Wendy Pojmann

Espresso: the Art and Soul of Italy

It is not an exaggeration that espresso is at the core of Italian culture and history. Millions of espresso drinkers around the world attempt to capture a special “made in Italy” feeling in their coffee cups each day. But few people are aware of how Italy became the world’s leading espresso country or understand why the Italian espresso bar is so difficult to replicate elsewhere.
Excerpts from: Wendy Pojmann, Espresso: The Art and Soul of Italy. New York: Bordighera Press, 2021.  

The relationship between Italians and their espresso goes beyond a momentary replenishment of the senses. It is a ritual that becomes history, thought and experience. It is the innate tension in a search for beauty and goodness even during the most mundane parts of the day, the art of living and surviving, individual pleasure that is sublimated through sharing and sociability.

Wendy Pojmann has grasped this intensity, this way of life for Italians that is both simple and complex at the same time.
Simple and complex, just like an espresso.

Alessio Pezzoni, CEO, Elektra S.r.l.

We are excited to talk with Wendy, Coffee lover, author of the book on the history of coffee and espresso in Itlay. 

"I realized as I looked around that the espresso bar was one the main things I love about Italy. The clamor of the cups hitting the saucers, the sounds of the coffee grinder, the machine and the steamer, the smells of coffee and fresh pastries, the counter filling with customers making a million different requests the baristi had no trouble remembering, the ordered chaos of people finishing their items and then moving along as the next group arrived, chatting, laughing, enjoying their short time together at the bar. Every espresso bar had its own characteristics, and some I sought purposely looking for a certain atmosphere or because I especially liked their crema di caffè. Others I happened into because they caught my eye while I was heading somewhere else. When out and about with family and friends, there was never a question of if we would prendere un caffè but there was usually some discussion about where.

The first time I took a group of American college students to Italy, I was careful to explain how the Italian bar works. They were, after all, used to another routine. I told them they would need to pay in advance of ordering and place their receipt on the bar counter. A small tip of 10 or 20 cents would be appreciated and might get them served ahead of someone else, or it might not. If they wanted to sit and have their espresso, they would have to order from a server and pay more because the tip was included. If they wanted to sit and admire a beautiful view, such as in Piazza Navona in Rome, they would pay a lot more because they were paying for the table and the view. Some of the students were visibly anxious about having to recall these details. None of them had trouble adapting, but all of them said I had ruined coffee for them because the Italian espresso bars could not be fully replicated, not even in New York City, where many of them lived."

Photo: Wendy Pojmann orders a pre-flight espresso at the Roma Fiumicino airport on one of her frequent trips between New York and Rome

Dr. Wendy Pojmann is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Siena College in Albany, New York.
Pojmann’s current project explores the social and cultural history of motorcycle coffee culture.
She splits her time between Rome and upstate New York.

Follow her on Instagram @wendysespressolife.