Silvia Colloca is a home cook with an unconditional love for baking. She speaks to BeanScene about keeping traditions alive, unforgettable food memories, and roasting coffee in the kitchen.
There are two distinct aromas that make Silvia Colloca’s household the envy of most on a Sunday morning – freshly baked bread and freshly roasted coffee on the kitchen bench.
“Those are the days you really want to be at our house. The smell is just incredible. It permeates every single room,” Silvia says.
Freshly brewing coffee on a little moka pot has been a beautiful morning ritual ever since Silvia recalls growing up in Milan, Italy.
“Italians wake up to that particular sound which I love: coffee almost chirping and spitting out of the coffee machine,” she says.
That exact ritual has followed Silvia to her home in Sydney where she now lives with her husband and three children. More than just a ritual, however, drinking quality coffee has become somewhat of an obsession for Silvia’s husband who roasts his own green beans from Vanuatu.
“By admission, he is a coffee enthusiast. He wasn’t quite happy with the standard of coffee he was getting. He started complaining about the coffee beans he was buying so he said, ‘you know what, I’m going to roast it myself’,” Silvia says.
Thanks to YouTube, Silvia says her self-taught husband has learnt the basics of roasting and enjoys nothing more than a freshly made, full strength morning espresso or piccolo and a “tiny, silky, milky addition”.
“I’m super spoilt with delicious coffee at home. It’s amazing but terrible at the same time because it means we can never really go out for coffee. We’re so used to our own coffee that nothing else comes close,” Silvia says.
Silvia knows exactly what she wants out of a good coffee: “a smooth, toasty, almost caramel flavour with none of the burnt aftertaste,” she says. “But flavour profile really depends on personal taste.”
When Silvia does venture out to explore Sydney’s café culture, she’s always amazed at the extensive array of coffees available on the menu compared to Italy’s one word for coffee: caffè.
“In Italy, you walk into a bar, ask for a caffè, and you just get an espresso. Or, if you want something more specific you might ask for a macchiato or cappuccino but there’s no extravagant list,” Silvia says. “Then I came here [to Australia in 2009]. I wasn’t prepared for such an intense coffee culture. You can’t just say ‘I want a caffè’, you have to say ‘I want an espresso, or a flat white, a cappuccino, or frappuccino with light, almond, or soy milk’. It’s so complicated. I had to give my Italian relatives a proper training session when they came out to visit me.”
Even the social idea of coffee drinking is worlds apart.
“In Italy, when you say ‘let’s meet for a coffee’, it’s a super quick five to 10-minute chat. That’s it. Whereas here, if you say ‘let’s have a quick coffee’, you have to set aside 90 minutes,” Silvia says.
Unlike Australia’s much talked-about coffee rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, which reminds Silvia of the historic feud between Milan and Rome, she says Italy’s coffee scene is not very prominent.
“There is no coffee scene in Italy. Coffee is something we take for granted. We use it as fuel. We can go to a bar, stand at the counter, gulp down a coffee, and away we go,” she says. “There’s definitely places in Italy where you’re guaranteed to get amazing coffee, for example, Naples prides itself as the best coffee in Italy, but talking about your favourite flavour profile isn’t really a topic of conversation.”
Silvia says Naples can also be credited for starting the pay-it-forward concept of caffè pagato, when one buys themselves a coffee and one for a person in need. “Everyone has a right to good coffee,” Silvia says.
Everyone also has a right to simple, delicious food, and it’s something that Silvia says most Italians pride themselves in.
“In Italy, everything, one way or another, revolves around food and its preparation. But the one thing you’ll find, more often than not, is that the food and its prep are super simple,” Silvia says. “It’s more to do with the ritual: The nonna wakes up before everyone else is and puts the sauce on the stove. Maybe she’ll have a pepperonata slowly simmering away so by lunch time it all comes together and have left overs for dinner. In a way we’re spoilt with that.”
Silvia says food can be as simple as a bruschetta topped with cherry tomatoes, but as long as it’s shared with someone, it will become a food memory.
“Watching my nonna rolling pasta is my unforgettable food memory. I remember walking into the kitchen and smelling the sugo that had been bubbling for hours and hours. Then she would let me dunk the bread in to have a taste. That was was unparalleled pleasure,” she recalls.
Silvia was a child of the 80s. She had experienced years of home cooking, then when she was nine or 10, her mother started full time work and she was suddenly faced with frozen and pre-prepared foods. It wasn’t until Silvia moved out and away from Italy that she realised the importance of reconnecting with traditional Italian recipes.
“I think a lot of people from my generation, children of the 70s and 80s, are suffering from this social change, because in a way, a lot of women were acting rebellious. They wanted to be liberated, they didn’t want to cook. Many were not interested, so not a lot of skills were not passed on,” Silvia says.
“Once all the grandmas are gone I’m not sure my generation, Gen Y or the one after, with the pace of life and less people staying at home to be homemakers, will retain this tradition.”
This tradition is something Silvia is passionate about preserving, but for now she believes there’s a return to home cooking with more people inspired by social media to produce something pretty on the plate.
“With all the downsides to social media, it does make people want and crave all those traditions which would otherwise get lost,” she says. “When I post recipes on my social media channel, the ones that get the most traction are the most traditional ones. I get such an active community of people engaging with it and the memories it brings. Obviously there’s a craving for it.”
This article appears in FULL in the April 2019 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.