Suspended coffee: a tradition of solidarity

Suspended coffee, known as 'O cafè suspiso' in Neapolitan, is much more than a simple custom; it is an altruistic gesture with deep roots in the social culture of Naples . This unique practice has symbolized generosity and solidarity among the bar-goers in the heart of Campania over time , going through various phases of diffusion over the years, even outside the Neapolitan "borders" .

suspended coffee

The arrival of Coffee in Naples

The introduction of coffee to Naples dates back to the early 19th century thanks to itinerant coffee makers . These street vendors went around the city with containers of coffee and milk, advertising their wares on the streets. Even if these figures have disappeared over time, their cultural impact has remained fundamental to the Neapolitan tradition.

Origin and tradition of suspended coffee

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the tradition of suspended coffee came to life at the Gran Caffè Gambrinus . During the Second World War, in a period of extreme difficulty, the custom of paying for two cups of coffee spread: one for oneself and another for those who could not afford it.
By ordering a suspended coffee, the customer committed to paying for two coffees despite receiving only one. This second "hanging" cup was intended for anyone who needed it. When a person in difficulty entered the café, he could ask if there was a suspended coffee available and, if the answer was positive, he received the cup as a gift from the previous customer.

Coffee Suspended Today

Despite having gone through a period of decline, this kind and supportive gesture is still a widespread habit today that has extended beyond the borders of Naples , reaching not only other Italian cities but also different parts of the world.
In 2010, Caffè Gambrinus , a historic café in Naples, gave further visibility to this practice during the celebrations for its 150 years of activity.

In 2017, Luciano De Crescenzo , the renowned Neapolitan writer, director and actor (1928-2019), made an indelible contribution to the tradition of suspended coffee with his work "Suspended Coffee: Daily Wisdom in Small Sips" . This book, a celebration not only of a habit rooted in the city of Vesuvius but also of a philosophy of life, collects the author's best articles published in newspapers and magazines from 1977 to 2007. Through the fusion of Greek philosophy, ironic anecdotes and stories of Italian life, De Crescenzo has created a bridge between the ancient and the modern, highlighting the profound meaning contained in a simple cup of coffee.
The most famous tradition linked to Neapolitan coffee is undoubtedly that of "suspended coffee" . In its essence, when you order a coffee, you pay for two, and the barista prepares the already paid coffee for the next person.
This tradition goes beyond the act of charity; rather, it embodies the intention to share a common pleasure and extend kindness without expecting anything in return. While not all coffee shops are required to follow this custom, suspended coffee is experiencing something of a renaissance.
Originally born in the working class bar environments of Naples, where someone would order a suspended coffee in addition to their own, it evolved into an anonymous act of generosity and solidarity. During the Second World War, in a period of extreme difficulty, the practice of paying for two cups of coffee - one for oneself and one "suspended" for those who could not afford it - became a symbol of popular and social solidarity.
The resurgence of suspended coffee was partly driven by the global recession of 2008. In 2010, cultural events, readings, theater performances and festivals took place in Italy as part of the initiative known as the "Suspended Coffee Network" . And the following year, Suspended Coffee Day was planned on the same day as International Human Rights Day. In recent years, the tradition has crossed national borders , with bars in other countries embracing the concept of suspended coffee. For example, in April 2013, Starbucks' UK branch participated in a charitable initiative based on the same concept, linking the value of a suspended coffee to a monetary donation. This demonstrates how a gesture of kindness can unite people, regardless of their geographical origin, transforming a cup of coffee into a universal symbol of solidarity.

Deep Meaning

The "suspended coffee" is more than a simple cup of coffee, it represents humanity in its completeness. It embodies feelings of love, compassion and understanding that permeate and transcend the extraordinary city of Naples. It is a tangible reminder that invites us not to forget the beauty of seemingly modest gestures , symbolizing a shared bond that goes beyond geographical and cultural barriers.

In conclusion, the "suspended coffee" is a gesture that connects people across geographical and cultural boundaries. This Neapolitan tradition has transcended its original borders to become a symbol of global solidarity. With its spread to the rest of the world, suspended coffee continues to demonstrate that even the smallest gesture can have a major impact on people's lives.