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The Ponce

The Ponce

The elixir of Livorno

A city ritual

You cannot say you have tasted Livorno without first sipping at least once the Ponce, a mixture of tradition and passion that perfectly embodies the determined and warm city spirit. Also a result of imported stimuli and ingredients, like almost all Livorno recipes, the Ponce is a perfect blend of the warmth and alcoholic intensity of sugared rum, the aromatic scents of coffee, and the freshness of lemon.

Served strictly boiling hot in a traditional “gottino” glass, whose tall and heavy bottom prevents you from burning your fingers, the Ponce is not just a drink, but rather an elixir that warms the soul and cures any melancholy. As the people of Livorno say: “Come here, have a Ponce and you’ll see that everything will pass!

In Livorno, in all the “barri” of the city, the “barristi” (bartenders) from Livorno, with the double “r”, know perfectly how to prepare it. For the people of Livorno, in fact, it is an almost daily ritual, usually consumed after meals, more often in winter as an excuse to warm up.

Ponce, instructions for use

In short, the Ponce is an experience absolutely worth trying! But be careful not to overdo it. By going from the singular Ponce to the plural Ponci (yes, the name also conjugates in the plural), you could encounter an escalation of side effects directly proportional to the number of glasses emptied: increasing hilarity, hot flashes, loss of clarity and control, etc. In this sense, the refrain of a Livorno nursery rhyme is enlightening: “Onci onci onci, drink less Ponci, see how you stumble and drink them all!”

Also, do not forget the most common warnings: you must sip the Ponce calmly while it is still boiling hot and finish it before it starts to cool down. But above all, never try to do what Buffalo Bill did when he passed through Livorno with his famous circus in 1906, attempting to drink the Ponce all at once, failing miserably and permanently jeopardizing his reputation as a drinker.

The Ponce Recipe

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Ponce was prepared by boiling ground coffee in a pot of water, resulting in an infusion that was then filtered with a wool cloth and poured into a coffee pot. A measure of “rumme” was then added to the super coffee that came out of the machine: an amber-colored distillate made with sugar, caramel, and occasionally, rum essence, also called “rum fantasy”: perhaps because it took a lot of imagination to call it rum.

Today, the recipe for Ponce is now crystallized. Its preparation involves the steam boiling of “rum fantasy” together with sugar, to which a very strong and short coffee is subsequently added, and finally a lemon peel called “vela” (sail). The addition of the “vela” has its own particular genesis. Apparently, liquor store owners, to give a touch of freshness to the drink, used to sterilize and moisten the glass cups with a slice of lemon, which was then placed on the edge of the glass evoking the sails of ships. For this reason, Ponce is also known as “Ponce a vela” (sail ponce). Poetic, don’t you think?

The Ponce
Il Ponce
The Ponce
The Ponce
The Ponce
Il King Kong
The Ponce
La preparzaione della Torpedine
The Ponce
La Torpedine
The Ponce
The Ponce
La Persiana
The Ponce
Il Ponce al mandarino
The Ponce
Il Ponce al mandarino
The Ponce

The Ponce and its Brothers

In the large family of Livorno alcoholic beverages, the Ponce is undoubtedly the mother recipe, but there are also other variations and inspirations that are still very successful. In the unlikely event that the “natural” Ponce does not satisfy your palate or you are simply very curious, we present to you some “brothers” of the Ponce and even a “sister”, all to be enjoyed:

  • First of all, the “Ponce Mezzo e Mezzo“, an intriguing alternative to the classic “Ponce a vela” which, in addition to coffee, includes half a dose of “rumme” and half of “Sassolino”: an anise liqueur that is now an integral part of Livorno tradition, giving the mixture a truly unique aromatic freshness.
  • No less famous, but rarer, is the Torpedine. A variant of the Ponce that combines coffee with a surprising element: a touch of ground chili pepper. We don’t hide from you that this “reinforced” version is almost a test of courage, but it offers an explosion of flavor and unparalleled warmth. Perfect for warming up on the coldest winter evenings, even outdoors and with the tramontana wind.
  • The “Ponce Rumme e Cognacche” also has its admirers. Suitable for lovers of bold and complex flavors, this version, as the name suggests, includes a dash of cognac to the base mixture. But don’t expect the nuances of French cognac, in Livorno they only use the Tre Stelle for correction.
  • The “Ponce al Mandarino” is instead very different. Prepared without coffee, thanks to its bright orange color it was once highly appreciated by female audiences. It is a very alcoholic drink, strongly flavored with mandarin, heated with steam and served piping hot in the customary glass with a lemon peel. If you have a cold, it is also excellent as a “natural” decongestant.
  • The King Kong – the name is not accidental – is another hot after-dinner drink without coffee but still attributable to the Ponce family. Fans assure that it is so powerful that it aids digestion even after the most indulgent feasts, which the Livornese call “Ribòtte“. The preparation is simple: it is obtained from a mixture of China and Cognac, always Tre Stelle, heated with the steam from the coffee machine and served piping hot in the usual glass.
  • And finally, here is the sister: La Persiana. In the wake of many other typically Mediterranean drinks, such as pastis, ouzo and raki, La Persiana is an exquisite blend of anise liqueur and mint syrup known in the city as an excellent remedy against Ponce-induced hangovers. We have reservations about its “therapeutic” properties, but when diluted with two fingers of cold water and ice, it is an excellent refreshing summer drink that quenches thirst.
The Ponce

History and tradition of Ponce alla livornese

Like every other typical recipe of Livorno’s gastronomy, Ponce has its origins in the melting pot of cultures and peoples that shaped the identity of this unique city. In this case, it was the English who inspired us. We can say that Ponce is a sort of creative reinterpretation of two alcoholic beverages that arrived in Livorno almost simultaneously:

  • the “punch,” based on citrus peels, sugar, herbs, tea or water, gin or rum, introduced by the rich and numerous British community living in the city;
  • the “grog,” a mixture of water, citrus, and rum from the Caribbean that English sailors had adopted to mask the slimy taste that drinking water acquired in the cargo holds.

In reinventing them and bringing Ponce to life, the people of Livorno used what they had available. They kept the sugar, limited the citrus to only lemon, replaced tea with coffee, and changed the quality of Caribbean rum with a poorer version invented specifically for this purpose. A distillate with an amber color made with sugar, caramel, and occasionally rum essence, renamed “rumme” or “fancy rum”, perhaps because it took a lot of imagination to call it rum.

A formula, then perfected in 1929 by the accountant Gastone Biondi of the company Vittori, which is still today the fundamental ingredient of Ponce alla Livornese.

The Ponce

Useful informations

  • Who:

    Alone, Children and families, Groups, In pairs, With friends

  • When:

    Autumn, Spring, Summer, Winter

  • What:


  • Other characteristics

    Indoors, Outdoors, Without reservation

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