Kristina Springer is unequivocal and unabashed about her love of coffee. She drinks it often, her kitchen is espresso-themed and she’s a devoted customer of her local Starbucks. In fact, during the horse-and-carriage segment of her wedding, she and her husband halted the horses so they could pop in to get coffees and take photos.
It’s fitting, then, that Springer’s debut young adult novel, The Espressologist, is set in a coffee shop—and was written in one, too. Plus, a coffee-related skill Springer possesses was imparted to her main character, 17-year-old Jane Turner: the ability to size up people based on their choice of coffee drink.
“When we were dating, my husband and I would go to coffee shops to hang out and people-watch,” Springer said in an interview from her home just outside Chicago, where she lives with said husband and four young children. “After a while, it occurred to me that I could tell what people will order.”
What remained entertainment for Springer became a matchmaking tool for protagonist Jane. During her shifts at Wired Joe’s, Jane keeps careful notes about customers’ quirks, preferences and characteristics and uses her coffee clairvoyance to steer them toward potential romantic partners.
Jane keeps her unusual skill a secret from mercurial manager Derek, until he overhears a fellow barista refer to Jane as an “Espressologist” and, ever alert to ideas that might boost sales, demands to know the details. That’s all it takes to make the nickname official: Derek decides that, on Friday nights, customers can come in for a coffee and Espressology, courtesy of Jane. Not surprisingly, all sorts of interesting situations ensue.
Springer does a spot-on job of creating those situations, not least by speaking fluent teenager. Anyone who’s worked in a service-industry job will nod in recognition while reading passages about snarky customers and cranky coworkers—and anyone who’s been a teenager will relate to the romantic tension that builds as Jane makes matches for her friends but doesn’t realize she’s overlooking her own perfect romantic partner.
The atmosphere of Wired Joe’s is just right, too. The book’s pages aren’t coffee-scented, but they could be, considering every word was crafted in that favorite Starbucks. Springer says, “I think people thought I was crazy. . . . I was always looking at customers, and I’d hang over the counter after someone ordered a drink and watch how they made it.” She adds, “After a while, I told [the Starbucks employees] what I was doing, and they were very supportive.”
It’s an approach and environment that works for Springer; she says that, although she’s only able to set up at the coffee shop a couple of times a week for a few hours each time, she’s written several novels, including a middle-grade novel due out next year called My Fake Boyfriend Is Better Than Yours.
Now an avid writer of fiction, Springer says she’s long been a devoted reader: “I read tons of books as a young adult; I really liked series. I read 100 of the Sweet Valley High books, and The Girls of Canby Hall books. I was drawn to female authors and characters as a kid.”
Speaking of female authors, Springer says she didn’t have Jane Austen’s Emma in mind when she wrote The Espressologist, but when the book was previewed at the American Library Association conference last summer, Austen fans noticed the similarities and were eager to meet her. When it’s pointed out that she was a bit Austen-like in writing the book—sitting back, quietly observing and writing about people—she says laughingly, “It wasn’t intentional!” But, like Austen, she says, “I eavesdrop all the time. It’s part of the [writer’s] job description.”
Springer adds, “I still don’t know how I did this. I never thought I’d be good at writing fiction,” particularly after obtaining a nonfiction-centric master’s degree in writing and working in technical writing for many years.
“Maybe I just found the right genre and age group,” she says. “My natural voice must be the teen voice.”
Linda M. Castellitto is a former barista who favors tea over coffee.