A cup of coffee is one of life’s minor indulgences, and like a smile, the cost is disproportionately smaller than the pleasure it imparts. Neapolitans knew this when they invented the practice of the caffè sospeso, or “suspended coffee,” more than a century ago. The custom is striking in its simplicity: One customer pays for a drink on behalf of someone who can’t afford it, and the cafe logs the suspended order for anyone to claim later.
“It’s an elegant way to show generosity: an act of charity in which donors and recipients never meet each other, the donor doesn’t show off and the recipient doesn’t have to show gratitude,” says NPR, but the tradition waned in the economic boom that followed WWII. “For decades, the custom was confined mainly to the Christmas season.”
But a few years ago, in the midst of a global economic downturn, the tradition began to be revived, first in Naples where December 10 is now officially Suspended Coffee Day, and then further afield. Coffeesharing.com lists participating cafes in 19 countries including Japan, Australia and the U.S.; in March last year, a Suspended Coffees Facebook campaign went viral (the associated website claims more than 1,000 participating cafes around the world).
One major criticism of the suspended coffee revival is that people in need likely do not know about it, since awareness of it is mostly spread through social media. It’s up to cafes to make the availability of suspended coffees known; Coffee7 in London goes so far as to give free-coffee cards to a nearby refugee support center, reports BBC. Last April, Starbucks in the U.K. implemented a version of the practice, donating suspended coffees to its charity partner Oasis, although we’re unsure of whether that arrangement is still in place.
The biggest issue we have with it is how few stateside cafes are taking part. We’re one of the top 20 coffee consuming countries in the world, so let’s up our coffee gifting game.
An infographic from SuspendedCoffee.com