You won't find a recipe for it in any book. And it may not even be in your favorite barista's vocabulary. But, caffè sospeso delivers a pick-me-up like no other.
Said to have originated in Naples roughly a century ago, caffè sospeso is an act of kindness through coffee. The name translates to "suspended coffee" in English. This heartwarming tradition entails paying for an extra drink, to be set aside for a stranger in need, when placing an order at your favorite cafe.
It's customary for the barista to keep a track of the number caffè sospeso that have been paid for by patrons of the establishment and give them out whenever someone comes in asking for a suspended drink. The person receiving the suspended coffee can be someone who's fallen on hard times or simply a regular who forgot his wallet that particular morning. It's an honor system that thrives on the kindness and honesty of the participants.
With much of the European Union grappling with austerity measures, a bit of goodwill goes a long way and caffè sospeso has spread from Naples, where Dec.10 was formally declared "Suspended Coffee Day," to the rest of the continent. Likewise, it's far from unheard of in Australia. Stateside, this trend is just starting to emerge but it already has some devoted supporters. Coffeehouses from New York and Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and Seattle have started to implement the feel-good, pay-it-forward system. Starbucks has also jumped on board, though with a slightly altered program restricted to the UK.
That's not to say caffè sospeso is without its detractors. Consumerist, a website owned by Consumer Reports, ran a series of blogs questioning the suspended coffee movement. With names like, "Coffee Shop Owner: Quit Asking Me to Offer Suspened Coffees Already," and "Why Ordering 'Suspended' Coffees For the Needy is Stupid And Inefficient," these blog posts come out swinging against the grassroots revival of caffè sospeso. Reasons cited include everything from "it feels scammy," to shops are already prone to giving away drinks to build goodwill, and there isn't a means test -- so anyone could claim a freebie and abuse the system.
So while the coffee runs hot, the debate is just heating up. We want you to weigh in. What are your thoughts on suspended coffee?