Caffè sospeso, or suspended coffee, is a tradition originating in Naples, Italy. Customers in the local coffee bars drink their morning espresso (one) and pay for two. The receipt for the paid but not consumed espresso is left with the bartender. That way, anyone entering the bar that is unable to pay for their own espresso can enjoy one anyway.
Caffè sospeso is, in my opinion, a small but beautiful act of generosity. The underlying idea is that anyone at one point in their lives is confronted with hardship. But no one should have to make do without their daily espresso.
Naples, that is known to foreigners mainly for its troubles with the mafia might be an unlikely place for such a tradition. But don’t forget, to an Italian, the espresso is as important as olive oil, pizza, and mamma. To illustrate: in Italy, there is a coffee bar for every 490 Italians. And although they are not the largest consumers of coffee in the world, they are generally seen as the nation with the archetypical coffee culture.
That honor is reserved for the Netherlands (2.4 cups a day), Finland (1.8 cups a day) and Sweden (1.3 cups a day).
Italy comes way down on the list with 0.3 cups a day.
But as always, take statistics with a grain of salt.
As they say: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
So maybe it's because the tiny espresso is the main coffee drink in Italy.
In stead of gallons of filter coffee.
Nobody really knows when or where the Caffè Sospeso tradition began. We do know that the practice flourished during World War II and that, due to economic troubles, it has seen a revival in recent years.
And it hasn’t remained a Neapolitan tradition only. The grapevine and the internet helped spread the gesture across Italy and around the world. In 2015 Corby Kummer a food writer and restaurant critic in the U.S. even challenged the big coffee chains like Starbucks to adopt the suspended coffee tradition.
He has written an excellent book on coffee. "The Joy of Coffee".
In my opinion one the better "broad view" books on coffee out there.
If you want to get a great introduction into buying, brewing and enjoying coffee, you might like it.
The tradition isn’t even limited to coffee anymore. There are places, around the world, where you can anonymously buy a stranger on hard times other drinks or even complete meals.
So, next time you are in your local coffee place and you feel like giving, ask for it. Especially on December 10th. This day is, besides Human Rights Day, also Caffe Sospeso day in La Bella Italia.