The Power of a Cup of Coffee

The other day I was waiting to pay for my coffee, and I discovered that it had already been paid for me. That simple, kind gesture, made my day. This wasn’t the first time that this type of charity had happened. So, it got me thinking, when did it first begin?

First coined in Italy during World War II, the concept, called caffé sospeso (translated as suspended coffee) was to help provide a little treat during challenging economic times. The idea was that a customer when paying for his daily cup of coffee would request that the bartender add another to their bill for a stranger to enjoy. The suspended coffee’s receipts were placed in a giant, moka coffee pot, which could be redeemed by those that were in a need of a free cup. The beauty of this practice is that it was completely anonymous, allowing individuals to donate when able to or redeem when they were in need. Writer, Luciana Decrenzo explained by the concept by stating, “When a Neopolitan is happy for some reason, instead of paying for a single coffee – what he would drink – pays for two, one for himself and one for the customer who comes next. It’s like offering a coffee to the rest of the world.”

The tradition went by the wayside for several decades; however, it was reinvigorated in 2010 during a period of economic strife. The Suspended Coffee Network was born, bringing together sixty coffee bars, festivals and associations throughout Italy, to join in solidarity and donate a cup of coffee. Caffé sospeso could be done throughout the year, and the bars that supported this movement posted a black and brown sticker with a white espresso cup in their window. December 10th, in conjunction with International Human Rights Day, was declared as Suspended Coffee Day urging patrons to donate a cup.

John Sweeney, a plumber from Ireland, heard about this phenomenon in March 2013 and wanted to spread the word. To do so, he created the Suspended Coffee campaign through Facebook, within eight hours, the site reached 20,000 hits, with massive support for this kindness campaign. He then launched a website where cafés around the world could become a part of the initiative.

Today, the movement has been adopted worldwide, with most of us, largely unaware of its origin. Call it a cup of kindness, pay it forward, or suspended coffee, the overall intent is the same. However, kindness is not just about a cup of coffee, it’s about finding ways to support those in need in your community. It may be adding a spot to donate food, toys or warm clothing, providing a free concert or event, or a simply offering a space for someone to come in out of the cold. At my local café, there is a box of unsigned holiday cards at the bar. The request is simple, while you’re waiting for your coffee, write a holiday wish to a local senior. The cost is only a few moments of time.


  • Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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