meal.

Use a tulip-shaped or small wine glass to concentrate the aromas. This helps capture and enhance the intricate scents of the Grappa. Grappa is meant to be sipped slowly, appreciating its complex flavors. Avoid taking shots; instead, take small sips to fully experience the nuances. You can also pair Grappa with dark chocolate, nuts, or aged cheese. These can complement the spirit’s characteristics and provide a delightful sensory experience.

– Luca

Explore Italian Grappa Brands to find your best pick.

Capovilla - one of the finest Italian grappa brands
Excellent Grappa (photo by @lesjajasdejuju)

How To Best Enjoy Digestivo

It’s now time to discuss optimal enjoyment techniques.

Pairing these drinks with coffee can enhance the flavors and create a satisfying end to a meal. Serving suggestions for digestifs include serving them cold, neat, or over ice, depending on the drink and personal preference. Experiment with these serving styles to find the perfect way to savor your favorite digestivo.

Let me tell you a bit more about pairing digestifs with different coffee types in Italy.

Pairing with Coffee

Pairing Italian digestifs with coffee
Digestivo and coffee? Yes, please!

Pairing your favorite Italian digestif with coffee can create a harmonious blend of flavors that serves as the perfect finale to a meal.

For example, try Strega liqueur with coffee, Amaro with coffee, or even Sambuca or Grappa with coffee. These pairings will bring out the best flavors, making for a truly delicious experience.

Sambuca, a popular digestif made from anise seed, is often added to coffee in Italy, creating a caffè corretto.

This delightful combination is typically served with one or two coffee beans, which bring out the flavor of the Sambuca and provide a satisfying crunch as you enjoy your after-dinner drink.

Serving Suggestions

Serving digestifs involves choosing suitable glassware and temperature, factors that significantly impact your enjoyment of these drinks.

Cordial glasses or shot glasses are the preferred choice for serving digestifs, as they allow you to savor the drink in small, concentrated amounts.

The temperature at which you serve your digestif can also affect its flavor. While many digestifs are best enjoyed neat at room temperature, some drinks, like Limoncello, taste even better when chilled.

My tip? Experiment with different serving temperatures to find the perfect balance for your taste buds and enhance your digestif experience. It’s not that difficult (but worth it!).


Regional After Dinner Drinks in Italy

Italy, a country rich in regional specialties and Italian food, also boasts a diversity of digestifs. Each region boasts its unique flavors and traditions, providing a diverse range of options for those looking to explore the world of Italian digestivi.

My two regional favorites are Sardinian Myrtle and Emilia-Romagna’s Nocino.

Sardinian Myrtle

Sardinian Mirto
Sardinian Mirto by @italianadelicatessen

Sardinian Myrtle, or Mirto, is a regional favorite in Sardinia, best enjoyed ice cold. This sweet digestif is made from macerated myrtle berries, giving it a deep red color.

The myrtle plant has been used for its medicinal properties since ancient times by the Greeks and Romans, and it is believed that the Phoenicians introduced the plant to Sardinia.

Mirto has an alcohol content of around 30%, similar to Limoncello, and is best enjoyed chilled straight from the freezer. This refreshing digestif is a must-try for anyone looking to explore the diverse world of digestifs and their regional specialties.

Emilia-Romagna’s Nocino

A homemade Nocino
A homemade Nocino tastes best (author: @ina_mamina)

Another regional specialty is Emilia-Romagna’s Nocino, a walnut liqueur with a rich, sweet, and syrupy flavor.

The history of Nocino in Emilia-Romagna is ancient and somewhat uncertain, with possible French origins and even connections to the Britons. Nocino has long been used in herbal medicine and remains popular in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Nocino is made by following these steps:

  1. Quarter green walnuts and place them in a jar.
  2. Add various spices and flavorings, along with alcohol and sugar-water syrup.
  3. Close the jar tightly and let it rest in a dark place for 40 days.
  4. After 40 days, add sugar to the mixture and let it age.
  5. Nocino is typically served in small glasses at the end of a meal and pairs well with rich desserts.

The Sweet And Fortified Wines

For those with a sweet tooth, Italian digestif options extend to liqueurs and sweet or fortified wines, such as Vin Santo.

Or Passito, for example, which is a sweet wine made from grapes that have been partially dried, either on the vine or after harvesting.

These wines offer a delightful alternative to the more traditional digestifs and can also aid in digestion.

Some of the most renowned Italian passiti include:

  • Picolit from Friuli
  • Passito di Pantelleria from Sicily
  • Albana from Emilia-Romagna
  • Sciacchetrà from Liguria’s Cinque Terre

These sweet wines, resulting from meticulous wine production, are best enjoyed with rich and flavorful accompaniments, such as blue cheese.

Italian Passito Wine
Italian Passito Sweet Wine (credit: @andolfatolo)

My Tips for Enjoying Italian Digestifs

To fully enjoy digestifs, I recommend:

Exploring regional specialties – Each region of Italy offers its own unique twist on digestifs. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering the rich complexity of Amaro Lucano during a trip to Basilicata, which quickly became a staple in my digestif collection.

Experimenting with serving styles – Whether you prefer your digestif neat, on the rocks, or as part of a creative cocktail, don’t hesitate to try different serving styles to find what suits your palate best.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Grappa is in a classic Italian caffe corretto, where a shot of this potent spirit is added to a freshly brewed espresso for an extra kick of flavor.


Trying different digestifs from various regions – Expand your palate by sampling a diverse range of those drinks, from different regions. For example, delve into the herbal complexity of Sardinian Mirto or indulge in the velvety smoothness of Vecchio Amaro del Capo from Calabria. Each sip is a journey through Italy’s rich culinary landscape, offering a deeper appreciation for its diverse flavors and traditions.

Mixing and matching serving temperatures and pairings – Experiment with serving temperatures and food pairings to enhance your digestif experience. While some digestifs like Nocino are best enjoyed at room temperature, others like Limoncello shine when served chilled as a refreshing palate cleanser after a hearty meal.

Personally, I love pairing a glass of Vin Santo with a plate of biscotti – famous Italian cookies – for a delightful end to a Tuscan feast.


Don’t be afraid to get creative – Embrace the spirit of experimentation and have fun with your digestif journey. Whether you’re hosting a tasting party with friends or concocting your own signature digestif cocktails, let your imagination run wild and savor every moment of discovery.


In conclusion, Italian digestifs offer a unique and enjoyable way to end a meal, with a wide range of flavors and regional specialties to explore.

Whether you prefer the bitter Amari, the sweet Limoncello, or the robust Grappa, there’s a digestif out there for everyone.

I hope this guide has inspired you to delve into the world of Italian afternoon drinks and discover the perfect one to complement your meal.


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