‘Caffè sospeso’ may sound like the latest form of caffeine hit, but this new type of coffee will leave you feeling warm inside in more ways than one.
Literally meaning ‘suspended coffee,’ the tradition can be traced back more than 100 years to the working class cafés of Naples, Italy. Then, customers who experienced good luck paid for their own coffee and would also buy another one and say ‘suspended’ to the barista. This was noted, and the coffee would be made available free of charge to someone who was homeless or experiencing hard times.
The idea waned during Italy’s ‘dolce vita’ boom years, but now, in the midst of the economic downturn, the ‘caffè sospeso’ concept has caught on worldwide.
Thanks to social media, the idea is spreading rapidly and has been taken up by cafés across the world including businesses in nations such as the United States, Bulgaria and Canada.
In Ireland, John Sweeny, a 28-year-old plumber from Cork, set up the ‘Suspended Coffees’ Facebook page and, within days, the page had attracted tens of thousands of followers worldwide.
John has since been inundated with messages from supporters and other cafés hoping to implement the initiative.
John said: “I didn’t go to bed until 4 a.m. and was up at 8:15 a.m. It’s not just an idea for the homeless. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been out of work, freezing, and would have loved nothing more than a cup of coffee but couldn’t afford one.”
John has designed a ‘Suspended Coffee Supporter’ logo for participating cafés to display in their windows. A suspended coffees website and smartphone app are also under development.
It was through John’s Facebook page that Frances Brown Stewart, owner of Stewart’s Café in Glasgow, Scotland first heard of the idea.
“We’ve often talked about how to do something like this,” Frances said, “so when I heard about the ‘suspended coffee’ idea it seemed so perfect.”
The initiative quickly caught on, and within a couple of days the small coffee shop had received £60 worth of suspended coffees. Frances already has plans to expand the idea.
“We’re going to do it for food as well,” Frances said. “We’re even thinking of setting up a Paypal account so that people can donate that way. I have family down in England who are excited by the idea and want to give.
“It takes away the prejudice — I think often people want to give to persons in need. But there are lots of stereotypes, people think that they might not use it for coffee or food. This way the café acts as a go-between. Like a coffee or food bank.
“I want to get away from the idea that people need to go to segregated places to be offered a coffee or some food. I feel it is really important that people are able to come into the café and be part of things — this is also about inclusion.”
Critics of the scheme have suggested it could be abused, but Frances believes in good faith.
“We won’t be asking anyone for proof of their status if they ask for a suspended coffee. We’ll take it at face value; I can’t imagine anyone would abuse that. If someone comes in here and asks for something, they’ll get it.”
So far the idea has mainly been taken up by small, independently owned coffee shops such as Stewart’s, but the big chains are now taking notice.
Starbucks U.K. is the first major outlet to implement the idea albeit in a slightly amended format: Customers will be able to purchase a suspended coffee, but instead of it being available in-store for local persons in need, coffee of the same value will be provided to the community charity Oasis, which will distribute it to community hubs throughout the U.K.
Ian Cranna, vice-president of marketing at Starbucks U.K., said the chain would match the value of each suspended coffee purchased in a cash donation to Oasis, adding the company wanted to create a “structured and long-term” initiative that gets “help straight to those who want and need it the most.”