You will almost certainly have heard of suspended coffee. But do you know exactly what it is and where it originated?
Suspended coffee (in Neapolitan dialect ‘o café suspiso) or coffee that has been paid for, is a social and solidarity-founded practice that started in Naples. It probably began during the period of the Second World War, but gradually died out and it is now returning, slowly but surely. But what’s it all about?
It’s as easy as pie. When someone goes into a bar or a coffee shop and orders an espresso, they simply pay for two: the customer drinks one and the other one remains “suspended”, until someone else who can’t afford a coffee orders it.
This Neapolitan custom has since also spread to other fields. In fact, the acino di fuoco also existed in the same city: a lit firebrand that those who had already made a fire would pass on to others, to avoid wasting matches.
How did the paid coffee initiative start?
There are two theories about the origin of this practice.
- According to the first one, suspended coffee began during the Second World War. As this period was struck by a terrible recession, those who could afford to would leave a paid espresso for those who couldn’t.
- The second theory, which is less likely to be true, is rather interesting all the same. Often, when a group of friends would go out for a coffee, there would be confusion about who had drunk one and who hadn’t, so the barman might sometimes charge for a few coffees that hadn’t actually been consumed. The customers would not ask for their change but leave it for the future, in case someone couldn’t afford to pay for an espresso.
From Naples…to the world
The same practice of paying for an extra coffee has also been implemented in other places. In Europe, but also in America, a number of bars, coffee shops and restaurants are beginning to promote this solidarity-founded practice, and not just when it comes to coffee! Indeed, the concept of suspended coffee can also be applied to other initiatives: clothes, restaurants, hotels and many more!