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Caffè Sospeso: The Neapolitan Tradition of Buying Coffee for Someone Who Can’t

“[…] Coffee, is also a tool for sharing thoughts… it is a real spell: it allows us to speak, to know our interlocutor and, why not, in some cases, even to fall in love.”

Everything you need to know on Caffè Sospeso  (Suspended Coffee) 

And why it should be preserved as a core value

“Quando un napoletano è felice per qualche ragione, invece di pagare un solo caffè, quello che berrebbe lui, ne paga due, uno per sé e uno per il cliente che viene dopo. È come offrire un caffè al resto del mondo…”  ~ Luciano de Crescenzo

“When a Neapolitan is happy for some reason, he offers a coffee to a stranger, because it’s just like offering a coffee to the rest of the word.” 

Caffè Sospeso o “Caffè Suspiso” is a deep-rooted Neapolitan tradition based on an act of kindness. As simple as it gets. Literally, paying for a coffee for a stranger to treasure. So, whenever you find yourself having a coffee, as an act of kindness, you can leave a paid coffee for someone who can’t afford to buy one. If it’s true that happiness becomes real only when it is shared, Caffè Suspiso is the right start to a happy and grateful life. 

If you have ever been to Naples or you have heard about the city in your friendly chit chats, there is a thread connecting all the stories that float around this remarkable city: coffee. 

Coffee is among Italy’s most prized possessions and holds a special place in our collective Italian hearts. Indeed, we are always down for one more. In ordinary times rather than just inviting my friends to hang out in their spare time, I would inquire: “shall we go for a coffee?”… a practical excuse to get together. To us having a coffee together is more than merely drinking coffee, it rather sounds like a ritual, a moment you ought to have during the day, a plea for gossip, and time to have a break with your beloved ones during the hustle and bustle of daily routine. You know you will have your first one for breakfast, the second as a morning break from either working or studying, a third if you meet a friend, and the fourth must follow lunch. Only when you think it is over, someone will pop out asking: Vuoi un caffè? The hot and scented drink acts as a clock for the passing hours of the day.

Not to mention that coffee can bring back veiled memories of places afar, memories which take you back to intense flavours only tasted in that certain place; if you have the right Moka pot and coffee, then Naples’ may be just a sip away. In Naples, coffee tastes differently, and many say it’s the water which is honed to make a flawless espresso. The Neapolitan water makes its coffee’s aroma unique and mouth-watering, a drinkable pleasure to devour in more than a mouthful sip, unparalleled. Overall the drink represents a treat no one should miss. The one you are smitten with. And so the Caffè Sospeso, o “suspiso” in the city’s dialect, was born. I have asked many locals when the tradition started, and nobody seems to know the exact date. No matter the date, Neapolitans feel that suspended coffee is so embedded in their lives that there was no birthdate for this tradition, it just existed. 

However, according to Gambrinus, a bar located next to the historical landmark of Piazza Plebiscito, this practice boomed at the time of Italian Unification in 1861. Yet it was not until the Second World War that it found its fertile ground. Naples is a city well known for its grit as well as its resistance, and in hardship, this practice increased. Then in better times the desire to be as generous slightly faded out. Not many years ago, more precisely in 2010 on the occasion of Gambrinus 150th anniversary, this tradition was fully restored and the Suspended Coffee network initiated. Through this initiative, coffee and bars all around the world can spread the word and share this not-to-forget value. Now it resonates as a worldwide movement, with no borders and boundaries; you can now pay for a coffee for anyone in the world that could claim it.

Despite not knowing when all this originates, the custom of Caffè Sospeso sheds a light on many aspects of the Italian and Neapolitan culture, both relying on small and simple acts of gratitude in life. Tangible deeds accessible to many if not all. Caffè Sospeso tells a lot about invisible connections that become real through kindness and generosity. If looking after the unknown becomes an act of pure invisible magic, this is in short, a well-made Caffè Sospeso.

P.S. Take note, December 10 is Suspended Coffee Day, a very Italian way to celebrate kindness and restore faith in humanity in conjunction with the International Humans Rights. This occasion is also used to exchange food and essentials.