There is a wonderful tradition in Napoli called “suspended coffee” (“caffè sospeso”). Lately, the international press has been talking a lot about it. Amid social crisis and growing poverty in the Western world it is becoming somewhat fashionable to pay your own bill at a bar and leave enough money for another cup of coffee, for someone else. However, Neapolitans have been quietly living with this custom for over 200 years. It has never been a fashion trend for them, or a way to attract attention to some social issues.
I asked about “caffè sospeso” Cristina Felice Civitillo, my friend Napoletana D.O.C., who writes for the travel blog Miprendoemiportovia.it. She told me that going for a coffee is a social ritual in Napoli. Almost everyone has their favourite local bar where they take some time to enjoy the moment, talk to those around you. “The idea of “caffè sospeso” was born from our recognition of the fact that having a coffee is an important part of daily life and that everyone should be entitled to have this delicious moment of wellbeing at least once a day”, explained Cristina.
The tradition of suspended coffee goes back to the 18th century. Since then it has been a simple way to share little joyous moments of life for Neapolitans: if you feel happy, pay for two coffees, one for yourself and one for somebody who comes after. Often a person who didn’t have enough money would come in and ask if there was a “caffè sospeso”, so with time it also became a noble gesture of giving something to the less fortunate while remaining anonymous. Cristina loves this old custom: “It is not just about buying a coffee for someone. It is about giving a warm smile to strangers”, says she.
There are still cafes in the city that support this old beautiful tradition. One of them is the famous Gran Caffè Gambrinus facing Piazza del Plebiscito, in the city centre. So, next time you happen to be in Napoli, do as the locals: pay for a “caffè sospeso”, keep the tradition going.
Photo by Giacomo Mastrorosa/Flickr