Suspended coffee: what a wonderful idea

Customers pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who can’t afford one - it's a simple concept which should be introduced to coffee shops in the UK

Chloe Hamilton
Friday 29 March 2013 13:32

This unseasonal cold snap is enough to make anyone reach for a hot chocolate.

Fortunately, it’s easy enough to get our numb hands on one. Coffee outlets litter our streets – in fact, rumour has it you’re only ever 10 feet away from a Starbucks in London. Or is that a rat? I get confused.

But as chilly students layer on thermals and commuters wait on freezing platforms for delayed trains, I ask you to spare a thought for the homeless. Sometimes a hot beverage is beyond their reach, the pennies collected in an empty cup not quite stretching far enough.

Public opinion on giving money to the homeless is divided. Some refuse to toss a few pennies into their pots for fear it will be spent on alcohol and cigarettes. Others disagree and give as generously as their purses allow. Once I even saw a woman present a shivering man with a sandwich and a packet of crisps.

Enter the ‘suspended coffee’, a humble tradition which started in Naples, Italy and has since become popular in Bulgaria. Customers pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who can’t afford one. It’s a simple concept which has been embraced by many and now people are clamouring for UK coffee shops to introduce the scheme.

The suspended coffee accentuates the very best of human nature. I discovered the idea on Facebook, as I walked to work on a bitterly cold Wednesday morning, and my mood lifted immediately. I imagined a busy shopper or rushed commuter stopping and donating a warm drink or sandwich to someone less fortunate than themselves and realised it was something we needed to introduce in the UK.

But is it something us Brits would embrace? Or are we too embroiled in our own financial worries?

I put the question out to my Facebook friends (mainly skint students or slightly less skint graduates) and received a mixed response.

My housemate, a student, said she wouldn’t buy a suspended coffee at the moment, but it was something she’d like to think she would do if she had a job. One kindly soul told me she’d bought a cappuccino for a homeless person before, but welcomed the initiative as it was an easier, less awkward, way to do it. Someone else told of bad experiences with people asking him for money to ‘buy a hot drink’, however he liked the idea of ‘earmarking’ the money to make sure it went towards something beneficial, like a drink or a sandwich.

One friend simply rejected the idea, pronouncing it ‘socialist claptrap’.

Costa Coffee’s Facebook page is covered with requests imploring the company to consider the initiative. One plucky user even challenged the company to match their patrons’ kindness by contributing one suspended coffee for every one donated by a customer.

After all, it costs the branches nothing but good will. A number of people even claimed they would buy more coffee if it meant they could do a good deed each time.

I contacted Costa to ask whether they would be introducing the idea.

A spokesperson said: “The suspended coffee initiative is a really nice idea. We always welcome feedback from our customers, so we have taken on board all the comments and have passed them on to our operational team to review.”

A predictably flaky response from a press officer, but the right sentiment is there. Pret a Manger have posted a similar reply on their Facebook page, while a spokeperson for Starbucks said: “We think that Suspended Coffee is a really interesting campaign and we’re looking into it."

Would I buy a suspended coffee? I’m not sure I have the money make it a regular occurrence, but I imagine I could donate a coffee every now and again, when my budget allowed. Maybe I’d factor in a couple of suspended coffees into my monthly budget.

Best of all, the scheme means anyone who’s sniffy about where their money ends up after it lands in the paper cup can rest assured it will go towards something positive. It’s difficult to make a case against that. Mr and Mrs Snotty who won’t give money to a man on the street, in case he buys cigarettes, can’t justify not buying him a coffee. And I like that. I really like that.

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