after a meal, any of these liqueurs will either enhance a cup of coffee, compliment a dessert and aid in digestion: Italian liqueurs Bill Ward, Star Tribune July 17, 2003 Italian liqueurs have been popular throughout the continent since well before all those Campari umbrellas became hallmarks of European cafes several decades ago. More recently, the liqueurs have developed strong followings on these shores. At the forefront today is limoncello, a smooth, semisweet distillation of what many regard as the world's best lemons, from the sloping shores of the lushly beautiful Amalfi Coast in Campania. (Look for that point of origin in the small print on the label to ensure that you're getting the best possible product.) Best stored in the freezer, limoncello can be served straight up in a chilled glass -- a great palate-cleanser during a multicourse meal -- or mixed with iced tea. It can provide a nice twist to a vodka martini or a cosmopolitan, and I've found that it really enhances rum-and-cola or bourbon-and-cola drinks. One of the foremost producers of limoncello, Caravella, has just come out with orangecello, made with Sicily's wondrous oranges. Try that straight up, splashed into a vodka-and-tonic or even mixed with cream. These nectars of summer bliss (which aren't half-bad in the dead of winter either) typify the most oft-quaffed Italian liqueurs. Here are more noteworthy flavors. : • Amaretto goes back centuries. This almond-and apricot-based liqueur is said to have been concocted in 1525 by a woman in Saronno as a gift for artist Bernadino Luini. The most popular Italian liqueur worldwide, amaretto has countless uses: straight up as an after-dinner treat; subbing for other distilled beverages in such concoctions as an "amaretto sour" and an "amaretto sunrise;" mixed with cream, or (a personal favorite) blended into ice-cream-based drinks or with rich, sweet, cream-based beverages such as eggnog. • Many Americans were introduced to the clear, anise-flavored Italian sambuca in the form of Greek ouzo. Sambuca is virtually the same beverage. Most often used as a digestivo (an after-dinner drink that improves digestion) in Italy, it recently has been consumed in an entirely different fashion. Italians will set afire coffee beans floating in a glass of sambuca, thus roasting the beans and burning off the alcohol. • Grape-based liqueurs have grown in popularity in Italy and worldwide. Grappa is the most popular of these on American shores, but its bitter tone takes some getting used to. Malvasia also is an acquired taste, described in 1890 by the French novelist Guy de Maupassant thusly: "It seems to be syrup of sulfur. For it is precisely the wine of the volcanoes -- dense, sugary, golden and with a strong flavor of sulfur that remains on the palate until late at night. It is the devil's wine." • Another bewitching offering is citrus-flavored strega (literal translation: "witch"), which is beloved throughout Europe. Except for those with really adventurous palates, it's probably at its best mixed with Champagne. • Another fruit-based Italian liqueur, maraschino, is not made from those sickly sweet cherries that American bartenders always have at the ready. Rather, this clear, dry concoction is produced by crushing marasca cherries, including the pits, then distilling the mix and combining it with pure cane syrup before it is aged and filtered. • Campari is another semi-astringent blend, once the trendy apertif in the heyday of Fellini, often with a twist of lemon. It's also the basis for a drink called the Negroni, mixed with gin and sweet red vermouth. Many of us, however, prefer to soften its pungency by mixing it with soda water or orange juice, or both. • Herbs and spices play a major part in the making of Galliano, redolent of star anise, vanilla and flowers. This yellow herbal liqueur, invented in the late 19th century and named for an Italian military hero, gained a major foothold in the new world in the mid-20th century as part of an immensely popular drink called the Harvey Wallbanger. • A blend of grape and floral flavors, Fior d'Alpi ("Flower of the Alps") is alleged to contain the essence of a thousand flowers and herbs. Each bottle contains a gnarled twig on which the beverage's sugar crystallizes when chilled.