#923 Suspend the next two coffees, please

Sign in a Cork café

Sign in a Cork, Ireland café; photo by John Sweeney, who set up the Suspended Coffees Facebook page

One of those too-good-to-be-true stories has been making the rounds of the Internet for a while. This one is not only true but gives a longer perspective on the pay-it-forward movement.

The Italian tradition of caffè sospeso (suspended coffee) appears to have begun in Naples over 100 years ago. Patrons would order two coffees, one for themselves and a second caffè sospeso. The barista would add the latter to a log book. When someone without the means to buy a coffee asked if a suspended coffee or caffè pagato (paid coffee) were available, the barista would check log and serve a cup. An article by Mario on the Access Italy blog says:

The beauty of this form of charity was multifaceted. Donors and recipients remained completely anonymous to one another. The recipient was always treated with dignity. Donors would compete with other donors as to who could leave more paid coffees behind and baristas all over the city took great pride in carefully recording each entry and serving it.

The tradition nearly disappeared during Italy’s years as a strong economy. The global economic downturn brought it back. Media reports and social media posts spurred the expansion of the idea well beyond Naples. You can find out more about the Suspended Coffee movement on these sites:

One thing about the Internet story is not true, according to Snopes (my go-to site to check the veracity of popular Internet stories). The photo of a homeless man sipping coffee in a diner actually comes from a March 2012 photo essay in the Washington Post about homelessness in Montgomery County. Although the photo of Cal Walker is not part of the story, it captures the spirit. A cup of coffee will not solve homelessness, but it is a small comfort in hard times.

I have written a couple of other posts about the trend toward anonymous generosity: Karma Kitchen pays it forward and They’ll treat you to coffee at the Corner Perk. And I regularly post such stories on This Gives Me Hope’s Facebook page. But this is the first time I have come across this historical view. Generosity is deeper in our human bones than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. This story gives me hope.

Thanks to Michelle Jarman for the tip.


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Kim Dawson - February 3, 2014

I could see this idea expanding to include all kinds of things. like suspended breakfasts, lunches, or dinners for those who are unable to pay, such as homeless and others in need.

    Cathryn Wellner - February 3, 2014

    With signs in the windows to encourage people to participate and to let those unable to pay know they are honoured guests…you’re right, Kim, so many possibilities.

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