30 May 2014

A double espresso, a suspended coffee in
the Happy Pear and a walk on the beach

On the beach in Greystones, Co Wicklow, late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

After a long week, it was good to finish work early this afternoon, and two of us went to Greystones for a late lunch and double espressos in the Happy Pear, before a walk in the late afternoon sun along the pebbly beach.

The Happy Pear is one of the cafés supporting the idea of Suspended Coffees. It’s a simple idea. When you buy a coffee, you pay for a second one. The barista gives you your coffee, then logs the second coffee as “suspended.” In other words, the transaction has been paused, and is not yet complete – payment is received, but the coffee has not been delivered.

Then, when someone who cannot afford a coffee comes in, they can ask for a suspended coffee. The barista can hand over a pre-paid coffee, and the transaction is complete.

A double espresso in the Happy Pear late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Who benefits from a Suspended Coffee? The idea is that anyone in need can ask for one. It may be a homeless person, a single mother who sees coffee as a luxury she cannot afford … but it may also be that well-dressed man in a business suit who has been job hunting for the past four months without success, or a student struggling with exams or waiting for grants.

This idea is not about judgment but about spreading kindness, by paying for it in the future, and without ever knowing who benefits.

Hundreds of cafes and shops are now signed up to this great idea. So Suspended Coffees is about more than the coffee, and stands alongside so many random acts of kindness that seek to make this world a better place.

This is an idea that helps us to learn to give without judging or expecting anything in return, and to learn not to blame society for its shortcomings since we are society and we can take the initiative to do some good.

The Happy Pear has signed up for the Suspended Coffee ... not about judgment but about spreading kindness (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

So, where does this idea come from?

The tradition of caffè sospeso began in working-class cafés in Naples, where someone who had experienced a blessing would order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but receiving and drinking only one. A poor person could then be served a free coffee.

The tradition is said to date back more than a century, but to have declined in popularity after World War II. But in 2004, a giornata nazionale del sospeso at Easter was announced by the Ronde della carità charity on Italy.

The caffè sospeso became a symbol of grassroots social solidarity, prompting its revival in response to the 2008 recession in Italy in 2008 and the ensuing crisis in the Eurozone crisis. That year the sospeso gave the title to Il caffe sospeso: Saggezza quotidiana in piccoli sorsi, a collection of journalism edited by Luciano De Crescenzo from Naples.

A collection of Italian arts festivals emphasising social solidarity came together under the umbrella Rete del Caffè Sospeso in 2010. A year later, a Giornata del Caffè Sospeso was organised to coincide with Human Rights Day in December 2011.

The tradition had now spread throughout Italy, and it was spreading to cafés as far afield as Bulgaria, Ukraine, Australia, Canada, Russia, Spain, Argentina, the US and Costa Rica. Starbucks in Britain signed up for a charity initiative based on the idea of Suspended Coffee in April 2013, and idea has since spread across these islands.

With that inspiration in my heart, my footsteps were lighter along the soft sand in Greystones this evening.

The sun was still strong, the temperature was around 17 or 18, the sky was clear blue, and the waves sounded a little more gentle as they rolled in against the shoreline.

Strolling on the beach in Greystones this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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