Wendy Pojmann wasn’t planning on writing an entire book about espresso.
In fact, she was in Italy for something entirely different — researching the history of Italian women in the Cold War at the Central Archives of the State in Rome.
That’s when she stumbled on a great idea.
“I was engaged in the conversation about espresso with the barista there, because a lot of times, as an American, you have to clarify whether you really want espresso or not,” Pojmann said. “We started talking about differences between American ways of drinking coffee and sort of dawned on me that I’m like, I should be writing a book about this.”
So she did.
Since 2015, the Siena College history professor and Schenectady resident has been working on Espresso: The Art and Soul of Italy, her book on the history and cultural significance of espresso in Italy, which is currently available at Parigi Books in Schenectady and available to pre-order from multiple online stores.
Pojmann, who first studied abroad in Italy during undergrad at the Loyola University of Chicago and has a Ph. D. from Boston College, is a citizen by marriage through her husband, who was born in Rome. She’s certainly seen the differences between how Americans and Italians make and consume coffee firsthand, and the book is a glance at exactly what those differences are.
“An American fantasy is sitting in a cafe for long hours, just sipping your coffee or whatever,” Pojmann said. “In Italy, it’s usually other tourists and Americans who are doing that. There’s the whole idea of the coffee bar being a real bar in the American sense, but you don’t sit on a stool, you just stand there at the counter. They serve your espresso quickly, you drink it quickly as you’re with your friends, talking. And that’s all integrated into the experience.”
The book starts, Pojmann said, by looking at how espresso developed as a product of the 20th century. The author then takes readers through the history of the technology of espresso machines themselves and how they changed over time, before diving into the history of roasting and — eventually — espresso’s ties within popular culture. It then explores how espresso found its footing and was woven into the cultures of different cities, after Pojmann herself interviewed several coffee drinkers in each of the cities she’s covered in Italy.
“For a lot of newer coffee places, espresso is seen as high-quality coffee. There’s a lot of attention to the machines. The machines can be extremely expensive for some of the espresso bars. They’re investing in the technology that they need to make this coffee. So I think younger people are more interested in maybe knowing where the coffee comes from.”
While writing her book, Pojmann has invested in several new coffee machines and has ended up with a massive setup on the third floor of her home.
She’s also used her research to assist with some of her classes at Siena.
“I actually designed a project for my freshman history course, based on how I conducted research for this book,” Pojmann said. “So I have the students do a project that’s developed a project around a product or an invention that somehow changed the world in the 20th century on a global scale. So I model for them different parts of the espresso project to help them think about that global scale.”
The local author said she’s learned a lot from her research, but above anything, she’s found it more important than ever to support those creating their own coffee in the Capital Region.
“I tried to support more independent coffee shops, get to know the owners, and sort of understand their passion for coffee,” Pojmann said.