When asked what coffee means to her, Serena replies with one keyword: “Tradition”. “It reminds me of my childhood,” she elaborates, “of my grandmother’s Moka pot.”
Twenty or so years ago, Serena Falcitano lived with her parents and grandparents in Bellizzi, a small city in Southern Italy. She fondly recollects her grandmother’s coffee making rituals, the way she would prepare sweet cream during the time it took the coffee to drop out the Moka pot. Her grandmother still does this to this day.
It was only in 2016 that Serena returned to her coffee roots and began her own journey with coffee. At the time, she had just left her job as an IT technician and was looking for something new, a career that would be fresh, dynamic, and inspiring – a new adventure. She found a job advert for a Barista in Chiasso, located on the beautiful Italian border of Switzerland, but Serena had no experience in the field. To go from a job in IT to becoming a Barista was a huge leap into the unknown, with no guarantee of success. Was this the right decision?
To gain some much-needed experience, Serena decided to attend a basic barista skills course at the Musetti Coffee Academy in Piacenza, Italy. It was here that she recalls the life-altering moment of having her first truly good cup of coffee — on April 30th, 2016 precisely; “I drank a sugar-free coffee for the first time, and it was so sweet that I was shocked – in a good way – by this discovery.” Up until that point, like many non-specialty coffee drinkers, Serena had always consumed her coffee with a lot of sugar to avoid that bitterness that is typically present in a low-quality coffee.
However, on that morning in Musetti, Serena shared an espresso with her fellow training course mates. It was Gold Cuvée coffee, a blend composed of 90% Arabica and 10% Robusta beans from Kenya and Central America; a uniquely sweet blend with an aftertaste of chocolate and hints of candied citrus. The revelation that coffee could be sweet without the need for sugar was astonishing for Serena, and since then, she has never looked back. What was the first, good specialty coffee that you tried?
Four years of hard work and dedication later, and Serena is now a Specialty Coffee Association certified Barista at the internationally acclaimed Ditta Artigianale. She is continuing her barista training at the Simonelli Youth Academy. “Every day is a new challenge,” Serena explains,
“You have to continue your professional training, learn and update often, and there’s this need for a continuous investment of money as well as your spare, often little time.”
The biggest challenge for Serena, however, was having to leave her family behind in Como to move to Florence in 2018. “Finding myself alone in a new city and a new job was difficult to deal with,” Serena confesses, and this is a feeling that a lot of us can relate to. Leaving your comfort zone behind is often a necessary evil when you’re pursuing your own career and achieving your dreams. Like all the obstacles Serena has faced, she turned it into something positive, “It’s made me so much stronger than when I left, I’ve grown so much.”
Every day, Serena wakes up at 5:30 AM to get into work at 7:00 AM. A day at Ditta consists of Serena educating the customer, explaining who Ditta are, what they offer, and how special and high quality the coffee they’re drinking is. As challenging as this can be, it’s all worth it for Serena when she sees that coffee curiosity spark for a customer. It’s the highlight of her day when a customer appreciates the coffee she’s made and when they’ve been inspired to learn more about the world of coffee.
This year, Serena participated in the Italian Cup Tasters Championship, winning the selection stage in Milan. She admits that she participated in the selections almost for fun. Going in with little preparation and without a trainer, Serena’s intention was simply to challenge herself and learn how strong her natural skills are. Her preparation involved drinking as little coffee as possible and consuming a fairly neutral-tasting diet for the weeks leading up to the competition. “The competition was very hard…[I was] very emotional,” Serena reveals, “I realised that it’s almost impossible to reach such a high-level without…the help of a team.” In spite of this, Serena ended up reaching the final round and finishing an astounding sixth place overall. She outlines this as the proudest moment in her career so far.
Beyond the crazy world of coffee and competitions, Serena is a self-confessed lover of motorcycles and fitness, playing five-a-side football three times a week as a goalkeeper. She’s also a huge fan of Harry Potter and even has two tattoos dedicated to the magical series, along with another nine tattoos and four piercings. When Serena is having a (well-deserved) break, you can find her relaxing watching the sunset with a bottle of good wine — usually red.
What does the future hold for Serena? In five years’ time, she hopes to be a coffee expert. Her goal is to obtain a Coffee Skills Diploma from the Specialty Coffee Association then to realise her dream project, which she is keeping a secret right now – but we can’t wait to find out what it is. She also hopes to have a family of her own with whom she can keep the coffee tradition alive.
For those who have been inspired by Serena’s story, she imparts these words of advice:
“Believe in your dreams and always persevere! Dedication and passion are essential to achieve your goals.”
If you are ever in Florence, you can find Serena for a coffee and a chat at Ditta Artigianale Firenze, near the Uffizi Museum.
Article by Jennie H.