A caffè sospeso (Italian: suspended coffee) or pending coffee is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. The tradition began in the working-class cafés of Naples, where someone who had experienced good luck would order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but receiving and consuming only one. A poor person enquiring later whether there was a sospeso available would then be served a coffee for free. Coffee shops in other countries have adopted the sospeso to increase sales.
One 2010 account claims the tradition was over 100 years old, but declined during the postwar economic boom, so that it is mainly observed around Christmas time. A 2008 article reported the tradition was obsolescent, the reporter having visited three bars where it had not been observed for at least 15 years. Aurelio De Laurentiis is reported to pay for ten sospesi after each victory by S.S.C. Napoli, the football club of which he is chairman.
The sospeso gave the title to a 2008 journalism collection by Neapolitan Luciano De Crescenzo, Il caffe sospeso: Saggezza quotidiana in piccoli sorsi, which helped publicise the tradition throughout Italy. The idea has been reported in cafés in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Australia, Canada, Russia, Spain, Argentina, the United States, and Costa Rica. A Dutch campaign at Christmas 2011 gave a discount on the price of the donated coffee.
The UK arm of coffee chain Starbucks signed up for a charity initiative based on the suspended coffee concept in April 2013, in which it said it would match the value of each suspended coffee with a cash donation to the Oasis charity. The growth of the trend in other coffee shops in the UK also received media coverage around the same time.
On 22 July 2013, a Tuesday, an anonymous customer in Edmonton, Canada, North America paid for 500 large coffees at Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons. This started a trend that spread to a total of 30 locations with over 10,000 cups of coffee being paid for by donors.
The caffè sospeso has been identified as a symbol of grassroots social solidarity, prompting its revival in response to the 2008 recession and ensuing eurozone crisis. In 2004, a giornata nazionale del sospeso at Easter was announced by the Ronde della carità charity. In 2011, a Giornata del Caffè Sospeso was scheduled to coincide with Human Rights Day in December. A collection of Italian arts festivals emphasising social solidarity in 2010 came together under the umbrella "Rete del Caffè Sospeso". An Italian fundraising website started by Luca Argento is called 1caffe.org.
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